Look at that picture above. That’s the Yankees celebrating their last World Series championship, on October 26, 2000. The winning hit came in the top of the ninth inning, off the bat of Luis Sojo.* The Yankees broke the souls of Mets fans by clinching the title at Shea Stadium. In case you have blotted out the memory, here’s John Sterling’s call, sans deconstruction:
Now Rivera is set, and the 0-1. Swung on and hit in the air to deep center. Bernie back, way back! He’s there! He makes the catch! Ballgame over! World Series over! Yankees win! The Yankees win! The New York Yankees have once again reached the summit of the sports world! They’ve won their third straight championship, fourth in the last five years, and 26th all-time. The most successful franchise in all of sports! Starting the new millennium, the New York Yankees are once again World Champions!
That was a long time ago.
We mention all this because, as little as anyone would have believed it back in 2000, World Series titles are awfully difficult to come by. The Yanks had won four in five years back then, and had little reason to believe they wouldn’t do it again next year. That was nine years ago. Everything’s so different now.
The Yankees are back in the World Series for the third time since that night at Shea. (It’s funny how the 2003 Series was almost an afterthought, right? One suspects Yankees fans would love to have that one back … and without David Wells, now that you mention it.) And the mood is different, more appreciative, more in the moment. Since the Yankees were last in the World Series, the Red Sox have broken the Curse (and then won another title), Joe Torre has headed west, Alex Rodriguez and all his baggage have come to town, and George Steinbrenner has faded from the spotlight, infirm, muted, ghostly. (He is suspected to be at the stadium tonight, for the first time since Opening Day.) So much has changed. This feels like the start of something new.
But, we ask with metaphorically raised eyebrow, is it? The chasm between the 1996 Yankees (the last team to break a streak this long in franchise history) and the 2009 Yankees is vast. That team had a foundation that would last through the next decade, to the point that some of those same guys (Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada a year later) are the foundation of the 2009 version. No matter how much you like Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Melky Cabrera, and Phil Hughes, it’s hard to imagine them anchoring the 2022 Yankees, isn’t it? Though, at this rate, Jeter might still be playing for that team. The point is: The 1996 core clearly looked like it was going to be around for a long time.
It’s not as clear with this team. For all the success the Yankees have had this year, it’s worth noting that they’ve been awfully fortunate with injuries. Other than A-Rod’s first month off — a month of rest that was surely needed mentally as much as it was needed physically — some early-season catching issues, and Chien-Ming Wang’s ongoing struggles, the Yankees have been near peak capacity all season. A team that’s the third-oldest in the majors (behind the Phillies and the Dodgers) can’t expect that to continue next season, particularly with notoriously brittle guys like A.J. Burnett hanging around and little minor-league talent ready to step in. The Yankees will be old for the forseeable future. (Though it’s nice to have relatively young fellers like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira for a while.) This season isn’t the end of anything, but it might not be the beginning, either.
We suspect Yankees fans are aware of this, which is why this year is appreciated, why this doesn’t feel like the You Better Win Or Else mandates of seasons past. The Yankees are playing one year at a time again. It’s not a dynasty: It’s just a uniquely skilled, fun team that’s one step away from a championship. For now, that’s more than enough. History can wait. There’s a title to be won right now.
* Favorite bit of trivia about Luis Sojo: In 2003, he played in the Old Timers’ Game at Yankee Stadium … and then returned to the actual Yankees at the end of the season, going 0-for-4 before retiring again.