I wish I were a betting man. I wish I had C.C. Sabathia’s lack of willpower and inability to control my inhibitions. I wish I took the minimum-wage balance in my checking account and used my head, not my heart, to bet against the New York Yankees in last night’s Wild Card play-in/playoff game – or whatever dishonest buzzwords the creative geniuses at Major League Baseball use to describe that loser-fest between two second-place, foam-finger waving deadbeats.
Predicting the Yankees’ demise was so easy it was as if I had Gray’s Sports Almanac in my back pocket. You couldn’t have scripted a more perfect failure for a bloated, listless, lifeless team that backed its way into the postseason like an 18-wheeler trying to squeeze into the loading bay at Walmart.
This epic collapse, highlighted appropriately by last night’s [x-x] loss to Houston at home in game No. 163 is among the most embarrassing in baseball history. How so? More on that later. For now, some context:
The reality is the Yankees didn’t clinch a playoff spot this season. The other teams simply ran out of time to catch them. The Yankees led the American League East by 8 games on July 29th, two days before the trade deadline. General manager Brian Cashman, who must have some incredibly embarrassing photos of Hank and Hal Menendez-Steinbrenner to keep his job as long as he has, stood pat at the deadline while everyone else in the American League – Toronto, Texas and Kansas City, among others – made moves to improve their chances of qualifying for the postseason.
Fifteen days later, the Yankees found themselves looking up at the Blue Jays from their new spot in second place. Toronto never looked back, winning 9 of 13 against the Yankees down the stretch to further stake its claim as the best, most improved, team in the division. Toronto officially clinched with a win at Camden Yards. Three or four days later, the Yankees popped bottles in the clubhouse and began lining the parade route in lower Manhattan after narrowly avoiding a four-game sweep at home against the last-place Red Sox to wrap up a second-place finish. Let that sink in.
As for the other teams that made moves at the deadline, well, they each won their respective divisions. The Rangers added ace pitcher Cole Hamels to rally to win the A.L. West and the defending league champion Royals tightened their grip on the A.L. Central with the addition of Johnny Cueto.
Were it not for Major League Baseball adding the Wild Card in 1995, the ultimate reward for mediocrity, the Yankees’ 2015 collapse would rival that of the 1978 Red Sox in terms of unbridled scrutiny and historical context. Consider this: Boston led New York by 8 games in the A.L. East on July 29th, 1978, the same number of games the Yankees led by this year on the exact same date, no less, and ultimately lost the division in game No. 163 at Fenway Park courtesy of Bucky Dent’s pop-fly home run over the Green Monster.
The Red Sox spent nearly three decades wallowing in their own self-pity for one of the most celebrated choke-jobs in sports history. Thanks to Major League Baseball’s decision to award failure with a free entry into the postseason, the Yankees earned the right to celebrate their meltdown with pride in an alcohol-induced haze. They almost forgot the rest of the games still counted, barely earning the right to play last night’s game at home only because Houston couldn’t beat Arizona on the final day of the regular season, not because of anything they did on their own.
They say there’s no momentum in baseball. With all due respect, that’s horseshit. The Yankees closed out the regular season losing six of their last seven, a horrific finish to a second half in which $85 million catcher Brian McCann hit .200, followed by their $182 million lefty Sabathia checking himself into rehab for alcohol abuse on Monday, just 24 hours before his team’s biggest game of the season. For an encore, their slightly less expensive, $155 million ace, Masahiro Tanaka delivered his best Hideki Irabu impression with a magnificent five-inning effort in the all-important play-in game Tuesday, serving up two more cannon-shots in the process to raise his total to an astounding 27 in just 25 starts.
Don’t try to sell me on this being a successful season in the Bronx because the Yankees out-played their Pythagorean win-loss record by six or seven games and made the postseason despite being picked to finish third or fourth by most experts. They still suffered a glorious collapse in the division race, accelerated by their own ineptitude and indifference at the trade deadline. An organization that has botched the development of every home-grown prospect for the past 15 years is suddenly holding onto its blue-chippers as if the same out-of-touch, blowhards running the player development department in Tampa won’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
Somehow, the Yankees finished among the top 5 again in attendance, though you’d never know it if you attended a game in person, sitting amongst a dull, hipster crowd too busy Instagraming pictures of the sushi from the food court to actually pay attention to the game. You almost have to wonder where the money goes. It certainly didn’t go toward adding any salary at the tread deadline, unless you think Dustin Ackley’s $2.6 million procured any overdraft fees in Hank and Hal’s trust fund.
The good news is the aforementioned Steinbrenner brothers managed to soak one more lucrative home gate out of this disappointment of a season thanks to Houston’s inability to steal home field advantage. That’s more money to not spend on real talent during the next offseason. As long as Major League Baseball continues to toy with the idea of adding more mediocre, undeserving teams to the postseason, you can expect an even more watered-down product in 2016, 2017 and beyond, at which point the Yankees will still be paying Alex Rodriguez to disappear when it matters most.
No wonder Sabathia drinks.
Support WBOB Sports