I wish it were that easy. Believe me, I really do. But with the Yankees organization falling apart these days, shedding tears seems to be the only sensible option here.
Last Sunday night, Mariano Rivera made his final appearance at Fenway Park in front of a sold out crowd of 37,000 plus. To put it nicely, it wasn’t a farewell any Yankees fans had wished for. Not only did Rivera sit in the bullpen for the entire game, the Yankees got clobbered 9-2 by the Red Sox, completing what was a three game sweep of the Yankees.
The sweep not only gave the Red Sox a nine game lead in the division as of Tuesday, but more importantly, a 12.5 game lead over their most hated rivals. With the sweep of the Yankees, the Red Sox have propelled themselves into the driver seat for the final two weeks of the regular season. With what is most certainly going to be the Red Sox division title come season’s end, the sweep of the Yankees has allowed Red Sox nation to sleep peacefully and rest easy before October baseball rolls around.
To put it politely, life is good in Boston, for now at least.
However in the Big Apple, it’s a whole other story, one that tells the tale of an uncertain future and a horror story waiting to unfold in the tabloids.
Times like these have been brought to the attention of Yankees fans before. We’ve seen drama unfold to the point of near destruction; it became of a stable point of George Steinbrenner’s legacy. Whenever the Yankees appeared to be on the cusp of rebuilding, Steinbrenner and the Yankees always made an unprecedented move to keep the Yankees relevant and a World Series contender.
For a while, that worked. The Yankees could always avoid epic tragedy by using their power and outrageous bank account to sway top free agents to wear the pinstripes and play in the largest sports market in the world.
But the real reason the Yankees have stayed atop the chain of power for so long is because they have possessed a core of players that have been the heart of soul of the Yankees organization.
The year was 1996, and an insert of young blood had just been brought into the New York Yankees organization. Joe Torre had been hired to replace Buck Showalter as manager, and a young core of players the likes of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera were called upon to reclaim the lost glory and great history the Yankees had been missing since their last World Series in 1978.
Not only did the Yankees win the World Series that season, they went on to win four of the next five World Series. Behind the play of the “Core Four,” the Yankees became a dynasty that no team wanted any part of come October.
You can point to Jeter for his great postseason play, or Pettitte as the all-time leader in postseason wins, but the real reason why no one wanted any part of those Yankees’ teams was because of the most feared pitch in baseball; the Mariano Rivera cut-fastball. Rivera, now the all-time leader in saves, became the most dominant closer in the history of baseball with one pitch. His cut-fastball, known for its movement without losing any velocity on the pitch, became the most feared pitch in the game by even the best of hitters.
For the last 18 years, no one has been as good and as dominant at one position in arguably any sport. From 1997 to 2011, Rivera had only one season in which he had less than 30 saves (28 in 2002). He’s compiled 40 saves in nine seasons, and he’s reached the 50 save mark twice during his career. He’s been even more spectacular in the postseason. In 96 postseason appearances, Rivera has .70 ERA with 42 saves and just five blown saves.
Incredible. That’s simply incredible. Rivera’s numbers are so dominant that words can’t even begin to describe how great he has been since he first came up to the big leagues at the end of 1995 season.
Last March, Rivera announced that 2013 would be his final season in the majors, calling it a quits after a marvelous career that has spanned almost two decades.
Rivera’s retirement seems in sync with the state of the Yankees and the uncertain future that lies ahead of them.
As of Tuesday, the Yankees are 12.5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, but are only 2.5 games behind Tampa Bay and Texas for a Wild Card spot. If luck hits the Yankees like it always does, they might steal the last spot in the Wild Card and gain a spot in the playoffs.
But lets look at the bigger picture here. The Yankees are on the ledge of a free fall that could lead them to a place no Yankees fan or executive ever thinks of mentioning: mediocrity, or even worse, a rebuilding stage.
Rivera’s retirement is the symbol of the final piece of what was once a great Yankee empire shattered to pieces. When Rivera hangs it up in two weeks (because lets face it, the Yankees aren’t making the playoffs), what was left of the “golden days” will be long gone. Yes, as long as Derek Jeter continues to put on a Yankee uniform, there will be a piece of that era still standing, and even Andy Pettitte taking the hill once every two weeks will keep those days in our thoughts. But Rivera has always been the glue that has stuck the “Core Four” together, and his departure from the game will be the mark of a new beginning in Yankees baseball, one that could embark on a rebuilding era and a complete change of thought throughout the organization.
The Yankees have always been afraid of this moment, but now it seems the time has finally come where they must strap on their seat belts and begin the process of forming a new empire.
Where do the Yankees turn? Who do you the Yankees turn to?
Questions among more questions surround the men in pinstripes.
Growing up a Yankees fan, I’ve been privileged to witness my fair share good moments, some great moments, but most importantly, very few bad moments.
Reality is beginning to set in for me. I see the dark times that lie ahead. Even with Jeter still on the payroll, the culture known as the “Yankee Way” seems to be disappearing faster and faster.
I may be alone with this statement, but I’m fully prepared for the rebuilding process to begin. Yankees’ executives, more importantly the Steinbrenner family, have long been unwilling to build through their farm system and bring up young talented players for the future. It appears this model of thought will now have monumental consequences on the team’s future (the A-Rod contract is all that needs to be inserted here).
I’m sad to see Mariano leave. He’s a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, and his name will forever be enshrined in Cooperstown.
But with the passing of the torch, my hope is that the Yankees will wake up and realize that there has been a shift in the game of baseball, where more money doesn’t equate to more wins, just more problems.