I hate the Yankees, but once again, I am forced to tip my cap in their billion-dollar direction, because the following statistic is so preposterous that it compelled me to write an entire article detailing its absurdity:
The Yankees, for the first time since the strike-shortened 1995 season, have lost more games than they’ve won–at any point‑after the completion of the traditional “halfway” marker of the MLB All-Star Game.
That’s right. They’ve played 21 seasons without, after the midsummer classic, being even a single game below .500. That means that for more than two decades, the Yankees played the last 80 or so games of the season without ever slipping up, making no mistakes, at the professional level with the eyes of the sports world trained on them the entire time.
For comparison, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a streak of nearly 25 seasons where they finished the season below .500, in a row. Below. For 25 seasons. Not one final record above .500, and the Yankees hadn’t even dipped their toes to .499 or lower. Not once.
In that 21-year streak, they won 5 World Series titles (and lost one), while fielding a half-dozen future Hall of Fame-players. No one else in that period won more than 3 rings (the Cardinals and the Red Sox both accomplished that) and no one else in that period had more than 4 appearances (both St. Louis and San Francisco hit that mark) on the game’s biggest stage.
You will see many pieces regarding this aberration written by Yankee fans, and those whose actual job it is to cover the team, and those pieces will be full of panic and tea-leaf reading, and plans to sell the farm. When you’re the biggest, greatest franchise in modern sports, you can’t afford to lose more than you win for too long (read: one game).
So they’ll do what the Yankees always do, right? Pay through the upturned-nose for aging talent on the free-agent market, acquire a big name with a massive trade, plunder another, less economically-insurmountable team’s young farm system for future prospects, or hock theirs for yet another known quantity. In a sport with no salary cap, an owner (and whoever takes the reins when he passes on) who values winning and consistent production more than anything (while understanding the value of a star or ten in the biggest media market in the country) is able to force his will on an entire league should he want to, and should his world-beating players show up every game for the next 3,500 some-odd games.
As much as I wish I could, I can’t explain away 21 seasons of that level of play with cynical images of smokey boardrooms full of piles of cash, and soulless deals being made with once-admired players. It’s just not enough to be that good. There has to be something else, some intangible thing that made this possible. And maybe it’s the fact that they’re the damn Yankees. Maybe that’s why, for more than two decades, they were able to maintain a level of excellence so high that it seemed impossible. Because it was unsustainable, at least, even in a sport with no salary cap, and even with George Steinbrenner at the helm.
Around the time of the great owner’s passing, the team announced it would be heading in a different direction, no longer outspending and over-leveraging other teams. Gone were the days of $230-million-and-up payrolls, opting instead for much more reasonable team-wide price tags of $200 million ($213 million in 2016 compared to $230 million in 2013), and weaning down from there. Gone were the days of winning 5 out of 6 championships, and then reloading with Hall of Famers-in-waiting, over and over.
In a league full of young stars, with many franchises having adopted the Moneyball style of roster-building, this team will have to come to terms with the fact that you can no longer send out blank checks and expect 25% of the sports trophies for a generation in return. They’ll field a good team, and be competitive. They’ll even win more than they lose. For a while.