The problem with the Yankees

In college I read C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. Most people know Lewis because of his Chronicles of Narnia series, but he was also one of the great thinkers of his time. The Problem of Pain was a philosophical book, a book about pain, and why it is necessary. Lewis wrote that the universe creates pain for a reason. In a world without pain, there is no free will. To feel pain is to know you’re living. Pain isn’t really isn’t a problem at all.*

*I am sure a day will come when I have kidney stones and think otherwise.

And now here is my attempt to segue this into a thought on the Yankees. The Yankees are facing a problem. They aren’t very good. But the problem with the Yankees isn’t really a problem at all, if you look at it objectively. The Yankees have been good forever. They have won 27 World Championships, 16 more than any other team. They spend over $200 million on their players. It’s about time they feel some suffering. The organization needs humbling. The universe has created this pain for a reason.

Well, I certainly don’t think that way. No, the way I look at it, there are many problems with the Yankees.

The Yankees of my youth created unreasonable expectations. In today’s baseball, dynasties don’t exist. They shouldn’t. The structure of the game doesn’t allow for it anymore. Oh sure, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, teams could dominate the playoffs because, well, there were no playoffs. If you won the division, you won the pennant. And then baseball added more teams, more playoffs – in 1969 they added a best-of-five Championship Series, then they changed it to a best-of-seven, then in 1995 they added two Wild Cards and a best-of-five division series, and then in 2012 they added two more Wild Cards, and now a team has to potentially win four playoff series to win the World Series.

Well, no matter how dominant you are, it is incredibly difficult to win four consecutive series. So it is quite amazing when you think that the Yankees won eleven consecutive playoff series from 1998 through 2001. This was the standard.

Baseball is better when you’re young because everything is new, and the players take on an almost mythical status, and of course the winning helped. And now here I am, I’m 23 years old, and I don’t think I am becoming jaded to the sport, because I still love baseball, but the game has obviously lost a lot of the magic from my youth. So it goes. The Yankees back then were awesome, they were so fun to watch, and there was a kind of unyielding determination in those teams. You even saw that in years they didn’t win the World Series – 2002 and 2003 and 2007. Watching Yankee games now, in 2014, is frustrating. It can be agonizing. Like, I legitimately get angry when I watch the games, until the pragmatic side of my brain takes over and tells me that this is silly.

I have always been an optimist when it comes to the Yankees, sometimes to a detriment. It’s a life philosophy, I guess. I’ve always tried to look for the good. But this team? They’re not good. I don’t see much in the way of determination or enthusiasm or even confidence. Their body language is childish at times – they mope, they scowl, and there seems to be a lack of responsibility. They don’t hit for power. They don’t walk. They don’t hit with runners in scoring position. The bullpen is overworked and the starters haven’t been all that great either, with the exception of Masahiro Tanaka.

Lewis wrote that we can ignore pleasure. But pain? Yeah, pain insists on being attended to. It demands to be felt. But I’m worried that the Yankees – and their fans – are parlaying this pain into apathy. Oh, the brand is still strong. They are miles ahead of most of the other teams in terms of attendance and revenue and TV eyeballs. And, hey, they can still make a run at the playoffs. It is still early. But I think losing has made fans care less. They don’t want to feel the pain of losing. And this is fine, it’s human nature, but it’s still troubling.

Again, the pain is a product of their success. They created unrealistic expectations.

I came in at a bad time, I really did. I didn’t suffer in the 80s and the early 90s, I didn’t see the dreadful 1991 team that lost 91 games, or the fourteen straight years without making the playoffs, or the thirteen different managers over a nine year period or …. actually, you know what? I came in at a good time. I just hope we don’t go back to that.

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