"The object of the game is to win, and unless you win the World Series, you’ve failed to reach your goal." – Derek Jeter
As a player, that’s absolutely the mentality one should have. A player should always strive to be a champion and not be content until he reaches his goal. It’s what will drive the player to become better and get to the top. As a fan though, it’s okay to accept shortcomings.
I’ve heard many Yankee fans throughout the years talk about how unless they win the World Series, the season is a bust. This kind of talk stems from supporting a team that has won a whopping 27 championships. That’s a hard reputation to live up to, and when you’ve won so much, you’re almost just expected to keep adding on titles. The late '90s Yankees further drove this point home with their astonishing feats. Those teams were just a dominant force that could not be stopped. They were both the immovable object and the unstoppable force, and it seemed like nothing could get in their way.
While an overall positive achievement, those teams have had a negative effect on today’s Yankee fans. Fans today have become so spoiled by those '90s teams that they think anything less than pure domination and winning the World Series is seen as an underachieving season. The problem with that is that baseball as a sport has changed so much, and now it is unfair to build such high expectations for any team; that includes the Yankees.
With such a rich history of winning and success, it’s hard to root for or want anything less. I’m not saying that fans shouldn’t want the Yankees to win the World Series, nor should they just be okay if they do not do that. In fact, one should absolutely want them to win it all year after year; just don’t expect it. Instead of being disappointed in what the team doesn’t accomplish, fans should learn to appreciate what they did accomplish. Baseball today is a world of contract extensions, and even non-Yankees teams have money, which they often use to keep the best free agents away from the market.
What this means is that the whole "Yankees just buy talent" or "Yankees will sign everybody" mentality doesn’t really apply anymore. Besides having genuine competitors in free agency, the Yankees themselves have been somewhat reluctant to spend money. All these factors lead to a competitive balance (granted maybe not among all 30 teams), and with the playoffs formatted how they are, almost anything can happen. I’ll be the first one to admit that I used to have this mentality of World Series or bust. I used to think, who cares if they made the playoffs if they do not win there, they might as well just have not played those extra games. But if 2013 and 2014 did any positive, it’s that those years opened my eyes to what I had been taking for granted. With the lack of a team as overpowering as those of the late '90s Yankees, and the balance and unknowns throughout Major League Baseball, how is it that Yankees fans can still expect to win the World Series year after year or claim that the season was a failure?
Baseball is just not the same anymore. Ignoring the San Francisco Giants and their weird "run" of winning the World Series every other year, it is really hard to expect a team to just win all the time. (Even those championships Giants teams missed the playoffs altogether in three of the past six years.) I heard a caller on a radio show the other day say that if the New York Mets do not win two World Series in the five years that they will have failed. I absolutely disagree. I do think that in the next five years, if they don’t win it all even once, it would be absolutely disappointing and kind of a letdown considering their pitching staff, but the thing about the playoffs is that anything can happen. If for the next five years, they are still in it, competing and proving to be a legitimate force, there is no way that one should call that a failure. A disappointment? Absolutely. But a failure? Not so much.
Someone might argue that the Blue Jays gave up their future to acquire Price and Tulowitzki so they could win now, and not winning would make that a failure. However, they absolutely had to go and make those moves so that they could even have a shot at winning, and that is the difference between them and the Yankees. Again, one may think it’s different because the Yankees are a team that is always contending or is successful; but is it really different? Are they really always successful? Look into the '80s and early '90s. Even now, they’ve only won one World Series in the last 14 years (2015 results TBD), because it’s just not something that’s easy to do.
This is not the pre-divisional era, when the Yankees were able to win 20 World Series titles through 1968 without needing to deal with playoff rounds other than the World Series. They just had to win the most games in the American League, and they automatically went to the World Series. The implementation of yet another round beyond the League Championship Series only made it more difficult. Below are the playoff results of all 42 teams in baseball that led their respective leagues in wins (or tied for the lead) since the Division Series was added in 1995:
Won World Series: 7
Lost World Series: 6
Lost LCS: 12
Lost LDS: 17
Almost 70% of the teams that would have automatically gone to the World Series before 1969 didn't end up there, and that can partially be explained by the randomness of the postseason. A plurality didn't even make it out of the first round.
Injuries can happen, hot streaks can happen, and cold streaks can happen. Last year, two teams that were practically afterthoughts because they "just barely got in as Wild Cards" ended up duking it out in a Game 7 of one of the better recent World Series. People keep talking about how the Blue Jays and their fans are obnoxious and getting too full of themselves, but that’s just wrong. They saw how hard it is to win, to even have hope; they should absolutely be excited and loud. If the Mets or the Blue Jays don’t win the World Series this year, I don’t know if anyone would say this season was a failure. At least their fans know they tried, and their teams gave them a reason to care deep into September.
I really didn’t expect much from 2015, but the Yankees are right in the thick of things, playing meaningful baseball and going to the playoffs. Take a look at what the team has accomplished this year alone. This was a team that was destined for doom. They were not making the playoffs. Going into the season they had overpaid old guys who could not hit to save their lives, a middle infield that was all-glove and no bat, their starting pitching was suspect and the bullpen was the only thing working for them, but even still was slightly unproven. There was so much uncertainty and so much riding on "bounce-back" years that it was hard to imagine one of those scenarios working out, let alone all of them. It’s a testament to the 2013 and 2014 Yankees teams that they were technically in the hunt as long as they were, but honestly, nobody thought that they could legitimately contend (those two years were more about retirement tours than they were about meaningful baseball, too). It’s the last week of the season, and the Yankees played games that matter! They are going to the playoffs and they are going to fight for #28.
They’re fighting for something, they’re fighting to show they belong in this race, and they’re fighting to show that they could be special. All they need is a chance, and on Tuesday (weather permitting) they will have that chance. As we inch closer and closer to the beginning of the postseason, I want to leave you with this thought. Root for them to win it all, root for them to have that parade down the Canyon of Heroes, but no matter what happens, do not undervalue what they have done this year, because they’ve given us, their fans, plenty of reasons to smile and be proud of their accomplishments.