Make no mistake: Yankee fans have it pretty good. The Yankees routinely field one of the best teams in baseball. They have the financial means to go after free agents, invest in the draft, and hire the best scouts. They have mystique that goes along with all the championships they have won (and we can make fun of announcers saying the Yankees win with “mystique” all we want, but the pinstripes themselves do help recruit talent).
When I say that last night felt like the successful culmination of a journey that was both memorable and perilous, that should probably make some roll their eyes. It had only been since 2000 when the Yankees last won the World Series and they have had plenty of great moments and triumphs since then. Fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and many other cities have little sympathy, I’m sure. But it’s always more painful to lose when you’re so close to winning. Ever since the ball got a little too slick thanks to an unexpected shower in the Arizona desert back in 2001, and Rivera threw away a double play ball, the Yankees have been very close to winning it all. Every team the Yankees have fielded since then had a legitimate shot at the World Series. I think you could very easily argue that the Yankees had the best team in the league 2002-2004 and in 2006.
I’ve learned a lot about baseball since 2000. Back then, I just expected the Yankees to win in the postseason because that’s what the best team did. Little did I know I was actually watching probably the weakest Yankee team I’ve ever actively followed (which would date back to 1994) just happen to get hot at the right time. Turns out it’s tough to be the best team in the regular season and then win the World Series. The 1998 Yankees made it look so easy.
There’s no doubt the 2009 Yankees are a special team for just that reason. They were the best team during the regular season. They kept it going in the postseason. Their games were always exciting. They bounced back – whether from a bad inning or a bad loss. None of that changed this postseason. They followed every loss with a win and rallied back in every game they were down – even if a few of those rallies fell short. With the possible exception of Game 1 of the World Series, every game kept me on the edge of my seat right until the last out. Baseball is entertainment, and what greater entertainment could I ask for?
If you look through my posts from this season, both here and at my old site, I certainly did my fair share of complaining while watching a 103 win team win a championship. But one thing that I’ve always felt has been unfair about how Yankee fans treat their teams is that we often don’t remember a lot of the great moments we’ve had in those “dark years” of playoff misfortune. I still remember in early 2002 reminiscing about the Yankees crazy back-to-back 9th inning comebacks and the response I received from a highly critical Yankee-hater was: “Well, none of that matters because they lost the World Series.”
But that’s absolutely incorrect. It all matters. Jason Giambi’s walkoff grand slam in 2002. Aaron Boone’s homerun. Jeter’s diving catch in the stands. A-Rod carrying the Yankees past the Twins in 2004. Rivera flying back from personal tragedy with his family to save Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS. The rally to catch the Red Sox in 2005. The 5-game Fenway sweep of 2006. Watching Joba burst onto the scene and strikeout the heart of the Tiger’s order in 2007.
I could go on all day. The point is though, that baseball really is a journey and despite the Yankees mantra, it’s not always just about winning the World Series. I follow the Yankees all through the offseason. I follow their spring training games. I follow all 162 regular season games. Any one single game has the power to make me giddy or depressed. To paraphrase the common retort I’ve heard, most often from my girlfriend: “Aren’t there 161 other games?”
That’s true of course, but with baseball you have to experience the moment to appreciate the journey – and last night’s World Series victory was a moment that helps justify and explain all the other ones.
This World Series title is also gratifying because it feels like the fitting cap on what has been an emotional but ultimately enjoyable decade of Yankee baseball. The breaks haven’t always gone their way, but the Yankees have never lacked intrigue, and this season was the most entertaining yet. So congratulations to the Yankees and to all of my fellow fans. It’s been fun – and 2010 and the quest for 28 is right around the corner.