Keidel: Clock Ticking On Yankees To Avoid Going Full Decade Without Title

'80s Were Only Other Time Since Ruth Era They Failed To Win It All

Jason Keidel
August 20, 2018 - 1:00 pm
Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner slides home to score a run against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 25, 2018, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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You're a fool if you feel sorry for a Yankees fan, in any era, for any reason. If you follow this site with any frequency, you know we posted a piece every day last week as an homage to the 1998 Yankees, whom many consider the best Yankees club ever, if not the best baseball club in MLB history, steamrolling the sport with 125 wins on their way to the World Series title. 

But for those of us an inch over 45, we grew up during the only decade the Yankees didn't win a World Series over the last century -- the 1980s. We entered the portal of puberty with the Yankees at their soap-operatic best. The '80s featured a turnstile at the manager's office, a phalanx of mercenaries -- Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Jack Clark, Omar Moreno, Claudell Washington, etc. -- and an archive of missives and invectives from George Steinbrenner. ("Columbus, here I come" was a typical outburst from the Boss after a bad start from Dennis Rasmussen.) Basically, it was homegrown darling Don Mattingly and a host of high-priced imports, none of whom delivered a World Series championship. 

The epic dysfunction of those teams look and act nothing like the 2018 Yankees. These Bronx Bombers are well built and smartly conceived, a new crop of young studs spawned by the farm system, seasoned with a flavorful batch of free agents. Though the Yankees just swept the Toronto Blue Jays and are now 32 games over .500, they are still 9 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox, a squad having an absurdly great season. 

So this means the Yanks are staring down the barrel of a one-game, wild-card crucible against one of three very potent clubs -- the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners or last year's World Series champion Houston Astros.

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These Yankees are in danger of joining the '80s teams as the only ones to toil an entire calendar decade without a world championship since the franchise bought Babe Ruth from Boston in 1920.

The Bombers were stuck in the baseball mud in 2016, scratching at the playoffs while not really a serious threat to bag the crown. Then in an act of stunning wizardry, general manager Brian Cashman held a fire sale, acquired Gleyber Torres while grooming Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, then poured this blender of talent back onto the diamond in 2017. Last year's club went from rebuild to revive while coming within one game of the World Series, losing to the Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS. So this team feels different. 

But is it?

The '80s Yanks won 854 regular-season games, tops in MLB. The 2010s Yankees are third, just two games behind the Cardinals and three games behind the Dodgers for most this decade. So to tie the two decades together, both clubs could finish a decade with the most wins while not burnishing their biblical standards and winning a World Series over 10 years. 

No doubt Yankees fans -- including yours truly -- have a distorted sense of reality. Donning our Darth Vader masks, we feel we inherited a yearly jaunt deep into October, with big deeds under brown leaves our rite of autumn. It's presumptuous and obscene. Yankees fans are the baseball iteration of trust-fund babies, expecting our meals served, our beds made, our lives gold-plated, without lifting a pampered finger. 

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It is that sense of solemn entitlement that leads us to believe the Yankees are scuffling. Since Boston (88-37) has a Secretariat-like lead over the Bombers (78-46), we are moping toward October, grousing over Gerrit Cole, the free-agent marlin the Yanks could have landed but lost to the Astros. For all the talent on River Avenue, there are clear chasms in the rotation, especially with CC Sabathia on the DL. Sonny Gray has been banished to the bullpen. Aaron Judge's broken wrist has become way more complicated, with his return date mutating every week. And now the Yankees could be without Didi Gregorius for a while after he injured his heel Sunday.

The Yankees still have the second-best record in baseball. Yet we still feel overwhelmed with a sense of underachieving. Heck, the Yankees themselves clearly feel it, since they fired one of the three best managers in the sport, Joe Girardi, after their enchanted run in 2017, including an ALDS win over the heavily favored Indians.

These Yankees are good, gifted and still growing. They are also 15 months from joining the Bob Lemon/Gene Michael/Clyde King/Billy Martin/Yogi Berra/Billy Martin/Lou Piniella/Billy Martin/Lou Piniella/Dallas Green/Bucky Dent Yanks of the '80s  (the exact order in which those managers were hired and fired) as the only teams to go a decade without a World Series ring since the Bambino landed in the Bronx, since Miller Huggins replaced Wild Bill Donovan. 

Only the New York Yankees could have 11 managers in 10 years. The more modern Yankees have had just three skippers since 1996. Yet this decade could be a carbon copy of those teams in some important ways. If the Yankees finish this decade still stalking their first World Series title since 2009, it's neither a crime nor a shame. Unless you're a Yankees fan. Perhaps you must be a Yankees fan to understand our stratospheric World Series appetites. Or maybe ask a Mets fan to realize how ridiculous they are. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel