Can the course of a baseball season be unalterably ordained by just another three-game series the second week in May? Of course not. But huge revelations are possible so early, and with them come signals that are telling. And you’re well advised to not ignore them.
All winter and spring we were inundated with poppycock about the invincibility of the Red Sox and when they flopped around aimlessly the first six weeks of the season, everybody in Baseball was amused because the bombast of Red Sox Nation doesn’t play that well west of Worcester or south of Hartford.
But the flip side of that same thesis was the notion that the latest era of Yankee hegemony, which roughly began in the mid-‘90s, was done, finished, over.
The former notion remains undecided. A three-game sweep of this hollow shell of an erstwhile great team from the Bronx doesn’t have the merit it once had. More to the point, there remain plenty of questions about this would-be juggernaut from the Back Bay.
But the latter notion you can take to the bank. The Yankees as we have lately known them are no more. If they have to fight fiercely to avoid finishing fourth in the A.L East this season, it would come as no surprise to this observer.
The Jorge Posada fiasco -- which added so much spice to the sweep for those of the goofy Nation hopelessly afflicted with schadenfreude -- was not of itself a transcendental matter. An aging trouper who has been a worthy fellow for a long time looks out one day and sees the end of the line about to smack him in the puss and turns to jelly, suddenly forgetting that for the $13 million salary he’s still drawing in this cold, cruel world, you must handle such adversity with class or else look like a jerk and expect to get treated like one. It’s a story as old as time.
But somehow the Posada fiasco struck a chord. It was like the moment of truth for the Yankees. Or, if you will, the final fall in a precipitous decline.
Consider the long run of strange twists and turns in Yankee fortunes since the end of last season, a stretch of just six months. Much of it has been bizarre. The net effect borders on a total train wreck, which is probably only one more fiasco removed from reality.
For your further delight, here’s an unofficial rundown of the more dastardly blows endured in this span by the team you love to hate:
It begins with Derek Jeter’s clumsy campaign to embarrass the Yankees into rewarding him further for past services for which he’s already been handsomely rewarded. Jeter succeeds in bullying the team into paying him $18 million a year until he reaches age 40, but the personal price is even higher, for it erodes both his stature in the organization and his image in the culture. General Manager Brian Cashman grits his teeth and takes the fall for the company, emerging as the nasty boss who dared be mean to darling Derek.
That all of this is beginning to grate big-time on Cashman becomes evident when management allows him to enter the walk year of his contract as G.M. Cashman says it’s no big deal, but hardened observers suggest it means he’s on the way out the door.
Cashman goes for broke in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, against his better judgment. When the haughty (and over-rated) lefty accepts fewer years but a sweeter deal from the Phillies, the baseball world concludes the Yankees have lost their sex appeal.
Left with no one worth pursuing in the free-agent market they once owned, the Yankees begin collecting medical re-treads and reclamation projects hoping against hope to get lucky. It does not look very Yankee-like.
In the most thankless of blows, Andy Pettitte abandons his old team at its time of gravest need after posing as another Prince of Denmark for three months. It seemingly matters not to Pettitte that the Yankees welcomed him back after he unwisely fled to the Astros and staunchly stood by him when he got busted in the performance enhancement (PED) dragnet. The legal woes of his ex-buddy Roger Clemens play a strange role in Pettitte’s flight.
Against Cashman’s strongest advice, the Brothers Steinbrenner demand the signing of temperamental and generally unpleasant reliever Rafael Soriano for a mere $35 million. Cashman is irate and has the temerity to indicate as much, which is unprecedented behavior under the Steinbrenner Family watch. Hardened observers say, “I told you so!”
At spring training, Jesus Montero, the most hyped Yankee rookie since Jeter, is virtually handed a job, but he plays himself out of it in the Grapefruit League.
Pedro Feliciano, the durable lefty reliever thought to be their smartest off-season pick-up, breaks down totally and is lost for the year. Cashman blames Feliciano’s ex-team, the cross-town Mets, for grossly over-using and abusing him. While perhaps true, it was not Cashman’s wisest utterance. Observers snicker.
Phil Hughes, regarded as the best pitching prospect developed by the organization since Pettitte ripened in the mid-‘90’s, reports to spring training with a “dead arm” and by May is pronounced “probably lost for the season,” although the most sophisticated medical analysis available in all of Christendom can’t figure out what’s wrong with him. It’s still more proof that the human arm was not meant to be used pitching baseballs.
Eric Chavez, the most impressive of the non-pitching re-treads and a player who seemed headed for the Hall of Fame before he became perpetually injury-prone, breaks his foot while running out a triple. It’s seen as another perverse intervention by angered baseball gods after a careful examination reveals no gopher holes along the Yankee Stadium baselines.
Reports surface that Bartolo Colon, the most impressive of the pitching re-treads, may have had his career magically restored by Dominican arm-repair specialists using treatments, elixirs, and secret potions banned in baseball. The matter is currently in the hands of MLB Ped-sleuths. But given how things have been going lately for the alleged Bronx Bombers, few doubt how this one is going to turn out.
Mr. Posada has his ill-advised meltdown just before a nationally televised network game against the Red Sox, thus guaranteeing maximum attention and controversy. Universal consensus holds that Posada’s awkward encounter with his baseball mortality is just the beginning of a nightmare scenario for the Yankees, who have an entire lineup of aging, fading, sagging, ex-all stars with long, huge contracts facing their end-game with even greater fear, loathing, and ego while marching in step right behind Mr. Posada.
Although rightfully angered and well within his rights to run Posada out the door, or at least dock him $71,000, which is his daily wage under his absurd contract, Cashman mainly succeeds in making matters worse. Borrowing a page from the playbook of his dear departed storm trooper of a former boss, he airs the team’s dirty linen in the second inning of a nationally televised game. It’s the sort of temper tantrum Cashman quietly deplored when Poppa George regularly staged them. Hardened observers declare,” Cash is gone!”
The next day, of course, with everyone realizing what fools they’ve made of themselves, major league back-spin and retrenchment take place. Jorge weepily apologizes. Manager Girardi says everyone’s entitled to a bad day. Captain Derek says his good buddy Jorge has no reason to apologize. Seizing the moment, A-Rod hugs Jorge lustily during batting practice in the middle of the field, guaranteeing that everyone sees it. G.M Cashman says Jorge has always been “a great Yankee.” The Brothers Steinbrenner declare everyone is forgiven for everything. The Bleacher Bums briskly salute Jorge. Still later, the general assembly accords him a standing ovation.
That New York then proceeds to lose their third straight to Boston, their fifth in a row overall, and their ninth out of twelve in the otherwise merry month of May, seems somehow immaterial.
The Yankees have lost their dignity, their tenacity, their passion, and their pride, along with their will and their way. But worst of all, they are no longer entertaining. It makes you dearly wish George was still with us.