We tend to grossly overstate the effect that external factors have on our mental state. We think the new job, the new house, or the new relationship will relieve us of our anxieties and unlock a higher plane of living. And for fleeting moments in the wake of acquiring the new job, the new house, or the new relationship, that may seem to be the case. But eventually, after the adjective “new” is removed, our old anxieties return. Happiness is an internal phenomenon; it exists or does not exist inside our own heads. As a result, we are the only people alive capable of finding it for ourselves; the outside world is of no help.
I know this intellectually, but I often struggle to internalize it. To wit, I steadfastly believe that baseball holds something out there that can give me a particular kind of happiness I’ve been chasing. It’s a kind of happiness that I’ve imagined but have not yet experienced for myself. And if the baseball gods give it to me I am convinced that certain anxieties will disappear, that a new plane of living will reveal itself.
What I’m looking for is the happiness that I am sure will come with the Yankees finishing in last place.
I was seven years old that last time the Yankees finished under .500. I have been waiting for them to do so again ever since. Every season I convince myself that this is the year they will fall. I look at their roster and see only flaws, blind to whatever strengths the team actually has. And then every season they somehow win.
It’s really selfish of the Yankees, hoarding the devil magic that keeps them afloat the way they do. Devil magic could be so useful to society! They could eliminate poverty! End the war in Ukraine! Help me remember at least one of my god damn passwords! But no, the Yankees keep it all to themselves, using it for no higher purpose than to turn utterly mediocre ballplayers who have no business occupying your headspace into beardless, pinstriped all-stars. Last year it was Nestor Freaking Cortes — a guy with a fastball that moves so slowly that it appears to be sipping lemonade and fanning itself on the porch — who turned himself into the best pitcher in baseball for a few months and rescued a rotation that I thought was woefully lacking in depth.
But this year, on the heels of a Red Sox sweep that moved them to 5-1 on season against their arch rivals, the hope has returned. There was nothing remotely scary about the Yankees team that the Sox so easily dispatched this weekend. Their Game 2 lineup yesterday featured just one single hitter with an OPS over .800 (some jamoke named Billy Mckinney, a 28-year-old with just 29 career home runs.) Outside of Gerritt Cole, their rotation does not contain a single pitcher with an ERA+ better than league average. Even Nestor Cortes has returned to Earth; the devil magic has disappeared, leaving him with an ERA above 5 and taking his middle name with it.
Rejoice! The New York Yankees are thoroughly mediocre!
But, oh right . . . they remain 2.5 games ahead of our equally mediocre Red Sox.
Now, I don’t think the Sox will be looking up at the Yankees for much longer. Sure, the Sox have been playing ugly baseball for the last month, but the James Paxton-Bryan Bello-Garrett Whitlock trio fronting the rotation right now gives me hope. And with recent news that Aaron Judge’s injury is lingering, the Yankees lineup is going to continue to look toothless for a while. But ultimately, I don’t see either team being able to compete with the deeper, more balanced rosters in Tampa, Toronto, and Baltimore.
What does this mean? Well, it means that 2023 could bring us something exceedingly rare. Something so rare, in fact, that it’s only happened twice in 120 years: the Red Sox and Yankees could finish next to each other at the bottom of the standings.
It happened first in 1925. Strangely enough, this was right in the midst of a run of Yankee dominance. They had been to three straight World Series between 1921-1923, and would go to another three in a row from 1926-1928. But in 1925 Babe Ruth suffered a mysterious abdominal illness that caused convulsions, fainting spells, and even led to erroneous reports of his death. He played just 98 games that season as the Yankees finished in seventh place, 21 games ahead of the truly hapless Red Sox, who had yet to recover from trading away the star of their 1918 World Series winning team (huh, how about that?)
Forty-one years later, it happened again. In 1966, the Yankees were just one year removed from five straight World Series appearances. But their championship core of Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Elston Howard, and Whitey Ford was suddenly old and in irreversible decline. This time it was they who finished in last place, while the pre-Impossible Dream Red Sox finished just 2 games ahead.
So we could be on the cusp of history! The Red Sox and Yankees, fighting each other for fourth place in the mighty American League East!
Will it make me happy if the Red Sox win that struggle? Intellectually, I know that true happiness likely only exists when you’ve obtained enough emotional maturity that you don’t need to rely on divisional standings to find it. That’s what the psychologists would say, anyway. But I’m not a psychologist; I am a Red Sox fan who fears and loathes the Yankees. Bring on the battle for fourth place.