Thursday, October 08, 2009

Yankeeland Ain't the Same [Tim Joyce]

Instant, knee-jerk nostalgia and longing for times past is seemingly a birthright for many New Yorkers. The phrases, actually more like incantations, of "it was so much better back in the 70's" or "the city is just not the same" or "it's all about money now" and "Sex and the City is evil" are frequently uttered by those who declare themselves authentic Gotham denizens. I admit that I, on occasion, lapse into such behavior. And who's to judge the veracity of these sentiments? Perhaps they come from an irrational, overly emotional place but does that lessen their truth? I think not.

So, with this in mind, I turn to the Yankees. Their awesome power and versatility on display in Game 1 in their playoff debut at the House That Ruth Did Certainly Not Build (more like the Stadium the City Got Bullied Into Giving the Steinbrenner Family after they threatened to vacate New York) dealt a blow to the heavily underdogged Twins who were clearly exhausted - and probably hungover? - after their thrilling win less than 24 hours prior in that embarrassment of a baseball field in the Mill City against the choking Detroit Tigers. I'd be surprised if the Twins are able to escape an 0-10 record against the Yankees in 2009 - they were swept in their seven games in the regular season prior to Wednesday's game.

And much will be made of this team's righting the playoff wrongs from the Yankees of recent years, where they had only won four of their previous 17 playoff contests. Alex Rodriguez will be a big story - for reasons other than steroids and Kate Hudson - as he seemed to exorcise at least a portion of his sizeable collection of postseasons ghosts last night by securing hits with runners on base, something he had been unable to do basically since the Great(est) Choke of 2004 against the Red Sox. And with Jeter being his usual sublime playoff self and the eerily ageless Mariano Rivera ready to hurl a demoralizing one inning knockout on a moment's notice, the Yankees appear for now to be the clear favorites to take the World Series and return the trophy to its rightful owner after eight years in enemy hands.

If the Yankees do indeed triumph in November (and by the way what the hell is up with this scheduling, having our summer game conclude several days into November? That month should be associated solely with the awe-inspiring World Series moments delivered after the 9/11 tragedy when there was a legitimate reason to play in the 11th month of the year. MLB could easily have managed the postseason itinerary in a more compressed manner) there will be the usual celebrations, both on the field and off, and New York will gloat about having its 27th world championship.

But it's just not the same. While walking around the city last night and watching the game in several watering holes to gauge interest, there was not that palpable sense of tension and excitement that is usually a built-in part of autumnal acoustics and environment in New York. In recent years one would have to jockey for position to get a good seat and watch these games. There's just no pulse on the street - and those Yankee diehards who would challenge this assertion are either in denial or blind and deaf.

One can't use a sense of ennui or jadedness as an excuse. As previously mentioned, the Yankees have not played well in the playoffs in some time and missed the postseason last year for the first time since 1993. So you'd think that fans would be more eager and intense with their rooting this time around.

And when the Yankees were winning repeatedly in the mid and late 1990's it never appeared to this observer that fans were losing interest. There was a distinct, almost civic, awareness and pride that those teams and players engendered. Those teams were, in fact, loved.

Is this Yankee team loved? Well, players themselves are but not as a unit. Most definitely Jeter and Rivera are loved, adored and worshipped and rightfully so. And to a lesser degree Posada falls into that category, followed by those who came up through the once-vaunted farm system - Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.

So then what's the reason for this lack of Yeats' dreaded "passionate intensity" when it comes to the Yankees? It's hard to pin it on one thing as it's more of an accumulation of events that have led to - and I'll invoke Jimmy Carter here - a malaise of sorts for a segment of Yankee fans; a vulgarly overpriced and less intimate stadium in this time of economic distress most exemplified by New York's Wall Street, the stacking of free agent players that would make even prior Yankee teams blush, the steroid scandals with Roger Clemens and A-Rod, the absence of Joe Torre, etc.

Of course, the sellout crowds cheering like crazy over the next few weeks and loving this version of Yankee success would find this entire argument ridiculous and wrong, perhaps bitter. But there's no question that, well ... things were just better in Yankeeland back in the 90's.