The gods themselves in their most mischievous of whims could not have devised a more fittingly humiliating parting utterance.
There was the bloated A-Rod standing transfixed at the plate watching a 98-mile-per-hour cookie from the Texan man-child of a relief pitcher buzz past him with not so much as a “how do you do.” Head down, the $31 million baseball mannequin trundled off into the night while all about him burst tongues of flame in red, white, and blue. The old order passeth.
Laying to rest the Yankees after they’ve tanked another post-season has become one of the more tedious rites of autumn, second in banality only to the reverence the culture increasingly pays to Halloween. But then the alternative, which is what we had to feast upon last year, you doubtless find even more loathsome. As Abe Lincoln might also have noted, you simply can’t please all the people all the time, either.
Rejoice in the pratfall of the Yankees if you must, and maybe get a chuckle out of the faltering of the Phillies, too, for they’ve also grown smug. But will you tune into the epic showdown of the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers? Probably not! Everyone loves an underdog. But not when two of them are going head to head.
Small market, low-budget baseball matching franchises that have recently flitted on the fine edge of bankruptcy doesn’t fly well east of the Mississippi. To regard them as rank pretenders is an outrageous conceit only the spoiled patrons of the American League East could hold with a straight face. On the other hand, have you taken a really hard look at that Giants’ lineup with those key operatives recently snared from the waiver wire? Strange game, this Baseball.
The temptation is to say, “Rangers in three!” But then that’s the mistake the Phillies made while looking just as old, leaden, and torpid as the alleged Bronx Bombers. Still, while one yearns to be proven wrong, this World Series has an excellent chance of being Bud Selig’s worst nightmare: the least-viewed, least-interesting, least-talked about, least- waxed upon ‘Fall Classic’ since the Angels and Giants went through the same motions eight years ago. At least back then we had Barry Bonds to pick on.
So what about next year? Might it be possible the dominance of the AL East is over? Red Sox restoration will be a challenge every bit as formidable as that of the Yankees. As for the Rays, their ownership feels justified in embarking on a budget crunch even though their existing payroll is roughly comparable to that of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Toronto and Baltimore are on the rise, Tampa is fading, while Boston and New York sort of hover. Both will have to be mighty active this winter. But the free-agent pickings are lean unless you are pleased to grossly over-pay for an aging and over-rated outfielder or commit a king’s ransom to a lefty pitcher who has lately become the flavor of the month. With Daddy Warbucks George having departed, the assumption that the Yankees will be only too eager to go down that crazy road again is false. And if they don’t, the betting here is that the Red Sox won’t.
That notion runs contrary to the conventional wisdom of the moment. The many media cheerleaders who fawn over Theo Epstein and his merry brain trust are telling us every worthy free agent on the market yearns to play for the Red Sox. Hey, for a mere $35 million per they could have both Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth cavorting in their outfield while J.D Drew and his $16 million pact ride the pine and Mike Cameron pulls down the balance of his hefty deal on the disabled list. What a great country!
Methinks the cheerleaders are out of step with the new reality. The combined payroll of the two teams now in the World Series is notably less than what the Red Sox shelled out to finish third and about half what it cost the Yankees to become the object of derision. This has not gone unnoticed in either the Back Bay or the Bronx.
With his reputation for genius very much on the line, Epstein cannot afford another off-season like last year’s when he sank too much in over-the-hill warriors Cameron and Marco Scutaro while saddling himself with John Lackey’s flabby contract, which has an excellent chance of becoming every bit as deplorable as the dumb deal the Yankees fashioned with the redoubtable A.J. Burnett.
Fascinating are the issues both ancient adversaries face this off-season. The Yankees have a Gordian Knot to unravel in deciding how to handle the contract of Derek Jeter, who may not be that much better than Scutaro late in his career but obliges the homage only an icon commands. And most icons, you may have noticed, are stiff, inflexible, and can’t go to their left let alone hit high cheese. Not quite as complex -- or potentially expensive -- is the challenge of David Ortiz to the Red Sox. But if the Ortiz issue is not as loaded as Jeter’s, it will still oblige tact, given the bloated stature Ortiz enjoys with the bloody Nation, which can be a tad irrational about these things, you know. Of only this much you may be sure: Both will end up getting more than they deserve.
Oddly, in that he at least made the playoffs and Theo didn’t, the screws on Brian Cashman are even tighter, given that New York is New York and clan Steinbrenner still owns the team. Brian, in trifling vainly with the fine chemistry of a champion, had an even worse winter than Theo.
He jumped the gun by running both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui out of town in favor of an odd committee of Randy Winn, Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Marcus Thames, and Lance Berkman. How often might they have yearned for a key at-bat from either Damon or Matsui in the Ranger series? Nothing was gained by dumping Jerry Hairston, a precious role player, and Jose Molina, the fragile Burnett’s security blanket. Who would argue Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli served them better? Then, in trying to re-invent Javier Vazquez, Cashman only compounded the folly. Maybe Curtis Granderson is nearly as good as advertised. But the price they paid for him -- budding major talents Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Ian Kennedy -- should eventually prove the gravest mistake of all.
Poor Cashman has a lot of atoning to do this winter, with the days of waving the Bronx magic money wand and instantly producing a Cliff Lee for a stray 200 million large possibly being over. Moreover, it may take more than Lee to fix them.
Given that they came within two wins of making it to the World Series (where they would have been huge favorites over the Giants) the apparent depth of Yankee problems seems strange. But they are plentiful and real and if you closely observed the Yankees being outclassed by the conveniently hot but otherwise unexceptional Rangers, you get it.
Let’s just skip over the pitching, of which no team ever has enough. It’s amazing how six games watching alleged sluggers Swisher, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Thames go 7 for 70 (amounting to a combined batting average of .100 for you sabermetricians) lowers esteem for Baseball’s reputed toughest lineup. Nor do I need to hear all that claptrap about the reincarnated Lefty Grove. Maestro Lee pitched only 8 of the 54 innings in that series.
The good news is Professor Joe Girardi has all winter to probe through his deep binder of computer printouts for answers to the many questions rearing about his team. Actually, the task is simple. Only one fact matters. From Aug. 2 through Oct. 3, the Yankees had a record of 29-30. What a team does the last two months of the regular season precisely defines it 99 seasons out of 100.