This New York Yankees act during the season of 2017 starkly contrasts 2009 while bringing us back to a more dominating surprising era.
Wow. Just wow. Or perhaps an appropriate “holy cow.”
What’s transpired in the Bronx this month — the historically exciting month of October — has been nothing short of remarkable. The Baby Bombers have blossomed. The New York Yankees have arrived.
On the heels of a brilliant 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the ALCS that saw the young Yanks finally break that dominant starting pitching wall known as scruffy Dallas Keuchel, the Pinstripes are one win away from the World Series. That’s right, the World Series, an event that’s noteworthy for even the franchise that’s been to 40 of them.
What’s interesting is the “wow” or “holy cow” has very little to do with the World Series. Instead, it’s an overall feeling of nostalgia coupled with fall success.
Derek Jeter‘s Bombers captured their fifth World Series title in 2009. It was the Alex Rodriguez October. His only beyond successful October. The Yanks breezed through the Minnesota Twins, knocked off the Anaheim Angels and then bested the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. Despite the level of celebration, it didn’t quite feel right.
Despite the smooth ride, something was missing.
Two-thousand-and-nine was the first campaign that featured New Yankee Stadium. The new expensive digs that featured an overall lower crowd volume were only matched by the spending-spree the front office went on during the previous hot stove season.
Not only did the franchise suffer through Boston Red Sox titles twice over the last five season (2004, 2007), but the simply amazing Tampa Bay Rays had finally broken through by capturing the 2008 AL Pennant.
The powers that be were angry. They were ready to pound their chests and spend again. Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett were the headliners. The total sum of the drunken-baseball sailor spending spree topped out at $425 million.
The team dominated and one with very few pieces of drama in October. The only semblance of memory for many diehards comes when A-Rod decides to pull the ring out on FS1.
This 2017 team isn’t the product of spending. These guys are the product of correct baseball decision-making and it’s enough to even hype up “thumbs-down man.”
The major problem with the post-dynasty Yankee years commenced when Jason Giambi was snagged prior to the 2002 season. YES Network was coming and the machine that was built through four titles must be fed. Glitz, glamour and power must reign down from the Yankee Stadium heavens at every turn.
This was the thinking of George Steinbrenner, the same superstar-driven clamoring that turned out to be the franchise’s undoing in terms of building championship-caliber clubs.
Speaking of King George, it wasn’t he who built the dynasty. It was Gene “Stick” Michael and Buck Showalter who did put the Yanks back on the map.
With George suspended for a good part of the early 1990’s, Stick and Buck were afforded the opportunity to steer the ship right. They kept highly-touted prospects such as Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams — even if guys like Roberto Kelly and Mel Hall were making fun of one of them (Bernie writing his poetry in the clubhouse).
While the kids were learning, vets were added — Big Daddy (Cecil Fielder), Jimmy Key, Wade Boggs, Paul O’Neill, John Wetteland, to name several. Joe Torre handled the blend of youth and age perfectly to the tune of one of the more historic dynasties of all-time including a 1998 season that featured 114 victories.
These guys weren’t a clubhouse driven by star-power. Rather, they functioned like a well-oiled machine that excelled at every baseball aspect that was elevated during the cool months of October.
Need a clutch hit or sacrifice to the right side? Jeter’s there to change his approach. Need a superhuman to come out of the bullpen and pitch two innings? Mariano Rivera‘s there in leading up to Wetteland. Need a big-time bunt with a runner on first? Tim Raines will hop out of the dugout with the same enthusiasm we saw from his days in Montreal.
It was special.
Now, over two decades later, another man has literally filled the shoes of Buck and Stick.
After years of frustration, Brian Cashman has finally been allowed to spread his wings and do his thing. He’s not a stupid individual. He looked around baseball for the better part of the last decade witnessing success coming from youth. He wanted to turn the page. He craved to build his own team from top-to-bottom.
The Yankees just wouldn’t allow it to happen.
Think about the A-Rod fiasco in 2007. After opting out, Cashman claimed it was over. A-Rod would no longer wear the pinstripes. Then Hank Steinbrenner open a backdoor for Rodriguez to return. That massive deal coupled with others forced Cashman’s hand. He just didn’t have the open spots to build the farm for real. There were no positions in which young studs could be plugged in.
On top of that, Yankees ownership was so devastatingly frightened of empty seats in August that they would rebuff anybody offering up the “rebuilding” word.
Then the trading deadline of 2016 happened. Cashman was afforded the opportunity spread his wings and clean house — all while understanding his young kids were right behind. Within the blink of an eye, a good farm system turned into the best in the land. Instead of entering a new season (2017) with a stale, old and tired roster, the Bronx would be buzzing with the Baby Bombers.
Ownership would have to deal with a “rebuilding” year.
Wrong. And that’s why 2017 mirrors 1996 so well.
Both seasons have been unexpected. Both teams match each other’s resiliency. Both bullpens are downright nasty in any situation. Both managers rank as the best in the game. (Even one of the managers was a part of both clubs.)
Where did these guys come from? In ’96, the club won 92 games in capturing the AL East over the tough Baltimore Orioles. This 2017 team won 91 games. Player-by-player, there aren’t great comparisons to be made:
- CC Sabathia as the lefty hired gun of Jimmy Key?
- Sonny Gray as the righty hired gun of David Cone?
- Didi Gregorius as the young cool and calm Derek Jeter?
- Greg Bird as that professional bat in the lineup like Paul O’Neill?
- Aaron Hicks as the aloof, long-striding centerfielder in Bernie Williams?
- Todd Frazier as the spiritual “get ’em boys” leader like Wade Boggs?
- Aroldis Chapman as the high-priced closer like John Wetteland?
The shocking aspect of comparing both teams come when realizing the ’96 team is nowhere near as young as ’17. Sure, the building blocks of Jeter, Bernie, Mariano and Andy Pettitte were present, but so many veterans filled out the roster in helping boast a tremendous bench and bullpen.
It’s the “unexpected” element that holds true for both clubs.
Think about the resiliency of both clubs. In ’96, a 2-1 hole in the ALCS and 0-2 (at home) in the World Series needed to be overcome. A do-or-die Wild Card Game and two 0-2 holes have already been answered by the new and improved Baby Bombers version. Even Yankee Stadium activity and noise is even coming close to the overall feel of old Yankee Stadium.
Forget 2009. It was a championship season that brought very few feel-good storylines with it. It was the only successful “pound our chest and spend gobs of money” Yankees team through the super-driven years.
This 2017 team is so incredibly different. While younger than the ’96 team, the parallels and overall feel has been uncanny.
If you’re one of the younger Yankee fans who holds 2009 near and dear to your heart (in being too young for the 90’s), you don’t have to feel left out in the cold any longer. This current version is everything unexpected that the 1996 club was.
And what’s more is this organization deserves it. Finally allowing Brian Cashman to do the right thing has the New York Yankees bringing us back to the glory days.