Yankees fans can learn from history book
I'm beginning to wonder something out loud: What the hell is wrong with everybody's memory around here? Do you forget what happens almost every year at this time? To make it easy for you, I'll do that period-after-every-word thing people do nowadays to show they're talking deliberately: Yankees. Start. Slowly. Always.
It's the pitching. It's the first-base situation. It's Derek Jeter. Every year, it's one thing or another. The press and the fans get all rashy. You know, as if they've got bugs crawling under their skin. It's like a rite of spring, almost. It ain't nothing, but you wouldn't know that 'cause every year it's like the last night on the Titanic -- total panic. (Yeah, I used a 96-year-old reference. Deal with it.)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Have no fear. Slow starts are just blips for a team as mighty as the Yankees.
1995: Bombers get off to a 10-5 start. Everyone starts thinking, "Hey, the good times are back for good." They're still OK on May 21 at 12-9, but then the crapper falls off the caboose: They lose 10 of 11. Now they're 13-19, so it's time to drink the Drano, right? Not yet -- the real low point hits at 20-29. Let's all start thinking about football camps, right? No, they make the playoffs. A precedent-setting season, my friend.
1996: So much for the new dynasty, huh? The Twins take 'em down 7-1 on April 19 and drop them under .500 -- probably for good at 6-7. They're already four games behind the Orioles, and you can't even smell May Day yet. How long ago was this? How about Jeter batting ninth and Mariano Rivera as a set-up dude? Doesn't matter. Same stuff, different decade.
1997: Two weeks into the season, and the Yanks are 5-10. They're already six games out. Might as well stop stealing cable, right?
1998: 1-4. Greatest team ever, right? You wouldn't have known it after five games. The Angels beat 'em 10-2. Mariners golden-hose 'em 8-0. They blow a lead in the ninth in their only win and are lucky to pull it out in the 10th. They're dead in the water. Outscored 36-15. The only worse team is the Expos. Then what happens? Just the best season ever going all the way back to the Big Bang.
1999: Yanks lose the opener, but then it's cool for once. One thing, though: They lost that opener to Oakland in Oakland. From 1997 to 2000, they opened every season on the West Coast. What's up with that? I'll tell you what: The powers that be were trying to screw them over right out of the gate. Practice in Florida, then go 3,000 miles to open the season? Every year? Come on. Could the conspiracy to bring them down have been any more obvious?
2000 to 2003: These were mostly exceptions, except there were exceptions to the exceptions thrown in there. In 2000, they start fine but fall to third place on June 23 at 36-32. They do their bad start at the end of the year, going 3-13. In 2001, they look OK at first, but then the Mariners sweep 'em out, dropping them to 11-11 and third place. That doesn't sound too bad, except everybody else is playing better. Seattle is 18-4, Boston is 15-7, Toronto's going 14-7 and the Twinkies are at 15-5. How do you compete with all that? Things are cool in 2002. Same for 2003, except they go 3-11 for part of May and fall to second place.
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Despite a slow .175 start in 2004, Derek Jeter finished up at .292.
2005: You think Robinson Cano's off to a bad start this year? When he first came to the majors he was like 2-for-20 with one ribbie. Seems like he did pretty good in the rookie of the year voting, though. Remember that when he struggles now. Yanks are 11-19 on May 6, a hernia bulge-like nine games from first.
2006: Ladies and gentlemen: Your last-place New York Yankees. That's how you'd have introduced 'em on April 21 two years ago. Hey, you seeing a pattern here yet or what?
2007: It's Arma-freakin'-geddon. The Yanks are done, right? They're 21-29 on Memorial Day weekend. Fourteen-point-five out. You don't make the playoffs with a start like that, do you?
2008: This year, they're 14-16 on May 1. Sounds like it's time to run Joe Girardi's muscle-bound ass out of town on a rail, huh? That's when I get the assignment to do this piece and see what happens? By the time the piece runs, the turnaround is already in full swing. So come off the ledge of that building, chief, and let me break down how the rest of the season is going to play out:
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Don't run Joe Girardi out of town just yet. It's entirely probable that he will right the ship.
Some other teams are gonna throw in the towel at some point. You know the Bombers will be there to take their expensive moving parts off their engine when they do. Detroit? Cleveland? San Diego? They ain't all coming back, and the ones that don't will cough up their good stuff on the Yankees. So you just gotta know fixes will be found. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada will come back healthy, and the hits will fall.
As for guys not playing up to their potential, know this: Being a Yankee means you hate losing. When you encase your athletic body in those pinstripes, something happens to your mind. You can take losing for so long before you snap out of it and start playing Yankee baseball. How else can you explain the events described above? When you play for another team, you don't have that extra level to go to the way a Yankee does. Find me another team that has started like New York 10 of the past 13 years and made the playoffs every time. I haven't even checked because I don't have to. There ain't one.
This is what I want you to do, Joe Yankee Fan: I want you to walk like the batter with four balls in that joke about the Irishman at his first baseball game: with pride. Be proud of your team kicking adversity in the groin every year. Look to the recent past for inspiration and leave the worrying for fans of other teams. They've got something you don't: no hope.
Bill Byast is a freelance writer located in the New York metropolitan area.