It’s easy for most of us to get highly frustrated with the lack of punch from this current incarnation of the New York Yankees. It’s frustrating to see how much money was dumped into this roster, in an attempt to right the ship after missing the postseason for just the second time since 1995 last season. Perhaps a telltale sign of things to come was when the Yankees offered second baseman Robinson Cano more money per year in average annual salary, and he still took the years and ran to the Pacific Northwest to help make the Seattle Mariners relevant again.
I read the upset fan posts on Twitter, Facebook and the like. People want Brian Cashman’s and Joe Girardi‘s heads on platters for this vulgar display of Yankees’ baseball. Isn’t is blasphemy that the Captain, Derek Jeter isn’t going out on top of the baseball world with a sixth World Series crown? The signings of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka were supposed to offset the losses of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and the aforementioned Cano. They didn’t, and the world in some Yankees’ fans eyes, is coming to an end.
Unfortunately for you fans that are modern day Yankees’ fans, you don’t know any better. As my partner in crime, fellow co-editor Jason Evans, and our senior writer, Ricky Keeler always try and tell me: “Rebuld isn’t in the Yankees vocabulary.” Those poor souls, they don’t know any different. All they, and most of you know and understand, is that the Yankees have one of the highest payrolls each season, that the playoffs are damn near an automatic, and that anything short of a World Series crown is utter and complete failure and unacceptable.
I’m going to take you back in time. A time that many Yankees fans that are my age and older understand. Guys like myself, and fellow writers Wayne Cavadi and Dan Dechenaux only understand on this staff at Yanks Go Yard. I like to term it the lean years. Dan grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the original Yankees’ dynasty came crumbling down around him. He enjoyed the franchise’s resurgence under Boss Steinbrenner, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, and the like.
For Wayne and I, we weren’t that lucky. We were children of the 1980s and early 1990s. Our Captain is Derek Jeter, it’s Don Mattingly. Our leadoff guy is Rickey Henderson, and our second baseman, is the steady Willie Randolph. Wayne and I never knew postseason play as children. We were the butts of jokes, as teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, and Detroit Tigers were handling business. There was no gimme playoff spot with the Wild Card. If you wanted to see October baseball, you HAD to win your division. The Yankees finished second three times between World Series appearances in 1981 and 1996.
There were four divisions in all: the AL East and West, and the NL East and West. The Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians were OUR divisional rivals. There was no Tampa Bay Rays, Devil Rays, whatever you wish to call them. Hell, there wasn’t major league ball in Florida. The team of the south were the lowly Atlanta Braves, led by Dale Murphy and Bob Horner.
While I continue to check Twitter for Yankees’ news statuses, I still see upset Yankees’ fans. Even as I’m writing this. To put it simply…today’s modern day Yankees fans (those born in the late 80s/early 90s) and only understand World Series titles and playoff appearances, are spoiled brats. Knock it off already.
Back to my story…after guys like Wayne and I watched Mattingly become the best first baseman in baseball, and Rickey forced his way out of town, and Dave Winfield had finally had enough of the Boss messing with him, he forced a trade to the California Angels. Yes, that’s what they were called before they were ever the Anaheim Angels or the LA Angels. Mike Witt came back in that deal, and while he was serviceable, he was no replacement for a 100-RBI machine and a perennial All-Star. By the start of the 1990s, the Yankees were the laughingstock of baseball.
Between 1990 and 1991, the low point was upon us. The Yankees lost a combined 186 games over those two years. Mattingly’s back was destroyed, along with his power stroke. Guys like Steve Sax (the original Chuck Knoblauch) was leading the way, and it was painful to be a Yankees’ fan. Then it happened. George Steinbrenner, after trading any semblance of prospects (Jose Rijo, Fred McGriff, Jay Buhner, Willie McGee) over the years, was finally out as owner, suspended by Commissioner Faye Vincent for more nonsense involving Howard Spira and Dave Winfield. In came Robert Nederlander–a Broadway show guy that didn’t know Don Mattingly from Don Cheadle.
This allowed Yankees’ GM Gene Michael and field manager Buck Showalter to finally rebuild a once-proud franchise. By the 1992 and 1993 season, progress was being made. Light was at the end of the tunnel. Things were turning around. Then came 1994.
Led by the likes of Mattingly, Danny Tartabull, and Mike Stanley, along with newer Yankees such as Wade Boggs and Paul O’Neill, the Yankees were rising again. Jimmy Key was pacing the starting rotation with 17 wins and Steve Howe, yes, that Steve Howe, was slamming the door for the first place Yankees. Nothing was going to stop this team from returning to glory. Don Mattingly was finally going to get his ring, a career achievement for a guy that had seen the very bad of what New York can be when you’re not winning. Young players like Bernie Williams, Jim Leyritz, Bob Wickman, and Sterling Hitchcock were the fruits of Gene Michael’s and Buck Showalter’s hard work. It was all coming together. The Yankees were the team to beat in the American League.
The Yankees had a double-digit lead on three of the four teams in the AL East: a 16-game lead on Toronto, a 17-game lead on Boston, and an 18-game lead on Detroit. Only the Baltimore Orioles were hanging around, 6 1/2 games back, but they were never a real threat. As I was situating myself as a freshman in college, playing football for a small program in the Willamette Valley, the unthinkable occurred. The season came to a screeching halt.
The Yankees had lost three games in a row, and their final game that season was played 20 years, and 2 days ago today. I had just turned 18-years-old, and had my entire life in front of me. The Yankees were rebuilt and charging towards a title that I had waited my whole childhood to see. My loyalty was finally going to be repaid tenfold. My favorite player, Don Mattingly was getting his greatest achievement.
It never happened. The strike of 1994 ended any chance at a World Series title. Just as with the 1981 strike-shortened season, except that year, the Yankees lost the World Series. Mattingly lost his best shot at a title, and my childhood innocence as a Yankees’ fan came crashing down. We know what happened the following season. Mattingly has a series for the ages against the Mariners, the M’s win Game 5 and Mattingly retires. That ’95 team couldn’t hold a candle to the ’94 squad. Something was just missing. Part of the season had been taken, and the energy the Yankees had the previous season, had somehow dissipated. The cancellation of the ’94 Series was the worst experience of my life as a Yankees’ fan. I had a right to be upset. My team didn’t even get a chance to win their crown. The next time you want to sit back, continue to be spoiled about the Yankees not making the playoffs for ONLY the third time since ’95, and watching Jeter ride off into the sunset with 5 rings, think for one moment. There was a team that was the BEST in their league, and a Captain who didn’t get ONE ring, let alone five.
Those of us that grew up in the lean years, enjoyed the Torre/Jeter/Rivera/Posada/Pettitte dynasty, that’s fine. It was fun. It was super rewarding. For those of you that only know that dynasty and beyond…it’s time to grow up. This Yankees team had their chance this season, and they blew it. They still have a chance to turn it around, which is more than the 1994 Yankees got.