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The 2013 Yankees and increasing appreciation for the 2002-12 teams

Due to expectations of "World Series or bust," many Yankees fans did not seem to appreciate the team's numerous playoff seasons from 2002-12.

Cano's 2011 ALDS Game 1 grand slam was awesome but now largely forgotten.
Cano's 2011 ALDS Game 1 grand slam was awesome but now largely forgotten.
Chris Trotman

Once upon a time it was a common occurrence for the Yankees to miss the playoffs. The Yankees were one of only five teams in baseball to be golfing in October every season from 1982-93. It was a tough pill for all the Yankee fans recently accustomed to success from the 1976-81 squads. The string of failure was even more disappointing from 1965-75, when the Yankees were an annual laughingstock after a 15-year stretch from 1949-64 wherein the Yankees amazingly missed the World Series just twice.

The constant drudgery of those teams made the '76 and '95 Yankees teams arguably the two favorite teams in Yankees history to not win a World Series. They both had incredible moments on their playoff journey from Jim Leyritz's 15th inning walk-off in the rain in ALDS Game 2 to Chris Chambliss's Yankee Stadium-shaking walk-off homer in the clinching game of the ALCS. Sure, the seasons ended in painful disappointment on Ken Griffey Jr.'s winning run (not the video game) and a World Series demolition against the "Big Red Machine," but the two teams snapped playoff droughts. All those other playoff teams during a stretch of sustained success seem to merely resonate in the minds of Yankee fans as a collective "meh."

The '96 World Series title and the three-peat from 1998-2000 were tremendous for fans, but championships in four of five seasons brought a somewhat Pyrrhic cost due to the rise of fan expectations. Simply making the playoffs was not going to cut it anymore. The organization itself appeared to even take winning the World Series as expected. Whereas in '96, '98, and '99, every employee received a World Series ring, numerous scouts and development personnel did not receive 2000 World Series rings, and when many finally received alleged rings, they were fakes. The Yankees took the underrated employees of their organization for granted while George Steinbrenner's celebrity friends Billy Crystal and Ronan Tynan got rings for nothing.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks played one of the greatest World Series of all time in 2001, an emotional contest in wake of the 9/11 tragedies that featured stellar pitching, unbelievable comebacks, and more. Unfortunately, the Yankees lost Game 7 in the bottom of the ninth after coming within two outs of their fourth consecutive title. Not long after the contest, Joe Torre remembered fans telling him throughout the off-season lines like "Sorry for the tough year, we'll get back on top next year." Torre was somewhat baffled. The AL pennant and a seven-game classic was not enough to please some fans. It would get worse over the next decade.

I loved the 2002 Yankees and have previously written about them. Led by a near-40/40 Alfonso Soriano and an over-1.000 OPS Jason Giambi, they were far more of an offensive juggernaut than the '01 team and they still had superb pitching. Their run differential was +200, the second-highest for any Yankees team since '98. They overcame a first-half deficit to the Red Sox and romped to 103 wins and the AL East division title by 10 1/2 games. The vaunted pitching vanished in the Division Series against the Angels though, and the season came to a shocking end after just four playoff games. Now, they are little more than a footnote in Yankees history and occasionally even just dismissed as chokers that didn't have the chemistry of the 1996-2001 squads. (That's a load of crap by the way; the Angels had arguably the best pitching in the league.)

For some fans, the 2003 season somewhat made up for the quick ALDS exit in '02, but to others, it was just another World Series embarrassment. This non-championship year is remembered more fondly than the others for the heated rivalry with the Red Sox that ended in a dramatic seven-game ALCS and an Aaron Boone homer. The Yankees took a 2-1 series lead over the Marlins, but the Fish won three in a row to take the title. After the final out, George Steinbrenner snapped at GM Brian Cashman, "There are going to be changes. Big changes." He was not alone in his feelings of anger at a team that won a combined 110 games that year.

Almost every other team would regard the 2004-07 Yankees seasons as a joyous team in franchise history. The Yanks made the playoffs every year through three consecutive division titles and a Wild Card year. Because the organization and many of its fans had "World Series or bust" on their minds though, this period seems to be considered a failure. Torre was nearly even fired multiple times. The Yankees clinched the AL East in '04 on a walk-off homer by Bernie Williams in a memorable moment that would highlight any other team's video archives, but I don't think I've ever seen it replayed since '04 or available anywhere in video highlights. In '05, the Yankees went from eight games under .500 to 29 over by the end of the season in a nice comeback that fans don't seem to care about because Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield collided in Game 5 of the ALDS, leading to a loss. The 97-win '06 group were buoyed by the trade for Bobby Abreu and wrecked the Red Sox on the way to the division title, but only seem to be remembered for coming up small against the Tigers in the ALDS and batting Alex Rodriguez eighth & starting Jaret Wright in the decisive Game 4. Powered by A-Rod's second AL MVP with the Yanks, the '07 team scored more runs than any Yankees team since the 1930s and made an even more impressive comeback than the '05 group to make the playoffs after being eight games under .500 around Memorial Day.

The playoff-less '08 team made fans appreciate the '09 team ultimately winning the World Series a little more than otherwise, but Yankee fans were back to expecting nothing but the best from 2010-12. There were three straight years of at least 95 wins, two division titles, two ALCS appearances, and near-MVP seasons by Robinson Cano. The Yankees were the only team in baseball to make the three main rounds of the playoffs in each year from 2010-12, but they did not win the World Series, so who cares, right? I've still seen that sentiment from Yankee fans: no title, no respect.

If there's one positive that this disappointing 2013 season and an unpromising 2014 might bring, it's that fans might start being happy to merely make the playoffs again. Maybe they will gain some appreciation for all those teams that consistently made the playoffs. Hell, even the '08 Yanks won 89 games and finished 16 games above .500; if there was a second Wild Card team back then, the '08 Yanks would have made the Wild Card play-in game against the Red Sox. Who knows if this team will even finish over .500?

Sure, it sucks to watch a team lose in the playoffs, but the Yankees have still been one of the eight teams left standing in all but one of the past 12 years. Those teams were awesome to watch, and they should not be considered disappointments.

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