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Keidel: Empire Strikes Blank

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By Jason Keidel
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As reporters hopped to each locker, each face more macabre than the last, I froze at Andy Pettitte, a graybeard of the old guard.

Pettitte, his somber voice coated with southern charm, was baffled by his team – which could not win when it was supposed to. The machine to which he (and we) became so accustomed is altered. The switch is gone.

There is a refreshing innocence to Pettitte, even though we know he once cheated. Maybe it’s the residual faerie dust from a magical time. He gets a pass because he and the other three of the Core Four represent something special, something that no longer exists. Ten more championships can’t replace it.

When Charlie Hayes pinched that pop-up near third base in 1996 the Yankees were whole and wholesome, the sum of disparate parts that somehow clicked. It’s Mariano Duncan hitting .340 and Mariano Rivera appearing out of some metaphorical cornfield with a pitch no one had ever seen.

Joe Girardi’s triple started a tide that peaked in 1998 and finally receded in 2001 when Luis Gonzalez broke his bat off a pitcher he could not really hit and broke the heart of a city that had lost its soul. And New York has been waiting for the same surge ever since.

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The magic can’t be recaptured because the premise has changed. Throwing money at something makes it look better but doesn’t make the world feel better. In the old stadium there was no swath of empty seats curling from first to third. The new place is freckled with the wine and cheese crowd and bouncers and ropes and all the shards of affluence that are antithetical to our pastime.

Junior doesn’t get a great seat unless his dad’s a doctor, while the plumber sits by the stars and remembers a time when the old house hosted the ghosts and if the front row cleared he could sneak down and grab a spot.

And this is why folks hate the Yankees, who will try to buy Cliff Lee rather than beat him. If they sign Lee and Carl Crawford they reinforce a redundant coda: the rich guys win. A competitive advantage is something we can all buy on some level. But an onslaught, the baseball Borg where everyone is assimilated, is boring. And the Yankees are boring.

Though the Rangers just pummeled them in the ALCS, many worry that the enormity of the Yankee brand will turn baseball parity into a parody. It won’t. If the Evil Empire was born the day of Larry Lucchino’s designation (in 2003), then business hasn’t been very good. The Yankees have won one championship in the following eight years.

The problem isn’t karma, exactly, but the answer does reside in the metaphysical cocktail that pours things stats can’t define, like a club being hot when the weather gets cold and getting tired of losing and growing numb to the bully.

Cash is the buffer between the team and the abyss, but it doesn’t assure them much else. Texas just showed us that. It was not a fluke. The fluke, rather, is the dynasty that drowned the town in expectations.

I interviewed Chazz Palminteri about six months ago. He said that when he’s asked how often he wants the Yankees to win, he says every year. Beyond his honesty there is truth to his sentiment that winning never gets old.

With this team, this time, it just gets older.

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com

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