I’ll start right off by saying I don’t feel good about the 2012 Yankees. I’ve felt this way many times before and, more often than not, I’ve been wrong. I’m not one for snap judgments on a game or team whose season lasts 162 games; especially after just 28, but something doesn’t feel right.
As I took in the May 5th game at Kauffman Stadium this past weekend, I was sure I’d already seen the best days gone by for many of the players on my beloved baseball team. After five innings, our much-ballyhooed offensive muscle was reduced to skin and bone. No hits, no runs, and no spirit. Felipe Paulino, fresh off the DL, was shutting us down. Granted, in 55 plate appearances against Paulino, the Yankees hit .255 with a .676 OPS.
Likewise, several young and upcoming pitchers have had their way with them. I don’t mean to take anything away from those pitchers but the Yankees are seasoned hitters; nothing should come as a surprise to them. I don’t understand this idea of having to ‘adjust’. They are being paid millions of dollars and have made their way through high school, college (sometimes), and the minors all the while facing different pitchers whom they likely never batted against before.
I want to see my team hit and get excitable when they do so. I want to see that 2007 Joba Chamberlin-like intensity. This is where I point my most stringent finger- the intensity, or lack thereof. I watch highlights of teams like the Orioles, the Cardinals, the Rays, and especially the Nationals. They are young and hungry. They want to win, no, NEED to win. The Yankees sometimes play like they ought to win.
Recent success has been bred since the early forms of what would become the 90’s dynasty. I lived and died along side those awful, awful late 80’s and early 90’s teams as a young fan. My senior year in the fall of 1996 was when I finally got to see and feel what it was like to root for a champion. They were a team full of hungry youngsters and desperate veterans. These Yankees, at times, seem a little ‘ho-hum’. Having already had their taste (and then some) of the success pie and appear to be full, ready to leave the table. I have no idea what its like to devote your life to a game like baseball. So many toil for years in the minors while others rocket right to the big stage. But as a fan that invests time, soul, and pride in my team, I don’t think that the players could begrudge me a little criticism.
If you look at the roster, almost everyone has at least one ring with or without the Yankees. It is mostly the fresh meat from the minors who have the bare fingers. Guys that make their way up to the most famous team in all of sports are being taught to expect (team) success. And that success is expected out of them. Maybe that’s part of the problem. In the past couple of years, I have not seen a player come out of our farm system that has excited me. And if they did, they fizzled pretty quickly or were not the player the scouts expected them to be. Yes, there has been the likes of Joba, Cano, and even Gardner. I want the loose, “let’s get em!”-type players to come up and really contribute to the team’s success. These days it gets bought or, as recent trends have shown, traded for.
Take the team in my hometown of St. Louis. The defending champs won with a team that was, on paper, not that fascinating. They crashed the 2011 playoffs and won with heart, soul, and desire. This season, given the loss of key cogs, they look just as strong. And the most vexing part of it is, the Cards pull up players from their farm system and they fit right in. THAT is the type of baseball team I want to root for. When I see Bryce Harper swing for the fences, sprint around the bases, and look into his team’s dugout clapping, I wonder where we can get ours. When I see a Yankee come to the plate, I see a guy in a business suit on his way to a meeting he’s been to a hundred times before. When I see teams like the Cards or Nats, I see a hungry salesman on his way to close his first big deal.
Like it or not, that is the culture of the Yankees now. You have older, respected, and accomplished players running things. The seniors are controlling the locker room and the underclassmen are anything but lying in wait. Everyone is held to the standard of Mr. Jeter, and why not? He is the professional baseball player in every sense of the word. I just have to wonder sometimes if he’s forgotten how to have fun. ‘Big Stein’ is no longer controlling the length of a player’s hair with military precision and ‘Mr. Stoic’ Joe Torre has been gone for years. My question is: where is the life? Where is the excitement? I don’t want to see systematic high-fives or foreknown reactions.
You could say the fans are no different. Yankee stadium has been far too quiet for too long, even in the postseason (save for the, God love ‘em, Bleacher Creatures). Just about every living fan in or past their teen years has experienced some level of major success. Its clear, for the most part, that complacency has set in.
There is some gleam for future Yankee fans. I spotted several youths while at Kauffman yelling and cheering their hearts out. The ones that have not seen what 90 percent of the fan base have basically come to expect year after year. Those are the fans that give me hope. Hope that this baseball team could one day return to must-watch baseball, hype be damned. I will always root for the Yankees no matter who dons a uniform or how much dirt gets flung at them. The guard has to change soon, but who will inherit the institution? More importantly, will the fans in the upper deck ever again feel the shake of 40,000 plus bleeding Navy and White?
Waddya say, Bronx, NY…?