I met my old lover on the street last night

BOMBERS-250.jpgHey, beautiful. It’s been awhile. Can I say, you look really, really good? You haven’t aged a day. Don’t feel the obligation to say the same thing, even just to be polite. I know I’ve seen some dents and scratches. There have been a few accidents along the way in getting to this little reunion. Mistakes were made, I know that. Innocence is not a concept I cling to. Sometimes it seemed like there would never be a safe harbor, and yet, here we are at last. It’s so good to be with you again. Thank you, I really mean thank you, for letting me feel this way one more time. I heard Jorge say you never know when you’re going to get another chance. I know that you don’t have a lot of time to stay, but Jorge was so very right, and he would know, wouldn’t he? All I’m trying to say to you is, kid, let’s not rush it. Let’s just enjoy the moment. Let it breathe, because all I want to do is feel this way a little longer. And when it stops, give me one last look before you go, so I can make up another dream.

Given that the Yankees won four World Series in the span of five years not terribly long ago, it is somewhat shocking to consider that there are fans–Yankees fans, baseball fans–now 18 years old who were only nine when the Yankees last hosted a championship trophy. This is not long by the standards of some teams; there are some Cubs fans who are now on their second or third afterlives since the last time their club got to dance on the field. Nor is it long by the standards of my own youth, when the Yankees got a little lost, a little tragic, and a little angry on their way to defending the 1978 championship and gradually disappeared, first from the postseason winners’ circle, then from the playoffs, and finally even from the list of .500 teams. Eighteen years went by, each one of them more difficult and bizarre than the last. The Yankees only waited half as long this time, and yet, but the standards of expanded postseason baseball and the changed economic environment of the game, and the obvious effort the Yankees organization put in to winning, eight years seems like a very long time. Throw in painful lose-from-ahead defeats like the 2004 Championship Series against the Red Sox, throw in the midges that ate Joba Chamberlain, throw in Jeff Weaver, and (especially) throw in the last ten minutes of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and nine years seems like a very long time indeed. Derek Jeter turned 35 this summer. He was a youthful 26 the last time he earned a new ring.

Many congratulations are due to Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman, the latter of whom was strangely and undeservedly absent from the winner’s podium. They made smart offseason acquisitions, certainly the best of Cashman’s entire run. No Tony Womack this time, no Carl Pavano. They bought the best in Mark Teixeira, and had the perceptivity to see that the White Sox had badly undervalued Nick Swisher. They were also lucky in getting big rebound years from Jorge Posada (injury), Robinson Cano (inexplicable slump), Derek Jeter (uncharacteristic malaise), Melky Cabrera (wholly explicable slump), and Hideki Matsui (injury). Johnny Damon contributed his second solid year in a row, which also wasn’t a sure thing, and Alex Rodriguez came back reinvigorated from personal scandal and surgery, which also didn’t have to happen. All of these elements, when combined with a new ballpark that seemed to favor raw power (“seemed”  because the jury is still out on YS II’s true nature), gave the Yankees one of the best offenses in club history, one which would be able to hold its own if it ran into any other great offense in club history, 1927 and 1998 Yankees included.

With four switch-hitters and three left-handers in the lineup, opposing managers couldn’t match pitchers with them, and even the weakest spot in the lineup was a short distance from average (center fielders hit .273/.338/.400; the average AL hitter averaged .267/.336/.428). All those comeback wins aren’t surprising given that kind of depth. There have been years in the past when the Yankees have gone to the ninth inning down a run or two, and when I looked ahead to see who is coming up to try to pull the game out of the fire, I would see Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo, or Bubba Crosby and Kelly Stinnett. “Oh great,” I might sigh to myself. “Here comes Ruth and Gehrig.” You knew the game was almost certainly over. There were very few moments like that in 2009, because in a lot of cases, Ruth and Gehrig, or some very reasonable facsimiles, were in fact coming up to the plate.

On the pitching side, the team also bought at the top of the market, bringing in CC Sabathia and the oft-dominant but erratic A.J. Burnett, as well as re-signed Andy Pettitte. Just as significant is what they did not do, which was hurl loads of cash at name-brand relievers, who rarely reward the investment. Instead, they were satisfied to stand pat with their improvised pen of late 2007, all balanced on the Rock of Panama, Mariano Rivera. When the relievers faltered, they didn’t trade the farm for veteran help, as the organization almost certainly would have done in the past. Instead, they reconfigured the relief staff once again and emerged with the best bullpen in baseball–at least in the regular season, but the Rock was always there in the postseason to set things right. 

Not every string that Girardi pulled, not every move that Cashman made was perfect, and as in any year there is a lot that you can argue about (as we often did in this space). As we’ll discuss in the coming days and weeks, there were a few moves that they’re unlikely to get away with twice. Still, as the old saying goes, flags fly forever, and for now those disputations are reduced to mere quibbles. They organized this team almost as well as a team can be organized, and I cannot wait to see what they do for an encore. Congratulations to the brains trust, to the coaches and scouts, to ownership and executives and interns, and, most of all, the players. Well played, gentlemen.

Even though the lights have gone down on the 2009 baseball season, the Pinstriped Bible will be maintaining its usual five-day a week schedule, plus more when there’s breaking news to discuss. Baseball never stops, and we’ll immediately light up the hot stove and start talking about the path to championship No. 28 and all the other doings around baseball. It’s going to be a fascinating winter, especially for the Yankees. I look forward to passing the cold months with you, and I hope you’ll stay and be part of the discussion.

As I always do at this time, I’d like to thank you for reading the Pinstriped Bible. It has been my privilege to write the PB for about ten years now, and I never feel less than blessed to have the opportunity to (I hope) entertain you, challenge you, and learn from you. Even if your only contact with me was to register a compliment or a disagreement, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to give me your thoughts. I have the best job in the world, and it’s all due to your support. Once again, thank you so very much, and may you enjoy this championship as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.


  1. neyankee

    I’m so glad I found your blog, Steven, which both makes me laugh and makes me smarter. I’ll definitely keep reading.

    Thank you, too, for steering me to the LoHud blog, another great source for information and analysis.

  2. buzah

    I think this is an historically good Yankee team. Right up there with best, and of course they would have won more than they did had they had ARod all year. Anyway, `61 and `98 were expansion years and this is our first title in some time that comes with both 100+ wins and no expansion. So it’s up there with the recognized great Yankee teams and the underrated great Yankee teams (late `30s).

    It was also the first time since Mickey Rivers in`78 and one of the only times in history, that the Yanks got it done without above average production in CF.

    Should be a fun hot stove!

  3. rich@richandcandy.com

    Steven, you know I’ve been a fan for years now. I just wanted to say thank you for another, very entertaining season. Your updates are always a highlight of my day. Thanks for doing what you do so well.


  4. goberm@walkercountyschools.com

    Keith, forgive me, but I don’t recognize the gentleman in the picture you took. I am a faithful viewer of Countdown, but maybe my eyesight is a little blured from the tears over our 27th. I have never commented before, but have thoroughly enjoyed your wonderful blog. Even here in Alabama, you would be among friends of the Yankee brotherhood and sisterhood. Keep up the good work! My dad is 90…a huge Yankees fan…don’t know how many more he will be able to enjoy, but at least one or two, I hope! He brought me up listening to the Yanks on radio before the days of all-access baseball coverage.

  5. jaysworldtour09@yahoo.com

    This is a fantastic article, it has really made me remember of the days when i was just a kid and they had won their 26th world championship title, indeed it has been a while and those 9 years seemed to be an eternity but here i am enjoying yet another yankee world series victory, definitely looking forward to a 28th title and many more, keep up the good work in bringing joy to your readers thanks!

  6. closedendman@aol.com

    Steven, I don’t always agree with you, but I respect you and enjoy and appreciate your work. You’re the first one I read when I come here. It was a great season.

  7. lbury@gc.cuny.edu

    Glad to have spent another season enjoying your tremendous writing on baseball and other matters, Steven. Glad, too, that this season ended so well for the Yanks. Looking forward to a contented hot stove season…
    – Louis

  8. dsteinha@ucla.edu

    Thanks for giving us the blog, Steve. I just became a regular reader in the middle of last year, and wish I’d read it sooner. (Except for one thing–it’s better to be an uninformed fan in the Tony-Womack-leadoff-era and you can believe it will all work out.) 2 questions maybe you can address in the offseason:

    1. The Yankees played respectable opponents in the Angels and Phillies (less so with the Twins), but no titanic teams. How do you think the ’09 Yankees would have done against the best teams of the decade?

    2. You hear a lot about how this team was different because of “chemistry”, CC’s barbecues, pies in the face, and all that. From what I’ve heard, the championship teams of the late 70’s mostly disliked each other. I don’t know anything about other past winners. How was the chemistry of earlier champions, and do you think the Yankees’ chemistry played a role in this year’s championship?

  9. elfmanlives@hotmail.com

    I have a request! Hey, Steven. Do you think you could post one of your famous little charts comparing some of the most productive post-seasons of all-time? I’m curious to see where Arod’s 2009 season fits in with the all-time greats. Thanks!

  10. bs@vebtek.com

    Thank you for the very nice post. First paragraph is one for ages. Well done. Love your writing. Keep it up and keep it going.

  11. aaronwer@gmail.com

    Many yankee fans probably already know this, but since you mentioned the whole 9 year old/18 year old thing in this post, it reminded me of what I told my friend (a red sox fan) the other day. Even though 9 years doesn’t seem like a long time to the red sox and cubs fans of the world, these last 9 years actually represent the 3rd longest championship drought for the yankees in their history. The longest was 18 years between 1978 and 1996, followed by 15 years between 1962 and 1978, followed by these past 9 years. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

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