The long grind of the regular season is almost over. We have been waiting for October for six and a half months. Think about all the agonizing over the rotation in spring training, the epic winning streak and domination during Interleague play and the slumps of the dog days of August and September. After all the consternation, we made it, and the Yankees are going to the playoffs, again… Yet we still find reasons to complain and bemoan some aspect of every single game. While it’s fine to be critical and question, let’s get a little perspective compared to the rest of the sporting world:
We can complain about the bad strike calls (and Joe Girardi has certainly gotten his money’s worth this season, especially in that Detroit series). We jokingly ask about “robot umps” and argue over the inconsistency of strike calls. In fairness, bad calls happen. Umpires aren’t perfect. But the umpires know the rules of the game, and call the rules. Imagine if Major League Baseball were in a situation with the umpires like the NFL with its referees. (Writer’s note: Welcome back, Ed Hochuli, I missed you!) Can you imagine a Little League umpire calling a quarter of the season’s games? What if, like we saw last Monday, the Yankees were last year’s Tampa Bay Rays, and a Derek Jeter blast just propelled them to the postseason… only to have the home run overturned because the umpires didn’t understand the rules? At least we can take solace in the integrity of the game.
We can complain about Robinson Cano’s September slump (which thankfully he seems to be breaking out of), or an over-aggressive pitching change, or Curtis Granderson’s strikeouts. But imagine not having baseball. Period. Imagine Bud Selig intimating cancelling the entire season because of revenue disputes like the NHL is currently enduring. No pennant race, no Home Run Derby, no trades, no Subway Series, no constant verbal sparring with the Red Sox. Nothing. At least with every questionable managerial decision, every disputed strike three call, we can take comfort in the fact that we can at least watch the game we love. And, we can watch that game without fear that the players and owners will come to such an impasse that the entire season will be taken away, each side having learned a hard lesson in the early ’90’s. At least we can take solace in having a game to watch.
We can complain that the Yankees haven’t run away with the AL East like we thought when they were cruising with a 10-game divisional lead in June, and has struggled mightily in September and August. All of that said, as of September 28th, the Yankees were a 91-win team. The only AL team with more wins is the Texas Rangers, with 92, whereas MLB is led in wins by the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, who each have 94 wins. That is another highly successful season. Think about the way this team has gotten to 91 wins: Alex Rodriguez was lost for two months with a broken hand; Andy Pettitte, counted on to solidify the rotation, was out for two months with a broken leg; CC Sabathia dealt with various ailments over two DL stints; Russell Martin hovered under the Mendoza line for most of the season; the main speedster on the bases, Brett Gardner missed most of the season after elbow surgery; and finally, the great Mariano Rivera was lost for the entire year with a torn ACL.
Most teams cannot sustain that many key contributors missing significant time, and yet through all of that, the Yankees still managed over 90 wins, and remain in contention to win their division, one of the toughest in the league. Think about the Mets, the Red Sox, the Astros and the Indians. Those are categorically unsuccessful seasons. By contrast, 90-plus wins is in no way a failure to live up to expectations — the expectations of fans of the New York Yankees, perhaps, with all of those trophies and records and pennants, maybe- but not to the object fan. We can at least take solace in having a winning team.
In the grand scheme of things, the ups and downs, the things that make us crazy over the course of the season: these are the little things about baseball that we love. They are the idiosyncrasies that bind us as fans to our team- our complaints are not those of any other team. It is the unique bond between the team, and the fans. And to be honest, while it would be awesome to have a season where you win a 110 games, have no slumps, every player is hitting over .300, every starts wins 18 games, every managerial move works out and a playoff spot is locked up by the All-Star Break — it’d be boring. The everyday grind of the season, these little things, are what make the season great. So as we head into another (hopefully long!) playoff run, let’s look back on this past season and appreciate the little things. They are what make baseball great.