By Jason Keidel
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It’s tough to recall a win with so many conflicting themes. Yes, the Yankees beat the scalding Tigers, yet it was hard to cheer, as though it occurred in an inverted world. The man who always wins blew the game and the man who always loses won the game.
Alex Rodriguez, baseball’s Dead Man Walking, hit his first home run since the Civil War, and Mariano Rivera blew a save for an unprecedented third straight time.
Even if Rivera resumes his transcendent form, he’s only pitching another six weeks before he melts into retirement, leaving the largest hole in the history of sports. The greatest irony of all is that he will leave on his terms, but not his time — October, where his best deeds always came under brown leaves.
For about a decade, perhaps since the Yanks gagged that 3-0 lead to Boston in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the world has awaited their demise, putting premature postmortems on the Pinstripes ever since. But this year could be the final, accurate analogy to 1965, when the Mickey Mantle/Whitey Ford/Yogi Berra empire finally crumbled.
The main reason the eulogies never stuck was the ace up their corporate sleeve: money. Lots of it. They could afford a Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver, or Kei Igawa because they would simply double-down on their next player, salary cap be damned.
With about 45 games to go, the Yankees (59-57) are in fourth place, hopelessly behind Boston in the American League East, and are seven games from either Wild Card spot. But the Bombers need to stand on a stool to peer over all the teams between them and a playoff berth.
And for the first time since Old Man George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball, the Yankees have a bland present and a bleak future. King George’s tribe doesn’t share dad’s infallible business mantra that winning, while expensive, is even more lucrative.
When they missed the playoffs in 2008, they made it rain on the free-agent market and won the World Series in 2009. They could always fall back on their mountainous stack of C-Notes. Not anymore. The new Yankees aren’t only anemic on the field; they’re suddenly anorexic upstairs, too.
Their newfound frugality and obsession with the $189 million cap could preclude them from re-signing their own stars, as well as poaching players from more penurious and forlorn franchises. Their supposedly fertile farm hasn’t produced a star since Robinson Cano. Where’s their Matt Harvey? For the first time since the ’80s you can assert that the Mets have a better future without being laughed out of the room.
The historically potent Bombers are have been alarmingly impotent. They have scored the second-fewest runs in the American League, and are -24 in run differential. Can anyone recall the last time the Yanks allowed more runs than they scored?
And it should only get worse. Assuming their third basemen doesn’t play next year, the Yankees could field a team in 2014 without A-Rod, Curtis Granderson, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Cano and Rivera.
Then there’s A-Rod, who isn’t just a mess on his own but also is a microcosm of his employer’s excesses. Beyond all the luxury taxes and trickle-down economics that have fueled them for these 18 years of bliss, a karmic tax may be the death knell. With no spare change and no farm, there’s no future.
10 years ago, the Yankees could have overcome A-Rod. The dual hits in the box office and batter’s box can be conquered. But not without their traditional contempt for salary restrictions.
The Yankees made an implicit deal with their fans long ago. They would charge you more at the ballpark and in return you would be assured a superior product. You can’t cut back on one but not the other. With sagging ticket sales and TV ratings, this year is proof that fans will boycott a bad product.
Not only can they gaze with quiet envy toward Queens, where the Mets have the best young pitcher on Earth with a possible wing man in Wheeler, and millions coming off the books, but to Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are 23 games over .500, thanks to former Yanks Russell Martin and A.J. Burnett.
Unless they loosen the financial leash strapped around Brian Cashman, this is the end of the Yankees as we’ve known them since Joe Torre nursed a young Core Four into stardom. Between injury, age and wage, the Yankees have a dim future.
Darth Vader is dying. The Evil Empire is collapsing on itself, on its sins and hubris and the assumption that the logo alone was enough. The Yankees don’t scare anyone anymore. They’re just scary.