There is no getting around the fact that it was a damn shame to see the 2015 Yankees' season end in such a disappointing manner like Wednesday. The team played very well for most of the season until running out of steam during the final couple months, culminating in a feeble three-hit loss to the Astros in the Wild Card playoff game. While some fans were content with a return to the playoffs in a season where few pundits thought the Yankees could seriously contend, others were furious to see it end so soon; such is the nature of fandom.
Nonetheless, people on both sides of the debate should still take solace in the promise of the future. This club featured fine years from both veterans and potential leaders of the future that cannot help but call the Yankees' 1995 campaign to memory. That year, the Yanks also broke a postseason drought (a much longer one, too) with a group that had a similar cast of characters to their successors two decades later. Although that season also ended in bitter playoff disappointment, the seeds were sown for the late '90s dynasty.
This is not to say that fans should now demand four World Series titles in five years; that might never happen again for any team, let alone the Yankees. However, there are some distinct parallels between the 1995 and 2015 Yankees that at the very least should somewhat ease the pain of the playoff loss.
Obviously, both the 1995 and 2015 Yankees made the playoffs by virtue of the Wild Card. The '95 postseason was the first to feature a Wild Card team, and had it not been there, the beloved captain Don Mattingly probably would never have even seen the playoffs as a player since the team finished well behind the AL East-winning Red Sox, much like the 2015 Yanks trailed the Blue Jays.
After all those years of no October baseball in the Bronx, securing a playoff spot through the Wild Card was not dismissed lightly. Yankee Stadium fans were just happy to see the postseason again, though of course they badly wanted their team to win it all, as well. The format was a little different those days, too. The Wild Card playoff game was not introduced until 2012
If the 1995 Yankees played under the current rules, they would have had to first square off against the Angels in a Wild Card playoff to see who would play the top-seeded Indians in the Division Series (not the Mariners, who would have faced the Red Sox instead). Sure, the Angels were free falling like the 2014 Athletics and might have lost that Wild Card game too, but who knows? Maybe the '95 Yanks wouldn't have even made the Division Series. In contrast, playing under 1995 rules, the 2015 Yanks would not have needed to play the Astros since they finished with a better record. As the sole Wild Card, they would have faced the AL West-winning Rangers because 1995 playoff matchups were pre-arranged and did not factor regular season record. In a best-of-five rather than a one-game playoff, perhaps they beat out Texas.
Greg has written about this before, but there is a misconception among many Yankees fans about the 1996-2000 dynasty. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams were all pivotal homegrown contributors to those champions, but only Pettitte and Williams were really relevant factors in '95. Jeter and Posada only made cameos, and Rivera was still an unknown quantity making both starts and long relief appearances at the time.
Older players acquired via free agency and trades were absolutely essential to the 1995 Yankees. Paul O'Neill, David Cone, Wade Boggs, and John Wetteland all had tremendous years to help the Yankees secure that playoff spot. Mike Stanley was practically a homegrown addition too since he was very shaky with the Rangers before coming to New York, but the veteran influence was clearly there. Building a championship-caliber club is not just about producing quality young players. Teams have to supplement them with key additions from outside the organization. So the 2015 club had big seasons from veterans Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran, just to name a few of them. Some of them might not be with the team a couple years down the road (like Mattingly and Stanley), but their skills helped the Yankees get as far as they did.
Veteran praise aside, had the 1995 Yankees not featured huge years from Pettitte and Williams, they would have struggled to win the Wild Card. This comparison does not work quite as well as the others since they did not play full seasons at the major league level, but without Luis Severino and Greg Bird, do the 2015 Yankees make the playoffs? Since they only avoided missing them entirely by a couple games, probably not.
Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, and John Ryan Murphy also played noticeable roles, particularly Betances. The homegrown veteran role of Brett Gardner was played in 1995 by super-sub Randy Velarde, who had a 102 OPS+ in 111 games, sixth-most on the team. Everything is connected in their own way.
Maybe 2015 won't usher in an era of success, and maybe other similarities could be found with unsuccessful teams. Regardless, it's exciting to think about the possibilities. Severino, Betances, and Bird don't even need their careers to be as wildly successful as those '90s homegrown stars--Yankees fans should not demand that by any stretch of the imagination. If 2015 does indeed set the stage for even more success in the next few seasons though, perhaps fans will look back at 2015 the same way they do with 1995.
Losing in the playoffs after such a fun year was a tough pill to swallow, but hopefully, a brighter futures lies ahead with even better players.