Paul Rutherford | USA TODAY Sports

Scene: Yankee Stadium, April 18, 2023.

Fade in on young Yankees righty Clarke Schmidt standing on the mound in the first inning. It’s early in the year and he’s still very much finding his stuff. Two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani stands in, takes two pitches, then drives Schmidt’s hanging sweeper 391 feet into the Yankee bullpen for a two-run home run.

Ohtani crosses the plate, slaps hands with teammate Taylor Ward, and heads to the dugout for the obligatory celebration. As is tradition for any Angels player after a home run, he dons the Samurai helmet and walks the bench for high-fives.

Celebrations like these have become commonplace. The Blue Jays had the international home run jacket for two years before doing away with it in 2023. The White Sox have the zoot suit and fedora. The Red Sox had their laundry cart celebration before leveling up to inflatable dumbbells. The list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong. The Yankees do all this after a home run too. Just remove any and all props. Then, remove all fun, and only have an all-business walk up and down the bench for the high-fives and other congratulatory gestures.

Fast forward to today, and the Yankees are in a sad state without the injured Aaron Judge. They’ve lost four straight, sit third in the AL East, and there’s no end in sight. Nobody in the lineup is producing except for the occasional clutch knock from Jake Bauers or Gleyber Torres.

Oh, and three of those last four losses? All to rival Boston.

It all adds up to a foul, almost suffocating feeling of malaise from the dugout all the way down to the fans. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when there’s really no distinction between #YankeesTwitter, the beat writers, and New York sports talk media.

This writer has one simple question: And for what? No, seriously. Where is it in the Yankees’ unofficial rule book that everything is all business all the time? Why is any and all fun kept strictly behind closed clubhouse doors? Is it just leftovers of Derek Jeter’s obsession with winning or is a certain ghost of a certain someone still haunting the hallways?

The Red Sox are last in the division and enjoying themselves more than the Yankees. So are the White Sox. They’re making the best of their respective situations and just playing the game, taking the time to celebrate the good stuff.

Not in New York, so why? Why is it that the Yankees have to be so much different from every other Major League Baseball team and not have a “gimmick,” for lack of better word? Edwin Encarnacion’s stuffed parrot in 2019 doesn’t count since it’s not Yankees-exclusive. Awarding a pro wrestling belt to the player of the game is a nice touch, but unoriginal.

Save for the low-budget sensation “Toe-night Show” started by Ronald Torreyes in 2017, what have the Yankees done to rally the team together?

Now, some important notes. First, none of this is to play armchair expert, nor downplay how hard it actually is to play pro baseball. Moreover, despite the usual WFAN loudmouths decrying the situation, nobody following the Yankees even wants perfection. All any fan wants is competitive baseball. Losing games is one thing, but losing without effort is another, and far worse.

And as the above pertains to the Yankees, the situation is becoming unsustainable. Judge has no timetable for a return and simply willing Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ LeMahieu out of their slumps won’t work. The players need something, anything to grab onto that can motivate them to win in Judge’s absence.

For example, with New York being the pizza capital of America, what if the prize for hitting a home run was donning an apron and chef’s hat before the dugout parade? Or celebrate the city with three shields with B, D, and 4 subway stickers on them, signifying the three lines that travel to Yankee Stadium?

Even wearing obnoxiously large sunglasses after a home run could be enough to spark the Yankees. What if the solution really is that simple? Stop getting in their own heads about the results and have some damn fun. That isn’t to say the result isn’t important, but look at the Yankees right now.

The overcompensation without Judge and only offering simple platitudes to explain bad baseball isn’t upholding a tradition. It’s just simply pitiful. A team that has won 27 World Series should know that over time, one has to evolve.

That time has now come for the Yankees. They can either cross their fingers and hope someone steps up until Judge comes back, or they can evolve to win without him.

I unfortunately wouldn’t count on the latter, though. It’s just not the Yankee Way.

Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.