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On Yankees fandom, expectations, and mixed messaging

As the Yankees move further away from their most recent championship, a fracture has formed in the front offices messaging to fans.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

Expectations can be a burden when not put into the context of reality. For years, I have wondered whether my expectations of the Yankees were rooted in the past. Flames from the 1990s have long ago burned out, but the embers still resonate throughout this franchise.

I pondered whether it was time to reset my mentality, the one where competing for a World Series was not just hoped for but expected. I couldn’t help but think that I was getting in the way of my own fandom, to be setting a bar so high that most certainly wouldn’t be met. The reality is that the Yankee fan mindset isn’t solely a product of some delusional aura of winning, but also the systemic messaging that has permeated from this franchise for years: we will win, and if we don’t win, we will do everything in our power to try and fix it.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the philosophy of this franchise began to shift, but the post-2009 era is a good benchmark. Slowly, the front office began taking a different approach that has now culminated in a boiling point between the front office and the fans. The current state of the franchise shows they are willing to make certain big moves in free agency, but also sometimes choose not to address other clear needs for rosters that are not just one player away from being elite. Big spending on a few players has provided a smokescreen for the lack of smaller moves needed to build a championship-level team.

The philosophy change has not been accompanied by the necessary messaging. The Yankees continue to fashion themselves as the most prestigious entity in baseball, but have failed to live up to that standard. How the front office communicates with the fans is often degrading, hinting at the fact that fans are spoiled. Could it be that this franchise is spoiled by Yankees fans’ willingness to care so deeply? The only time the front office changes its tone is when they come up short, highlighting minor successes in a sea of failure. Of course, the front office would prefer we all be content with divisional playoff appearances and early exits, because it would deflect the attention away from their shortcomings. That can’t be the goal of this franchise. Most of the time I don’t think the fans trust what the front office is telling them.

Brian Cashman’s recent extension was the final straw for many, with the Yankees seemingly given a clear opportunity for a different direction. A fresh set of eyes for a stagnant team that is good enough to keep you around, but not good enough to finish the job. Preaching how advanced every aspect of the operation is, even claiming it to be championship level, despite the signs that they aren’t. The bigger problem is that any acknowledgment that something needs to change and then acting on those words would at least provide some clarity, but everything from the Yankees feels pretentious and unauthentic.

It leaves the fans to either adapt their thinking to match the current way that business is done in the Bronx, or continue to be hypnotized by the empty words permeating the walls at Yankee Stadium. That’s a lose-lose situation.

I’m not ignoring the fact that the pressure on this franchise is immense, and having to handle those expectations must be difficult. Fans expect them to develop elite young talent and spend top dollar while navigating a changing baseball landscape. I still think that all of those are reasonable expectations given who they are, but it does leave a lot of room to fall short. Being open to addressing your failures and adapting within the current regime would go a long way, particularly when the messaging to fans has become so fractured.

I want the Yankees to win so desperately, and I hope that the front office understands that level of desperation in the heart of fans. The fans should expect change when things go wrong and celebrate when things go right. Asking for a team to be upfront and honest with the fans is not too much. I think it would be wrong for me to lower my expectations for this team, the front office, and the franchise as a whole.