Monday, April 28, 2008

The End of a Dynasty

Twenty-six World Championships plus 40 American League pennants. That is what the New York Yankees have provided since 1903, when they completed their first season of play. After finishing 17-games back of first place, few realized that the franchise would become one of the great teams in the history of sports.

Fast forward to 1996 through 2000; the Yankees were the most-dominant modern force that baseball had ever seen.

But things aren’t what they used to be, and in a time where parity has slowly hit the shores of Major League Baseball, the Yankees have had their share of problems in the past few years. Is the greatest dynasty in modern baseball history fading away?

Remember the infamous Jim Leyritz home run in the 1996 World Series? Paul O’Neil’s gut and grit while his back deteriorated in the last few years of his career? Wade Boggs galloping around Yankee Stadium with every fan in their home was standing in approval? David Cone, and one of the great flyouts ever produced off the bat of Mike Piazza? Those are the lasting images that fans remember of those great Yankees teams. The list goes on and on.

The core nucleus of players during "The Yankee Dynasty" was like none other. Every name brings up a story in a daily conversation among Yankee fans.

But team has taken a turn for the worst with the acquisitions of "stars" such as Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, etc. What is wrong with the New York Yankees?

The problem lies in the fact that Major League Baseball lives in the world of free agency and enormous contracts. The "home-grown" player is no longer an option. The minor leagues should change their name to the Kansas City Royals and the Florida Marlins.

Players are drafted and groomed on those teams, and after they become too expensive, players wait for the highest bidder. That is all fine, but when a pitcher who can’t go more than three innings is added (Kevin Brown?), there is a big problem. That is the type of player that the Yankees have filled their roster with since 2000, the year of their last World Series victory.

2005-2007 have been arguably the most laughable seasons any young Yankee fan has experienced. Jason Giambi went from a machine to a shadow of his former self. If you thought Tim Redding was the name of your local train company, you’re incorrect, because he actually was the starting pitcher of a Yankee game (coincidentally, it was a loss). Two guys who made less money than Alex Rodriguez was given per swing, Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon, were the reason the Yankees were in the 2005 playoffs. That is what this team has become. A guessing game.

Some of the blame game can be put on Joe Torre. He was an outstanding manager during the prime years, making the clutch decisions that were necessary in winning championships. But he also was masked behind a truly remarkable team of chemistry and players who knew exactly what their role was. The past few seasons, it seemed as if Torre decided to manage innings 1, 2, 8, and 9, while taking off the other five innings.

Then there is "The Boss", Owner George Steinbrenner. As payrolls increased and the stakes grew higher, Steinbrenner went away from the Yankee system of building players up from the minor leagues and went to buying them from other teams. If something didn’t go right during a season, not to worry, because he would trade for new blood. And now that The Boss is gone, we get The Boss's son. Judging by his early moments, Little Steinbrenner needs to keep his mouth shut and learn how to run a team.

On paper, the team has brought in plenty of talent in the past few years. The resurrection attempt includes some intriguing names such as Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. But isn’t it a problem when one of the best players brought in was not only on the Boston Red Sox, the Yankee’s mortal enemy, but also was someone who once said that he would never play for the Yankees?

They also re-tooled a pitching staff that has been the biggest cause of concern the past seasons. Mariano Rivera has been the great closer he has always been, but he needs help. And then there's Kyle Farnsworth. Considering Farnsworth can’t pitch more than one inning and allows a home run every other batter, things really looked up.

But have no fear, as Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and a man they call Joba have come to save the day. But their ages combined is younger than Jamie Moyer.

Every time spring rolls around, Yankee fans are fed the false confidence that "this will be the year." But it’s the same story that has been written for six years. Struggle in April and May, make a run in June and July, clinch the division in August, take a month off, and then lose to an inferior team in the playoffs because the giant forgot to wake up. Enough is enough.

There’s no argument that every other franchise in Major League Baseball would sign right now to have the type of run the Yankees have had. But, isn’t having expectations of greatness what makes the Yankees... The Yankees ?

Is it finally time to write on the tombstone? Is it over? I hope not. If Cecil Fielder is signed midseason, then all bets are off.

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