As the halfway mark passes — um: yay, American League! — the Yankees’ season is already over: They’re ten games behind the Red Sox and out of the wild-card race. They’ve run out of saviors. Unless the earth starts spinning backward, or someone fudges the math, or Steinbrenner discovers a way to fire the entire A.L. East, there will be no signature late-summer heroics, no storming back and humiliating the Red Sox, no sweeping the postseason awards. We are witnessing, at long last, the global-warming-ish collapse of the Torre dynasty — long predicted by doomsdayers, supported recently by airtight statistical trends, and now suddenly upon us.
This leaves Yankee fans in an unfamiliar position. How do we cope with an entirely meaningless second half of the season?
Instead of panicking, we should greet this as an opportunity — a chance to develop fan muscles that have atrophied over a decade of guaranteed success. Winning has stunted our collective emotional growth. It’s time for us to relearn what the rest of the country already knows: the rich and subtle pleasures of watching terrible baseball. We need to find pleasure in the exquisite irony of Roger Clemens’s making a lucrative Jumbotron comeback to rescue a team that refuses to score runs for him; we must learn to revel in the sad realization of the Johnny Damon Samson prophecies, in Kyle Farnsworth’s ridiculous sunglasses, and in the minor thrill of a 20-year-old pitching prospect’s slightly misdiagnosed hamstring. It seems karmically appropriate that in this new atmosphere of mediocrity, A-Rod has finally stepped up as the team’s spiritual captain, with dominant stats, clutch hits, steady fielding, positive vibes, and a newly declared peace with the city. This is, after all, the role he’s played for most of his career: the superstar face of a losing team. Has losing finally reversed the A-Rod–Jeter polarity? Will he continue to thrive while Jeter, who has played his entire career in the heavenly glow of a charmed success beam, gets increasingly huffy and awkward and mishandles ground balls?
Someday, eventually, this hopelessness will yield a new and deeper joy, and we’ll start to overachieve again, and President Bloomberg will throw out the first pitch of the World Series at the new Yankee Stadium. But for now, watching a totally unknown kid in weird glasses strike out everybody in the world has to be as good as a pennant. —Sam Anderson