It’s been thirteen years since I’ve admitted that the Yankees are actually a good baseball team. The 2009 World Series championship roster was undeniable. A-Rod was building a case as the best player of all-time. Mark Teixeira led the league in home runs. And at the top of the rotation, CC Sabathia was the horsiest horse of all big league horses. The team was essentially flawless, as the lineup featured 8 everyday players who carried an OPS+ of over 115, while the starting rotation was led by three pitchers with an ERA+ over 110.
Game 6 of the World Series that year started at 1 AM in Scotland, where I was traveling for work. I ordered a bottle of red wine and a plate of room service haggis, and I settled in to watch Pedro pitch what I hoped would be the last great game of his career. He didn’t. Hideki Matsui tagged him with a two-run homer in the second (Matsui’s third of the series). Pedro’s control faltered in the third, and the Yankees plated two more. It was an uneventful game that the Yankees never trailed on their way to a championship. I went to bed just as the sky was brightening over the River Tay, dejected and groggy. The haggis was good, though.
I’ve been waiting for the Yankees to suck ever since the last out of that World Series. Moreover, I’ve been expecting them to suck. The desperate contracts given to Sabathia, Teixeira, and AJ Burnett would cripple the team, I was sure. A-Rod’s ego would poison the clubhouse. Derek Jeter’s insistence on playing shortstop despite not even being the best shortstop on the left side of the Yankee infield would balloon the ERAs of a starting rotation that was aging out of effectiveness anyway. The Yankees would finish under .500 soon enough; last place eventually, too. I was sure of it.
You see, I have an acute form of blindness when it comes to the Yankees. I see only their flaws, and completely overlook the things that make them good. Every spring I go over their roster and predict, with absolute certainty, total collapse, the worst-case scenario playing out for all 26 men.
I did it again when I looked at their roster this past March. Gerrit Cole was a sticky stuff fraud who would be the most expensive league-average starter in baseball. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would injure themselves walking up a gently inclined ramp and miss two-and-a-half months. Nestor Cortez, whose fastball moves so slowly that it appears to be sipping lemonade and fanning itself on a porch outside Savannah, would turn back into a pumpkin and be pitching in Scranton by June. The Yankees were a severely flawed team.
You know what happened next, of course: they blitzed through the league, opened up a 15.5 game lead in the best division in baseball, and spent three months winning at a pace that would make them the best regular season team of all-time. So much for the Yankees sucking this year.
But wait! You also know what happened next-next. It started out modestly. They lost five out of six games just before the All-Star break (three of those losses coming against the Sox). They dropped series to the Astros and Mets towards the end of July. And then came that glorious, horrible August. A 4-13 stretch to start the month; a 1-4 stretch to end it. Every player on the team under 6’7” completely forgot how to hit, and the Yankees had their worst 50-game stretch since 1991, which is arguably the greatest sports year of all-time, thanks entirely to this magazine cover:
Why have they been so bad? It starts with the offense. Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres, and Josh Donaldson – three hitters who Yankee Blind Dan was sure were completely cooked – finally did play down to expectations. Hicks has been particularly brutal, slashing an unfathomably bad .133/.205/.160 since the start of August. Stanton finally made his annual stint to the IL and has struggled since returning. And Matt Carpenter was called back early by the Devil, having apparently failed to read the fine print when he sold his soul. Beyond Cole and Cortes, the rotation hasn’t been too hot, either. Frankie Montas has been up-and-down since arriving at the trade deadline, Jamison Taillon and Domingo German continue to be mediocrities, and Luis Severino can’t stay on the field.
The 2022 Yankees have been two completely different teams; historic one moment, historically bad the next. The question is which of the two teams better represents the truth. My particular strain of Yankee blindness makes it impossible for me to objectively answer that question. I, as always, am certain that the team is mediocre. Of course Aaron Hicks can’t hit. Of course Giancarlo Stanton can’t stay healthy. Of course the back-end of the rotation is iffy. These are all things I was sure of way back in March.
But I’ve been wrong about the Yankees year after year. I might be wrong again now. Since 2009, the Yankees have been like that Dundee Centre Hotel haggis: a bunch of component parts I find individually underwhelming (DJ LeMahieu, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Anthony Rizzo for the former, sheep’s heart, oatmeal, and stomach lining for the latter) that nonetheless end up achieving more than I think they should. Pass that bottle of red — I’m going to need it.