The 2001 Yankees is Sports’ Greatest Tragedy Story

On November 4th 2001, I was lying in bed listening to game 7 of the 2001 World Series on radio. My father wouldn’t let me watch past a certain time because I had school the next day. I forget when, but at some point he came into my room and invited me into his to watch. I’ll never forget that.

My team was coming off three consecutive World Series wins and on the verge of number four. As an 11 year old, I  had only seen success. Four World Series championships watered down by my spoiled subconscious telling me, “Of course the Yankees will win.” I had never seen anything different.

And then this happened.

In that moment, shock, confusion, and disbelief showed me sports are never scripted. It’s the ultimate reality television. My team is mortal.

But wasn’t it supposed to be the perfect storm?

The Capital of the World, ravaged by arguably the worst terrorist attack in recordable history, overcomes all odds to win the championship of America’s Pastime, odds that included:

– A month earlier: Derek Jeter’s game-saving flip to Jorge Posada against the Athletics helped the Yankees rally from two games down to win the ALDS
– Four days prior: A ninth-inning, two-run, game-tying home run preceded an extra-inning walk-off win at Yankee Stadium
– Three days prior: The same thing, off the same pitcher

(According to baseball reference, entering the ninth inning, the Yankees had a 10% chance to win those games. One in 100 to win both)

It’s tough to paint the Yankees as the victim in sports’ greatest tragedy, but that’s what gives this story the added dimension – everyone hates the Yankees. September 11th temporarily changed that, and never again will the Evil Empire have more likeability than they did that postseason.

My thesis statement here is the headline of this article. The pieces were in place for a perfect story.

Until the last chapter, it was.

The goat of that last chapter, Mariano Rivera will retire at the end of the 2013 season. The greatest closer of all time will no longer throw his golden pitch. The number 42 will never again make the red carpet jog from the Yankee Stadium bullpen to its mound. Enter Sandman will be retired.

Yes, players of all sports post tangible numbers, but different fans assign different weight to different stats, thus rarely is one player unanimously rendered “The Greatest”.

Can you make the argument why Mariano Rivera isn’t the greatest closer of all time?

*Arguing a “closer” needs to throw more than an inning, ala Goose Gossage or Dennis Eckersley, is the sole sound argument I’ve heard against Rivera, but I think that argument is lame when stacked up against Rivera’s consistent numbers.*

His career’s only beauty mark  came November 4th, 2001.

On baseball’s biggest stage, in the world’s biggest city, facing the world’s worst terroist attack in recent memory, a country came together as the tattered American flag from the North Tower waved bravely above Yankee Stadium, where 13 miles away the fire still burned. Instead, a small market team from Arizona celebrated.

What sports tragedy compares? For argument’s sake, I don’t count stories like the Marshall University tragedy or similar others that transcend sports. If you can think of others, I want to hear. I don’t want my bias as a Yankees fan to influence my opinion. I simply couldn’t think of another sports tragedy equal.

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A Horrific Season is What the Yankees Need to Return to Greatness

Hiroki Kuroda I was talking to my friend a few days ago about the Yankees Red Sox opener. We started joking how the the rivals are fighting for fourth place in the AL East this year.

Isn’t it incredible how you can make that comment only half-kidding?

For the first time in about 16 years, Boston and New York fans must succumb to the three “other” teams in the AL East. As a Yankees fan, Toronto, Tampa, and Baltimore have been just thorns in our sides, would-be tacklers failing perennially to prevent my Bombers from reaching the endzone.

Not this year.

And I’m okay with it.

I’m a little excited in an abstract way. Injuries and payroll dump may result in a Yankees team of homegrown talent, not multi-million-dollar synthetic puzzle pieces. Maybe my team can relax and bond over watered down expectations instead of folding under the postseason pressure to quench a near-insatiable thirst of “World Series or bust”.

Perpetual greatness allows for occasional mediocrity.

Look at the 2011 Indianapolis Colts. Just like the Yankees, Peyton Manning & Co. were a perennial powerhouse, spoon fed VIP entrance to the playoffs from week one. Eventually, age settled in and the Colts needed to start fresh. Incredibly they only needed one year and a #1 pick to bounce right back to Super Bowl contention, but they played their cards right and inquired from within, just like the Yankees dynasty from the late 90s.

Here’s the payroll (money…rank in league) of the last ten World Series Champions:

San Francisco Giants: $118M……8
St. Louis Cardinals: $105M………11
San Francisco Giants: $98……….10
New York Yankees: $201………….1
Philadelphia Phillies: $98………..12
Boston Red Sox $143……………….2
St. Louis Cardinals $89……………11
Chicago White Sox $75…………….13
Boston Red Sox $125……………….2
Florida Marlins $49…………………25

The theory is sound: better players = higher chance of winning, better players = more money, more money = higher chance of winning. Ya spend more, ya win more.

It just doesn’t work like that.

If you told me the Yankees will go 72-90 but will give their home-grown talent reps and experience, I’d take it. *On second thought, I’d rather that season come next year. I want to see Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte get one last chance at a title.*

Unfortunately, for a team that has lead the league in payroll every single year since 2001 (numbers here), they have but one World Series to boast during that time.

Yankees “big” free agent contracts since 2004:
Disaster deal, Okay deal, Good deal, Great deal (in my opinion)

Alex Rodriguez – 10/252, 10/275
Carl Pavano – 4/40
Johnny Damon – 4/52
Kei Igawa – 5/20
A.J. Burnett – 5/82.5

CC Sabathia – 7/161
Mark Teixeria – 8/180

Maybe I’m a little harsh, but has any contract since Mike Mussina’s 6/88.5 deal  been a great sign?

Dr EvilMaybe these large contracts in a big market are disguises for failure. A-Rod said it himself. He used steroids with Texas to help reach near unrealistic expectations. When presented with a salary many fans will never see in their lifetime, it’s a lot of pressure.

Chemistry wins championships. Not paychecks.

The $200M mindset is a great, aggressive strategy, but it’s not how you win World Series. Plus, there’s more excitement rooting for Brett Gardner or a young Robinson Cano as opposed to a free agent filling the Yankees laundry.

So what if Hiroki Kuroda is injured. So what if we throw a minor league team out there until late May. But I want to see what we have in our farm system. I just don’t feel like Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner, and Ben Francisco are more than temporary patch jobs. Let’s go Yankees. It’s been 13 years. We’re due for a dynasty.

Sporcle of the Week: Active Hit Leaders By Team

It’s nice to see spring training back in gear. I can finally sense a shade of optimism scattered through the depressing 40 degree, cloudy days New Jersey Februarys are so well known for.

At this point I’m almost excited for allergy season.

I came across a great Sporcle. Challenging but fun – Name every MLB team’s active hits leader. The Easter egg in this is you can name any active player in the team’s top 150 (I think) all time and it’ll give you credit for it.

I got 16 out of 30. The average score is 22-25.

Welcome back to baseball!!

SPORCLE OF THE WEEK: ACTIVE HIT LEADERS BY TEAM

Why Granderson’s Injury May Be a Positive For the Yankees

It took less than an inning. Picking up right where the Yankees left off in last year’s ALDS, a broken forearm will sideline all-star outfielder Curtis Granderson until May. The knee-jerk reaction is “here we go again,” “that sucks,” and other one-liners emanating negativity and pessimism.

But nothing against Granderson, and I don’t wish injury upon anybody, but it wouldn’t bother me if he was out for the year.

Since the Yankees’ scrappy dynasty of the late 90’s, the Steinbrenner wallet has headed the forefront of the New York Yankees product – cashmere-quality athletes who, on paper, should give the Yankees a World Series every two or three years.

About 12 years have gone by since the subjective start of this philosophy and the trend has been anything but what the Evil Empire expected – while borderline unfair, one championship in 12 years isn’t acceptable in the Bronx.

Personally, I want to see young guns get a chance to showcase their skills for the team who’s scouts handpicked them. There’s something different about cheering for a Robinson Cano vs. Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner vs. Mark Teixeira.

I’m not hating on A-Rod nor Teixeira, but the majesty of, for instance,  the ’98 Yankees came partially due to the homegrown talent that together created the perfect jigsaw puzzle: Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, David Cone, Mariano Rivera.

As a die-hard Yankee fan it seems my team today is kind of…. artificial.

It’s why I don’t mind watching Cashman wiggle his way out of paying a cent in luxury tax. Give your homegrown talent a chance to shine. The big bully free agency strategy is nice in theory, but has not shown the results we’ve come to expect out of the Bronx Bombers.

Remember Tony Womack? In 2005 the Yankees signed the veteran second baseman to a deal, only to forfeit that position to a young Robinson Cano that May due to Womack’s inability to do anything.

I don’t expect a home run like this to come from Granderson’s strike of bad luck, but there are Jeremy Lins out there waiting for their time.

Take as much time as you need Curtis. We want you healthy… but hopefully more good will come out of this than bad, and I hope a 22-year old Joe Schmo will have the chance to cash in.

Sporcle of the Week: Black Friday Edition

In honor of Black Friday and its great deals, this week’s Sporcle challenges you to name every $100+ million contract in MLB history. Ironic, but festive.

I impressed myself with 19 of 36.

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Now we can get into the real holiday season!!

*TIP* Bang out all the Yankees first and go from there.
SPORCLE OF THE WEEK: MLB’s $100 MILLION CONTRACTS

Sporcle of the Week: Name any MLB Player

Name any batting title-eligible player on every MLB team in the last ten years. Example: Derek Jeter bangs out the whole Yankees part of the quiz. I should have done much better on this one. I got a meager 192 for 300.

Post your score on my Facebook page if you wish to rub it in my face.

If you lie about your score, your aunt and uncle will forget their WiFi password when you go there for Thanksgiving next week and you’ll have to rely solely on your data plan.

SPORCLE OF THE WEEK: NAME ANY PLAYER

There is a 0% chance the Yankees win tonight… which is why they will

They don’t hit, they don’t move runners over, their captain and best player right now is out for the year, their closer is not with them, and they still have to win four of their next five games, three of which would be in Detroit, two of which are against the league’s best starting pitcher.

Aside for a freak four-run ninth inning in game one, the Bronx Bombers have not scored in their last 21 other innings.

And they’re an hour away from Justin Verlander – the league leader in innings pitched and holder of the 100 mph eighth-inning fastball.

If the Yankees don’t defeat the reigning MVP and Cy Young award winner, they’ll have to win four games in a row, something they won’t do.

No one expects the Yankees to win tonight. I don’t. What life have they shown? Every inning, every at-bat, every pitch plays like a broken record – home run or strikeout.

No one expects you to win – it’s Detroit’s game to lose. Alex Rodriguez is 3-23 this postseason. He has recorded five hits over the last two postseasons, the same amount as Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter.

Nick Swisher is a mind-boggling 1-35 in his postseason career with runners in scoring position. At least he shows the decency to hit consistently.

Unlike Robinson Cano. His sexy 24-39 (.615) run to end the season foreshadowed his corpselike 2-32 and record-breaking 0-26 this postseason.

You can’t predict baseball. That’s why I predict the Yankees will win tonight.

There’s no pressure. To put in perspective how bad the Yankees are, analyze that. In a must win game, New York’s lack of everything has rendered them at the doorstep of death, but ultimate peace.

No stress, no expectation of victory.

“I don’t set goals, because if you never set goals, you’ll never be disappointed”
– Vince Vaughn from Dodgeball. I’m paraphrasing.

Common sense suggests postseason pressure has tangibly affected the Yankees, but statistics will prove it.

Curtis Granderson’s lifetime batting average is .262 with a standard deviation of .062 over nine years. If you’re unfamiliar with stats, a value outside two “standard deviations” of the mean is officially labeled “unusual.”

Granderson’s 2-26 this postseason (.115) is less than two standard deviations (less than .138) away from his lifetime average (.262 – .062 – .062 = .138) meaning there is something different about his 2-26.

But Corey you’re looking at an almost nominal sample size compared to a whole career. That’s unfair.

Fair argument, but look at Robinson Cano – lifetime .308 hitter, standard deviation .061 over eight years.

His 2-32 (.063) this postseason is over four standard deviations away from his lifetime average. There is just under a one in 15,787 chance that this stretch is strictly coincidental.

Again, small sample size, but when Swisher, Rodriguez, Granderson, and Cano are all hitting “unusually,” there is a significant contributing factor.

Baseball is too weird. There’s too much going for Detroit. Everything points to a Tigers victory.

It’s why the Yankees will win tonight.