The SportsBurglar just watched the Yankees get bounced in the first round of the playoffs yet again and couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t subscribe to the Evil Empire theory. I don’t think that the Yankees are bad for baseball. But as with many people who do not live in New York or who are not Yankees fans, the hype they receive from ESPN and other media outlets annoys me. There are other issues going on in the sports world besides the Yankees and the Red Sox.But after watching the Yankees lose yet again and after 7 straight seasons of failing to win a World Series, Joe Torre is about to get fired and the Yankees lineup is about to potentially undergo great change. I think that this is a good time to reflect upon the last 15 or so years where the Yankees have been dominant. Between 1996 and 2000 the New York Yankees won four World Series in six years. At the time, that dominance made me hate them. They had too much money and too many good players.
Then, a funny thing began to happen. Every season they brought in another big star for big money. Every season they were one of the favorites to win the World Series. Every season they fell flat on their face in the playoffs. In the end, the recent versions of the Yankees have been no better than the Atlanta Braves were over the last decade and a half.
And so, as time has passed it has become possible to look back on 1996-2000 Yankees teams in a different light. To look at them in light of seven years in a row of no repeat champions. In light of the success of teams that get hot just prior to the playoffs like this year’s Colorado Rockies. In light of teams that limp in into the playoffs only to get hot after they finally get there like the 2005 Chicago White Sox or 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps it is time to re-examine what it takes to make a winner in the MLB playoffs, or even to re-examine the structure of those playoffs themselves.
The MLB regular season is really really long (and boring, if it were not for fantasy baseball) and the playoffs are too short (There is only one October after all). The MLB season is 162 games long. The playoffs are a maximum of 19 games long and the team that wins the World Series needs to win 11 games. In order to grind out a 162 game season teams must use five or more starters and a seven or eight relievers on a weekly basis just in order to physically compete. Once they get to the playoffs however teams may only go with two or three starters and they may only use three or four relievers. Your best field players will take days off during the season but will play every day during the playoffs. How many times do you hear a pundits say “I wouldn’t want to face so one so over a short series” or “so-and-so will really benefit from the shortened rotation and off days of the playoffs.” The very nature of the game changes in MLB playoffs.
Pundits have long asserted that the great Braves teams of the 90s “were not built for the playoffs.” The implication of this was that somehow the great Yankees teams of the 90s had a better mix of hitting and pitching, starters and relievers and speed and power. At the time this seemed to make sense. Both the Yankees and the Braves would have wonderful regular seasons and yet somehow only the Yankees would triumph in the post season. The Yankees had it all figured out.
Maybe however, it was just that a team like the Braves was devoid of guys like Craig Counsell. Guys that were good in the harsh glare of the postseason spotlight. Guys that were hot at the right time. Guys like Jeter, Williams, Martinez and Rivera. Or even my favorite random player from that era, Chad Curtis, who would do whatever it took. These guys good but they also did what it took to win. They were a good team during the regular season and they were the best team during the playoffs.
As much as I love seeing them fail for seven straight years, in the end it only highlights how good the Yankees were between 1996 and 2000.