By John Schmeelk
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“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“How could it suck to be a fan of a team that wins all the time?”
“Schmeelk’s an idiot.”
Those are just some of the reactions I expect to have about my headline. All I ask is that you continue reading with an open mind, and look at reality with a different perspective. It took the aforementioned different perspective for me to recognize this sad truth, one I found during a baseball trip my brother and I recently took through the Midwest.
We started with the Reds and Blue Jays in Cincinnati, attended games at both Chicago ballparks, and finished up our trip in Milwaukee. The Reds are the oldest baseball franchise and have a very impressive team Hall of Fame. One that would take a good two hours to get through if you wanted to read every exhibit. What started this little catharsis for me was an entire area dedicated to the Reds’ division-winning team from 2010.
At first, in typical Yankees fan style, I scoffed at how pathetic it was for a team to be so celebratory of ONLY winning a division. They lost in the Division Series, for cryin’ out loud. “Really, they’re proud of this?” I got a good laugh at it and moved on. In the stadium there was a banner for the team — and an almost palpable sense from the crowd that they were still so grateful to the guys in 2010 for making the playoffs.
It seemed so honest and pure.
Later that night, I took a look at the records and realized it was the first time the Reds had made the playoffs or won their division since 1995. It had been 15 years since Cincinnati had a taste of playoff baseball. It must have been something like I felt in 1995, when the Yankees made the playoffs for the first time in a long while. One of my favorite stadium memories is still Don Mattingly’s RBI single to give the Yankees the lead against Seattlein Game 1 of the ALDS. It was a moment for Mattingly like Jeter had on Saturday, a reminder to everyone of how great he once was. The mere fact the Yankees were playing the Mariners in the playoffs was a thrill.
As I traveled to Chicago and Milwaukee, I checked out their team histories. The Cubs have only made the playoffs four times since 1990, winning the division three times. Since 1984, the White Sox have made the playoffs and won their division four times. The Brewers are the worst of all, with no division titles and one Wild Card appearance since 1983. Like the Reds, the pride in their stadium over their playoff appearance in 2008 was obvious. Just for reference, the Yankees have made the playoffs fifteen times in sixteen years, including eleven division titles, seven American League Championships, and five World Series rings.
What’s my point, you ask? Yankees fans need to seriously reflect here. Ask yourselves, do you really enjoy making the playoffs every year?
Is it an accomplishment that is really celebrated, or something expected that finally and inevitably comes to pass? Be honest. It’s the latter and it’s a shame. A division championship or a postseason birth is something that should be valued and appreciated, not viewed as a divine right.
I’m sure fans of other teams reading this right about now are asking themselves: “So what’s the problem? I’d want to make the playoffs every year. It’s awesome.” Think again.
As a kid waking up on Christmas morning, there was nothing cooler than seeing a brand new bike wheeled out after all the presents were opened as some kind of uber-surprise. Even though you realized something was up (since there weren’t really any gifts under the tree for you), it was still the thrill of a lifetime. Even though the ground was blanketed with snow and it was just 25 degrees outside, you would get on that bike and ride it until your face froze. It was the best.
Do you think it would feel that way if every single Christmas morning you got a new bike? Nope. Soon it would become an expectation, to the point if you didn’t get the bike, no matter the substitute, it would be a disappointment that would dwarf any feeling of joy. You’d become spoiled and entitled. It’s bad for the person receiving the gift and the person giving it.
The Yankees fan is the kid that gets a new bike every Christmas — and their parents can’t figure out a way to top it.
The difference between baseball and other sports is the 162-game grind of the regular season, and how every team must survive and play well for six grueling months to earn their way into the playoffs. It has as much to do with health as it does talent. It’s the grind that makes it special, with every regular season loss potentially foreshadowing the future failure of not making the playoffs. Baseball is supposed to be a regular season sport, not a playoff sport like the NHL or the NBA, where getting in is almost assured. The joy of the regular season has become foreign to the Yankees fan. It is merely six months of trying to figure out how the team will perform for four weeks during the playoffs, which is the only part of the season that really matters.
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Worse, the nature of baseball makes the postseason a virtual crap shoot. In any series, even the best pitcher can perform terribly (see Cliff Lee, World Series 2010) or the worst pitcher can be lights out (see Kenny Rogers, 2006). The best lineup can go ice-cold (see Yankees in the 2003 World Series) and the weakest can get red hot (see Giants last year). Making victory in the World Series the only true successful conclusion to a season dooms a fan to constant disappointment and little joy. It is self-defeating.
For the joy of an entire baseball season to be dependent on the result of three short series defies the logic and beauty of that which is supposed to make baseball different. It steals away simple pleasures that Yankee fans can’t even enjoy anymore. An unexpected playoff run will never happen for a Yankees fan, nor will seeing a young team come of age. Even great moments become dulled.
When Yankees fans think of 2003, do they think of Aaron Boone hitting a home run against the Red Sox, or a terrible World Series performance against Florida? Is 2001 remembered for Mariano Rivera blowing a ninth inning lead or beating the 116-win Seattle Mariners in the ALCS?
I know the answer for me, and I’m sure it’s the same for most Yankees fans.
When the Yankees beat the Mets in 2000, I wasn’t jumping up and down like a maniac. I exhaled and realized I had been holding my breath for an entire five-game series and said to myself: “Thank God the Mets didn’t beat the Yankees because that would have been awful.” When the Yankees won in 2009 there was much more of an “about time” vibe that anything else.
The constant pressure of having to win every single season robs the Yankees fans of even more. There’s nothing more fun than seeing a player emerge from a team’s minor league system and grow up into a Major League player before your eyes. Fan bases grow to love these players, like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada or Andy Pettitte. With any young player, especially pitchers, there are bumps in the road that must be endured, which eventually makes the player better. Unfortunately for the Yankees, with their mandate to win every season, they can’t afford to let a player “figure things out” at the Major League level.
Ian Kennedy has turned into a potential All-Star in Arizona, something he was never given the opportunity to do for the Yankees. Austin Jackson is fighting through a sophomore slump in Detroit, one he would have been demoted for in the Bronx. There’s a chance Jesus Montero will never be seen wearing a Yankees uniform because the front office has to trade him for a starting pitcher.
There’s the rare appearance of someone who performs well right away like Robinson Cano — and sticks — but it doesn’t happen often. Instead, well-paid mercenaries and ringers continue to file into a building that there is little emotional connection to. If a young player fails or a major player gets hurt, the Yankees can simply trade for an established guy that has a contract their current team wants to dump. As good as Granderson has been this year, I don’t have any emotional connection to him like I did to Bernie Williams. It’s the same for Teixeira, A-Rod, Swisher and even CC Sabathia. The $200 million payroll makes it all too easy.
Constant winning also hurts Yankees fans right in the wallet. Out of control expectations force the Yankees to spend $200 million per year to guarantee a playoff berth, and that results in the exorbitant ticket prices at the Stadium. In 1992 in the old Stadium, virtually the same seat I sit in now for eighty dollars per game, cost fifteen. I’m in the 200’s just past first base. I got to sit two rows behind the dugout in Cincinnati for 60 bucks. In Milwaukee, I was nine rows behind homeplate for $45.
Obviously, the five World Series wins I’ve been around to see have been special, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. The four in the late nineties came when making the playoffs was still a novelty. The run was special. But since then, with a playoff berth all but assured every year, the joy of making the postseason has faded. The great feeling a fan is supposed to have when their team wins just isn’t there anymore.
What’s the point? I’m not sitting here telling fans of the Brewers, Pirates or even the Mets to feel sorry for Yankees fans. In fact, Mets fans might have it worse since their fan base has taken the expectations of the Yankees and inexplicably hoisted them onto their own team. It’s unrealistic and unfair. At least the Yankees win once in a while.
I’m a Yankees fan that is yearning for a salary cap — and for his team to be less successful. Maybe I ‘m crazy or maybe I just yearn for the days when making the playoffs was a thrill. Maybe I just want to be able to live and die with a regular season game in September knowing that October baseball is on the line. Maybe I just want the pure joy associated with winning that I saw in Cincinnati and Milwaukee. Maybe I just want to lift the burden of having to win the World Series or be horribly disappointed.
Is that crazy? Maybe it is. But for this Yankees fan, it’s what I need to enjoy baseball like I used to — and how most fans across the country do.
Or, of course, maybe I’m just crazy.
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