There are plenty of other MLB franchises that would take a 13-year gap from their most recent championship. For the New York Yankees though, the time passed since the 2009 World Series is starting to become glaring, considering the team’s history and the number of star players still present. While the Yankees’ success in these years has been enviable by some standards, with zero losing seasons over a 29-year stretch, the team has been unable to make it past the ALCS since 2009. The drought recalls another franchise that had stunning success but was unable to capture a championship until just recently: the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves’ ascendance has been well-documented. After making the playoffs just twice over their first 25 seasons in Atlanta, the team became a National League juggernaut, going from worst-to-first in 1991 and capturing three pennants before taking home Atlanta’s first professional sports championship in 1995. The next year, they were upset by the Yankees in the World Series, dashing hopes for a repeat. Just as suddenly, they never came particularly close to a title again over the next 25 seasons. But it was not for a lack of trying.
The drought was especially shocking considering the sheer number of times that Atlanta made the playoffs. The Braves famously won the NL East every year from 1995 through 2005, in 2013, and again from 2018 to 2021, with Wild Card berths in 2010 and 2012. One would think, even through randomness, that one of those teams would have broken through before 2021.
Instead, the Braves made just one Fall Classic — getting swept by New York in 1999 — and after falling to the D-backs in the 2001 NLCS, they proceeded to lose every single playoff series they made between 2002-19. The Giants, Astros, Dodgers, and Cardinals each trounced them on multiple occasions. They even experienced one more devastating heartbreak in the shortened 2020, as they blew a 3-1 NLCS lead over the eventual champion Dodgers.
Today’s Yankee era is looking like it could be in a similar predicament if the roster isn’t adjusted to match the likes of the Astros or Rays. Since that 2009 campaign, the Yankees have made the playoffs in 9 of 12 seasons, missing out only in some lean years during the mid-2010s. Yet in those nine playoff appearances, the Yankees have not been able to capture a pennant, much to the frustration of the players and the fans. ALCS berths have come and gone, but the Rangers, Tigers, and Astros were among the American League victors in 2010, 2012, 2017, and 2019 (with the latter two losses being particularly cruel).
To be fair, the Braves were generally playing in a weaker division than today’s AL East. And the Yankees’ late ‘90s dynasty has surely created deeply unrealistic expectations in some parts of the fanbase. Still, the Yankees created their own reputation of being willing to do whatever it took to get a championship, then abruptly dropped it due to invented financial concerns, leading to this recent stretch of years, where exciting young players and some stars have not been able to click in the playoffs the way the Astros, Nationals, Dodgers, and Braves clearly did.
There are different ways to build a championship team — the Dodgers and Astros were buoyed by homegrown stars and practical additions, while the Nationals had a team of veterans and a few strong pitchers — but somehow the Yankees have not been able find a track that will work for them. The days of the aging roster filled with bloated contracts clearly had to end, but the cheap and young days of the Baby Bombers hasn’t borne fruit either.
After their long series of playoff berths (or at least mostly mediocre play from 2006-09), the Braves bottomed out with four straight losing seasons in the mid-2010s, including one in the NL East cellar during the final year at Turner Field. It took drafting solid pitchers, plus savvy trades and signing Ronald Acuña Jr. to bring the roster to the point where it could surprise and overcome the Dodgers and Astros. Hopefully it won’t take a long stretch of losing for the Yankees to do the same.
If the Yankees have to wait until 2035 for their next championship to match the Braves’ drought, that will obviously be an unmitigated failure. A stretch like the Braves had involves at least some degree of bad luck. And while if I had to bet, I’d say it won’t be that long for the Yankees, it also doesn’t seem to clear to me how the roster is being shaped into the best in the American League.
Season after season of being overmatched in the playoffs has become discouraging, as a Yankee fan. Hopefully unlike Atlanta, New York can break through rather than continue to suffer years of disappointment before starting from scratch.