Keidel: Yankees Party Like It’s 1996

By Jason Keidel
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It is the rare year, like this one, when the Yankees aren’t the talk and the chalk of baseball eminence.

The defiant fan base pretends that losing Lee and Pettitte is incidental. Nonsense. Instead of two borderline Hall of Famers (which Lee could be in a few years) in your rotation you’ve got Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia.

But this is good. Twisting Thomas Jefferson’s words into a baseball mantra, a little parity is good for the soul. And the Yankees are still formidable. They just couldn’t flex their checkbook and buy every lefty on the block, which has been the Yankees’ singular sense of baseball justice. For over a decade, there hasn’t been a problem that their bottomless bankroll can’t fix.

Not this year.

Perhaps yesterday’s win italicizes the new blueprint for the Bombers: get a solid six from your starter and end the game with a phalanx of fireball-hurling relief pitchers. Of course, it always sounds lovely and facile when it works. Then someone gets hurt and the formula changes. But if this is the new Yankee metric – slicing games into six-inning chunks – it could have an old feel to it, as in 1996, when they had a pretty decent setup-to-closer conga line.

If you’re under 30, baseball has been a festive, autumnal romp for you. Just slip on the pinstripes and win 95 every year and whine when they don’t win the World Series. I almost fell into that trap, myself. But then I remembered the time before the Core Four, a desolate decade called the 1980s: the meat of an 18-year gap between championships.

Those rosters were festooned with overpaid stars in pinstripes, zero world titles, and many missives from The Boss. (“Columbus, here I come!” was one of King George’s more humorous reactions to a poor start by Dennis Rasmussen.)

So this generation is spoiled. And considering the price you pay for a seat in that ornate edifice, you have a right to expect victory very often But it’s not assumed this year, which, to some of us, makes this season fun.

As with every year since 1997, there’s only one constant in the Yankee Universe.

No matter who starts, swings, or sets up the win, it’s nearly impossible – even for the most rabid Yankees detractor – not to marvel at Mariano Rivera. The Final 42, as I often call him, who got the save yesterday for nearly the 600th time in a career that has no peer.

Only a widening bald spot reveals that he’s human. Forgive me, as it becomes exponentially harder to watch or write about the Yankees without an homage to Rivera, who is the reason the Yankees have been the Yankees for the last 15 years. And matching his brilliance on the mound is the serenity with which he approaches his game and his fame.

Not one whisper of malfeasance. No juice, no HGH, no posse, no harem, no demands, and no problem for the Panamanian phenomenon. Only the ninth-inning monolith, whose deeds under any colored leaves render him a status we can’t fathom.

Beyond his pitching acumen, he provides insulation from the violent bias directed at the Yankees as Larry Lucchino’s Evil Empire – an amalgam of Gordon Gekkos whose maxim, “Greed is Good,” was perfected on River Ave. long before Michael Douglas tried it on Wall Street.

Near the end of yesterday’s game, the YES Network flashed an astonishing stat saying that Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada are the first trio in the history of team sports to play together on one team for 17 years. The core three now, with only one somehow still at his best. Not since Ruth has a Yankee worn the uniform as well as Rivera.

Even by the obscene standard the Yankees set over the last century, there is no one like Mo, Sui generis of any generation.

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Agree? Disagree? Let Keidel know in the comments below…

  • DRU

    Born in August 77, I didnt even see the Yankees make the playoffs until my 1st year in college. Too young to really remember the 81 WS loss, my 1st memory of the Yanks wasnt until the 83 season rooting for Big Dave Winfield, a yound Mattingly and Rags on the mound. On my 6th Bday ( 83 ) I went to see them live for the 1st time. I remember when the Yanks signed Ricky in 85 and he quickly became one my favorite Yankees. I actually cried when they got rid of him, Donnie was now alone as my childhood hero. I knew every Yankee swing and would practice them in the backyard playing wiffle ball. As fun as I thought it was, I suffered my entire childhood and through HS without seeing a single playoff appearance. Fall of 95 I was in college and my favorite player layed it all out that year in the playoffs. But like Jordan and my Knicks, Griffey crushed my dreams. The following year, Soph in College, we faced the unbeatable Braves with 3 hall of fame SPs. We got blown out at Yankee stadium the 1st 2 games and like Mets fans today, of course expected the worst for my lovable losers…….then it all changed, Papa Joe had his famous talk with King George and the Yankee dynasty began. I never take a season for granted, never complain about a 1st round playoff KO ( Im always glad when we make it ), never get down on my team during a predictable 2 week slump, never complain when we dont sign “THE GUY” in the offseason ( Beltran, Johan, Lee ), follow the minor league teams religiously, love when home grown kids make it, appreciate every victory and laugh at spoiled Yankee fans who would only be happy with a 162-0 record and a WS win every year. I actually get into more arguments with Yankee fans than any other fans, even Sox fans. Thats why this article struck a cord with me…I own two Yankee Jerseys…2 for my entire life rooting for my team..from a 5 year old to a 33 year old…..28 years in a row of seeing my team at the stadium and counting…those 2 jerseys? 23 and 42. My childhood hero and the greatest player I ever saw….Mariano Rivera.

    Thanks again for writing this piece!

    • JK

      Thanks, Dru. I started following them in ’77. (I was born in 1969.) And I felt like a jinx because they went 18 years without a ring after ’78.

      I run out of words when it comes to Rivera. Loved Mattingly and Reggie and Randolph – heck, all of them – but none come close to Mo. He’s that good a pitcher and person.

  • Fred V

    Here’s a question for you (and Mo)… With Soriano’s opt-out contract, do you “teach” him your killer cutter or hold it out as bait until he signs his next contract assuring that he will be a Yankee for at least two more years? Unfortunately, Mo is too open to improving those around him and therefore his team on a daily basis…even if Soriano leaves after one year…

    • JK

      Good question. You can teach a pitch but that doesn’t mean the pupil can apply it. I’d like to ask Rivera how many kids have asked him for the recipe. My guess is he’ll help Soriano regardless of his contract.

      Transcendent players in all sports make bad coaches (or managers) because they don’t have patience and don’t understand what it’s like not to be brilliant. I wonder if Mo would like to become a pitching coach once he retires.

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