NOT DEAD YET
NEW YORK â€“ There is no more successful franchise in the history of recorded sports than the New York Yankees. Success, of course, breeds jealousy and resentment. It was true in the 1950s when comedian Joe E. Lewis said, “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.” It is true today, 34 years after Lewis died.
As Yankee fans, we can hardly blame Yankee-haters, most notably fans of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, for reveling in the poor start the pinstripes posted in this early 2005 season. We canâ€™t understand why theyâ€™re still so wound up in a team they vanquished last fall, but we sympathize with the frustration they felt for their entire lives, until a few months ago.
Well, thatâ€™s not true. The truth is, we enjoy it. We think itâ€™s pretty funny that theyâ€™re still wallowing in it.
Whatâ€™s even funnier is how so many of these folks grasped that poor start and proclaimed that the Yankeesâ€™ season is dead. Well, to quote the old man in the Monty Python movie, â€œIâ€™m not dead, yet!ï¿½
Letâ€™s look at the facts. The Bombers erased that poor start in one fell swoop, winning nine games in a row. NINE GAMES IN A ROW (big letters and small words, to help Red Sox fans understand. Youâ€™re welcome). Maybe more, by the time you read this. A nine-game winning streak is a serious accomplishment. Some argue that that the Yankees are feeding on weak competition in the admittedly-mediocre AL West. That argument falls short, however when you consider the fact that the same Oakland As and Seattle Mariners that have been falling like bowling pins to the Yanks in the last couple of weeks have actually gotten the best of the World Series champs. Fresh from a series loss to the Mariners, the Sox went to Oakland and quickly ended the Asâ€™ eight-game losing streak.
Letâ€™s look at the stats.
Going into Tuesday night, Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield were both among the top 10 hitters-for-average in the league, at .327. Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez lead the majors in home runs, with 12 apiece. A-Rodâ€™s 36 RBI is second only to Baltimoreâ€™s Miguel Tejada.
The team batting average is .270 â€“ identical to Bostonâ€™s and tied for fourth. (BTW â€“ how the hell is Tampa Bay in third, a point better?)
The Yanks lead Boston in almost all offensive categories (doubles, triples and a small deficit in on-base percentage are the exceptions).
Itâ€™s certainly true that Boston leads in the pitching categories, but those are stats that have narrowed, tremendously, over the past week, as Yankee starters have given impressive outings. Even with the slow start, Randy Johnson, whose â€œdemiseï¿½ has been trumpted by the haters, is second in the league in strikeouts.
Now, thereâ€™s no ignoring the most important stat â€“ wins. Thatâ€™s another gap that has narrowed. After sharing the cellar with Tampa Bay for a day, the Yanks are just five games out of first and 2.5 games behind Boston.
There are factors beyond the stats, too. Yankee critics have correctly identified a sluggishness in the team, early in the year. Do you see it, now? Nope. This is a Yankee team that does what the best Yankee teams have done during the Torre era. They take the extra base wherever they can find it. They hustle on defense and turn in stellar plays to break the backs and hearts of the opposition. The starting pitchers are starting to show the swagger that seemed to leave the team when Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite did.
The haters try to diminish the greatness of Derek Jeter, but true fans see him for the leader he is â€“ getting the captainâ€™s job done with his performance, rather than his mouth. Thereâ€™s a lesson there, Jason Varitek.
The team is heavily loaded with jaded veterans. They wonâ€™t panic. More exciting are the contributions of a couple of kids. Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang add an energy that has been missing. The whole team looks like itâ€™s having fun, again.
Sure, this has been a sunny-side-up view of the New York Yankees, from an admitted fan. But thereâ€™s one thing that no one â€“ haters and disgruntled fans included â€“ has to admit. The Yankees post winning seasons, year after year because they know how. They will continue to do so, even if they have to raid your team to do it.
Hey, Johnny Damonâ€™s a free agent after this year, isnâ€™t he?
The Yankees, dead? As I type this, even the seemingly-moribund Jason Giambi is riding a four-game hitting streak.
It sucks to be a fan of anybody but the Yankees. Admit it. Embrace it. Accept it. Youâ€™ll lower your blood pressure now and save yourself some disappointment later.
Or, donâ€™t. Weâ€™re Yankees fans. We donâ€™t really care.