The 2005 baseball season, at least for me, has been a long road. I love the game of baseball and I'm a die-hard Yankee fan. If there isn't anything more watchable on TV on a weekend I will watch a game not involving the Yankees, but I watch with a detached, peripheral-vision viewing. When people ask me who I'll root for to win the World Series this year, I'll tell them "the Yankees." Period. So the fact the Yankees were eliminated last night by the Angels (or, rather, by themselves) pretty much lets you in on how much baseball I'll be watching from today until Spring Training.
There was -- as there always seems to be -- many sub-plots and backstories in the 2005 Yankee season. First of all, while the Yankees have made it to the playoffs each year since Joe Torre's debut as Yankee manager in 1996, they haven't won a World Series since 2000. While reaching the playoffs is an achievement for most teams, it is taken for granted in the Bronx; for the Yankees, anything short of a World Series victory is a failure. Some people reading that last statement might infer the Yankees exude a measure of arrogance; what it is, in actuality, is confidence.
Secondly, the impending changes coming this off-season are going to be painted with large brush-strokes. The club's long-time center fielder, Bernie Williams, is at the end of a long free-agent contract and it is clear he is finished with the Yankees. He's not yet 40, but he's slowed down considerably as a result of injuries and mental exhaustion; he's won 4 World Series with the Yankees and has accomplished a lot on the field, so while he might be able to sign a small, incentive-laden contract with a young team looking for some cheap veteran leadership, Bernie is a gentleman and will likely end his career rather than hang onto fading hopes and a dwindling payday. He's just that kind of guy.
Another story is Randy Johnson. During the off-season, the Yankees gave up some prospects for a 42-year-old Randy Johnson, who has, for more than a decade, been one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. Johnson, a lefty, has a sweeping slider that histocially has been near-impossible to hit. However, while there are occasions when history repeats itself, history did not repeat itself this year, and Johnson, the once-feared power-pitcher of the 90's, is not only not feared, but now hitters look forward to facing him.
Last night, the Angels scored two runs on a triple into right field by Adam Kennedy which, in the ordinary course, should have been caught. The reason why it was not and wound up a triple was because the Yankee right fielder -- Gary Sheffield -- and last night's Yankee center fielder, Bubba Crosby -- collided going for the ball. It was a fluke situation, but between the crowd noise (the game was played in California) and the exact landing spot of Kennedy's fly ball, the two outfielders collided and the ball dropped, allowing two runs to score. The final deficit after the last pitch was -- similarly -- two runs.
The game was not decided on one deep drive to right field. The game was decided by the Yankees by-the-numbers. Here are some staggering numbers to consider:
$203 Million: The amount of money paid to Yankee players this season;
$46.5 million: The amount paid to pitchers who weren't even on the postseason roster (Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Steve Karsay, Mike Stanton, Paul Quantrill, Felix Rodriguez);
$8 million: The amount paid to Hideki Matsui this season;
8: The number of runners Matsui left on base during the five-game series against Anaheim.
$25 Million: Amount of money paid to Alex "MVP" Rodriguez.
0: The number of runs he knocked in during the five-game series against Anaheim.
0: The number of votes I would cast for Alex Rodriguez being the American League MVP.
The truth is the Yankees are lucky they made it as far as they did, and despite the fact they lost I think they played an impressive second half and I am disappointed they didn't go farther into the postseason. But I also understand that this team needs a lot of work, and I am hoping that King George fires Brian Cashman, the GM who, clearly, knows nothing about baseball; some new scouts to reinvigorate (more accurately, resurrect) the Yankee's minor-league system; some decent, non-accomplished, young, talented players; and some players who are hungry and not multi-millionaires.
Aside from A-Rod, most of these Yankees -- at least offensively -- didn't let me down. The aforementioned Hideki Matsui -- aka Godzilla -- has been a reliable, clutch hitter throughout his tenure in the Bronx, not just this season. Derek Jeter, whose name has notably been absent herein thus far, has always been and will always be a clutch, reliable, respected, beloved Yankee. Jeter, incidentally, is the epitome of class, performance, humility, ability and all that is right in the game of baseball.
Finally, at this point last year, my family and I were watching the Yankees' playoff hopes disappear against the Red Sox with the decidedly painful distraction of my father being in Lenox Hill's ICU. This year, I had no such distraction: perhaps the only glimmer of light at the end of this sad, prematurely-shortened tunnel, is that my other half is coming to NYC in 24 hours, so I know that, very soon, she'll be taking my mind off baseball -- and I mean that in a very, very good way :)
They say "Better luck next year" when a team is bounced from the playoffs. But as a rabid Yankee fan, I'm starting to get tired of that expression. I think I'll start using a new one: "We'd better be better next year, or else."
Or else what? We'll sic King George on you.