What a difference a year makes. At the end of 2018, I was very grumpy indeed with baseball and the Yankees. Between a disappointing end to the season at the hands of the Boston Red Sox and a leaguewide deep freeze in free agency spending, baseball really had me down.
As you do around this time on the calendar, I was reflecting on the year that was, and how much happier baseball made me this year. It’s a unique sport, and the Yankees are unique still within the game itself. A lot of what I really loved in 2019 comes from the context that baseball really is different than any of the other major sports.
THAT Yankees-Twins Game
This was the best Yankee game of the regular season, and with the possible exception of the Tyler Skaggs Memorial Game, probably the best across MLB in 2019. On July 23, the Yankees and Twins faced off at Target Field in a game that lasted 10 innings, saw 26 combined runs scored, and took approximately 18 hours to play through.
What I really loved about this game was the way it undercut so many of the drummed-up concerns about baseball in our time; it’s too slow, it’s too hard to make baseball viral, four hours is too much of a commitment to ask fans to make. This game is only so amazing because baseball has no clock, because the actions on the field determine the ending, not an arbitrary countdown. It took the Yankees five hours and three minutes to beat the Twins 14-12, but Twitter was ablaze with commentary and content that would drive any social media manager giddy:
We can’t have all 162 games be like this. The players would be worn into dust and all of our hearts would give out by May. But every once in a while, we have to take five hours to clap back at the arguments that we need to speed the game up, and this year, that clap-back included our favorite team.
I watch a lot of college football, and the genesis for this post came from the ending of the Fiesta Bowl, right when Ohio State turned the ball over, down a touchdown, with thirty seconds to go. All Clemson has to do from that point on was kneel down, controlling the ball and walking off the field with a win. In basketball, a team can control possession at the end of the game and accept being fouled as they kill the clock.
I baseball, the other side always gets a fair chance to come back. You can’t really control possession, as Earl Weaver said. You have to throw the ball over the plate. This is, of course, where we get the magic of walk-offs.
I think my favorite of the year was Gio Urshela singling over Kevin Kiermaier, because Gio Urshela was such a weird thing to happen this year. Maybe you liked DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford hitting walk-off dingers on consecutive days more, and that would be great. Whichever one you preferred, walk-offs are one of those things that are uniquely baseball; getting a fair shake at a comeback and making it count.
Baseball is For Me, Too
The Yankees had, until 2019, been the only team in the league not to have some sort of Pride Night. I’ve commented a lot on that, and the eventual decision to have a Stonewall Memorial night in June, so I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on that now.
There were things the Yankees could have, and should have, done better with the event. Stonewall Night was a good first step, but like so much other allyship, one positive step forward is rarely followed by anything meaningful. I want more out of my team in 2020, and at a time when the queer community is under attack legislatively, when our brothers and sisters are being killed in the streets, organizations like the Yankees can, and should, step up and ask what more they can do.
But I don’t want to take away from what was a mostly successful night, and a game that I hope sparked a lot of positive conversations about the intersections of sports and identity. I’m grateful the Yankees organization took this first step, and I’m grateful the team, and this site, gave me the chance to come out to what felt like a million people all at once.
Nothing Left to Give
As Yankee fans, we’ve had our share of farewells over this decade. In sports, we see a few notable ones every year, but often it feels like a player still has more to give. I firmly believe Mariano Rivera could have pitched at least a couple more seasons than he did, and football fans will always wonder what other records Calvin Johnson could have shattered if he had hung around.
Rarely do we get a moment where an athlete really has given everything to the game. We did get that out of CC Sabathia, who pitched right up until his arm fell off in the ALCS. Men, in baseball and outside it, are socially conditioned to show as few emotions as possible. One of the reasons why I’ve always loved CC so much is he is unabashedly emotional - you know how he’s feeling, and he’s able to express himself in constructive, nontoxic ways.
As hard as it is to watch him walk off the mound for the last time, it was so perfectly CC that I can’t help but include it here. It’s a moment that’s as vivid for me as watching Jeter and Andy Pettitte take Mo out of his final appearance.
Gerrit freakin’ Cole
MLB’s offseason is different because it takes so long. Teams have to make roster and non-tender decisions, make their front office hires, and contend with folks like Scott Boras deliberately dragging out the negotiation process. In hockey or basketball, free agency is mostly wrapped up in the first week, but baseball, as we’ve said over and over, is unique.
The rumors really get to marinate in MLB’s free agency. This winter, they seemingly all focused on Gerrit Cole, the best pitcher in baseball and now the highest-paid. It was a tense time for Yankee fans - we were all torn between the hope of the team making an Evil Empire move and the evidence from the last half-decade that showed that this team didn’t do things like that anymore.
That whole night is one that will go down in Yankees Online history. Every one of us were constantly refreshing Twitter, the PSA open thread or Slack, and pulling our hair out when we heard the Dodgers had become the favorites to land Cole.
After the weeks of rumors and predictions, we had one of the sweetest payoffs in recent Yankee fandom. I’m fairly confident that if I do this post again a year from now, Gerrit Cole in the Bronx will be near the top of what I loved about baseball in 2020.
What did you love the most in 2019? There was a lot that I had to parse out of this - Gleyber Torres’ coming out party, the Next Men Up, and of course, the Savages in the Box rant. There’s only so much space in one blog post, but tell us what you loved about the Yankees and MLB in the comments. Happy New Year, Yankee fans!