Bermuda (9/04)
  Mithi Sithabi, Chicago (12/04)


In the summer of 1995, I remember writing a proto-blog on my UPenn home page about the Yankee chase for the wild card. I think it was August, and they'd just lost to the Mariners - a harbinger of things to come - when Graeme Lloyd (I called him Graeme Freakin Lloyd at the time, though he did acquit himself nicely in '96) gave up a late inning moon shot in the old Kingdome, probably to Junior Griffey. I was writing about the particular and peculiar stress of meaningful baseball games -- the delicious agony of anticipating every pitch and every swing -- which I found myself experiencing for the first time.

The Yankees lost that year, in devastating fashion. You know the story, up 2-0, we went down to Seattle and lost three straight. The last game was lost in extra innnings, on Yankee-slayer Edgar Martinez's double into right. I can clearly see Griffey, who was once great and who once always seemed to have a smile on his face, race around the bases while Gerald "Ice" Williams relayed the throw to the cutoff man, who then threw home to Leyritz -- but two seconds too late. Griffey had come around from first and the game, the series and Don Mattingly's career were over.

There was disappointment of course, but also a certain sense of pride, because the Yankees had come back from so far just to get to the wild card (they were red-hot that September), and had played so well in the series. I also felt a calmness and peace because Donnie Baseball, my boyhood idol who was never the same after his back gave out in 1990, finally had his chance in the playoffs, and what did he do? He played like it was 1985, ripping doubles down the lines, hitting over .400, even smashing a couple of home runs. This ending was bitter, but it was also sweet, because there was hope: we had young stars like Paul O'Neil, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posado, Andy Pettite, Bernie Williams and a September callup named Derek Jeter, who all went through and would learn from this disappointment together.

Flash forward nine years later. The Yankees have just lost to the Boston Red Sox, at Yankee Stadium, after being up 3-0, and after twice going into the eighth inning with the lead, with Rivera, the greatest postseason pitcher of all time, blowing both games. If you had asked a Yankee fan before this series to imagine the worst possible way to lose, they wouldn't have been able to come up with a scenario more devastating than this. Because for a Yankee fan, the events of the last few days were once beyond the pale of rational thought.

In 1995, there was hope and innocence associated with that loss; this year, there's just disgust. Disgust at the Yankees for relying on overpaid clowns like Kevin Brown ($16 million!) and Javier Vazquez ($45 million!) to pitch in game 7 (Did you see these two groove those balls to Ortiz and Damon??? The second the balls left their hands, you know they were going to get pounded. Unbelievable. But I digress.). There's disgust at Steinbrenner for being such a free agency whore for players like Kenny Lofton, then suddenly pinching pennies and disparaging the worth of someone as indispensible and clutch as Andy Pettite (imagine if he would've started Game 7 -- I guarantee the score wouldn't have been 6-0 after 2). And there's disgust at the Yankee franchise as a whole, because, for the first time as a Yankee fan, I feel that the organization has no soul. It's a moral dilemma I'm facing here: how do you root for a team that you can't stand? It's like a wife suddenly waking up and realizing what everybody has been saying all along -- that the man she married has turned into an absolute degenerate, a worthless shit, who she should leave. The question is, will she be able to do it?

Nine years and four championships are bracketed between the two devastating comebacks against the Yankees, and the arc of that journey goes like this: loss leading to hope ('95), hope leading to magic ('96), magic leading to dominance ('98-'00), dominance facing mortality ('01), mortality leading to desparation ('02-'03), and finally, desparation leading to this year's embarrassment. It's the classic trajectory of the rise and fall of empire, writ on the baseball field; another apt anology of this period of Yankee history is to the Clinton years, which began with hope, led to unparalleled prosperity, but which left even his most ardent supporters with a bitter taste of resentment at the end.

The seeds of the Yankees current success was sown in the late 1980's and early 1990's, when Steinbrenner was banished, and when returned, chastened, for his involvement in the "Let's dig up dirt on Dave Winfield" scandal. Yankee fans went through four or five years of painful baseball. Mell Hall, Andy Hawkins, Kevin Mass, Chuck Cary -- these were the scorched-earth Stump Merril years. My God, I never thought I'd ever say this as a Yankee fan, but then again, there are a lot of "I never thoughts ..." going around these days -- what we need right now is a return to those forgettable years. Why? Because during those times, Jeter, Bernie, et al, were in the process of being discovered and developled by Stick Michael's scouts. We need the Posadas and Pettites of a new era to restore Yankee dignity and pride, to slough off the ever-present taint of a mercenary-for-hire collection of overpriced ex-stars.

Hmmm ... come to think of it, A-Rod does a lot of charitable work, and Steinbrenner's undoubtably none-too-pleased with his postseason performance. Does anybody have Howard Spira's number handy?