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

Sporcle of the Week: 2009 Yankees

My Giants got crushed today, so nostalgia pushed me toward the 2009 Yankees Sporcle: Name every player that played at least one game for the Yankees in 2009.

Two or three years ago I may have gotten 100%, but I’ll settle for 25 out of 45.

SPORCLE OF THE WEEK: 2009 YANKEES

To me, this World Series will forever be known as the one that saved me from a year of annoying Phillies fans. Rowan University was a good choice 🙂

Top 10 NBA Player Commercials

I found this great list on Buzzfeed.com of the top 10 commercials featuring NBA players.

Personally, I think they missed this one below. It was the NBA’s opening promo to the 2011-12 NBA season on Christmas Day. How long did this take to edit?

The Colts Front Office is Making Bad Moves

J-E-T-S. Peyton Manning might be there next season.

My second post ever in this blog talked about the importance of Peyton Manning to the Indianapolis Colts: what is Manning’s WAR (wins after replacement).

The Indianapolis Colts went 2-14 without their star quarterback in 2011, only their second losing season since Manning’s rookie season in 1998. Arguably the best quarterback in the league, would the Colts be a playoff contending team had he not been hurt?

I think the Colts are a nine-win team this year with Peyton Manning, meaning Peyton Manning’s War would be around 7.0, guesstimating he is responsible for 44% of his team’s wins.

To put that in perspective, according to baseball-reference.com, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp led the MLB with a 10.0 WAR, meaning he was responsible for 6.2% of his team’s wins. Granted, there’s no one position in sports more important than a quarterback, but the distance between percentages is too big to ignore.

With that said, I disagree with the Colts’ shakeup this offseason. Head Jim Caldwell, Vice Chairman Bill Polian, and General Manager Chris Polian have all been fired this month. The front office looks at a 2-14 record, but what can you expect when arguably the best player in the league is sidelined for the season.

Now that the damage is done, Peyton Manning will be on another team next season. Manning disclosed his disappointment in candid and honest remarks made after the firings of the Polians. In a system where repetition and comfort were crucial to Manning’s success, I think we’ll find Manning asking for a trade sometime before or immediately following April’s draft. The Colts have already said they plan to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick.

Why not the Jets? A team with equal amounts of disunity and chaos, the Jets’ quarterback situation is in dire straits for a shake-up. Multiple players have called out Mark Sanchez for his work ethic and contentment, and after a disappointing 2011 campaign, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets are in the running for Peyton Manning.

I think the Colts should have kept their front office and head coach, picked Andrew Luck, and let him observe Peyton Manning for two years. Let him spend some time in the “minor leagues.” Peyton has at least two years left, and it would have made for a smooth transition. Even if Peyton was flat out against tutoring Luck…Aaron Rodgers still turned out pretty well.

The Giants are in the NFC Championship Game. hhhhhwat?

The Giants are playing with house money. In August, no one thought Big Blue would still be alive midway through January. You didn’t, and neither did I. Since then, Giants fans learned who Victor Cruz is, the Giants proved you can lose four straight in the second half of the season and still control your own destiny, and Eli Manning may have finally tattooed his name into the “elite quarterback” category – a fraternity I thought he pledged his way into three years ago.

The “may have” in that previous sentence is tentative to change. If the Giants win it all in the 2011 season, you can remove it altogether. That four star gold “C” means he’s the man in charge.

It’s not how good of a team you are, but how good you are for the 60 minutes on the field.

The Giants are not a better team than the Packers. If the two teams played ten times, I think Green Bay would win seven. However, in a blessing in disguise, the Giants got injured at the right time. Osi Umenyiora’s perfectly timed injury got him back just in time for a tune up game in week 17. The whole Giants team seemed to come back just as the regular season was ending as well.

In my previous post I had zero trust in my team to make any noise this postseason. Just over a month ago I watched a struggling football team look weak in the secondary, uphill on the ground, and a clueless on special teams.

Then finally and out of nowhere, the one constant – Peyton’s younger brother, finally finds his team. The defense (and especially the secondary) picked up, the running game reappeared, and Eli’s wide-receivers think they’re some of the best in the league. The Giants still have no special teams unit… but I can live without that, so long as you play solid on offense and defense.

And who’s been on and off the hot seat more than Tom Coughlin? He pushes the New York Giants’ fans and front office to the brink. In 2007 the Giants started 0-2, and were down 17-3 at the half to the Washington Redskins in week 3. I’m convinced if the Giants lost that game Coughlin was gone. I’m also convinced if Coughlin didn’t win week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys he was gone. Somehow he finds a way to rally his troops just in time. My previous post talked about how Coughlin would be gone by the end of January – I’m still not 100% sure he’s safe, but it looks that way.

Now the Giants play the 49ers, a team they showed they can beat back in week 10. They held a one point lead going into the fourth quarter. Granted, they now face the tall task of beating Alex Smith and Co. in SanFran, but again, it’s not how good of a team you are, but how good you are at the right time. That’s why the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007 and why the 1980 Olympic Hockey team won gold.

Eli has been here before. He’s a quarterback entering the prime of his career, yet with Super Bowl experience under his belt. Will the Giants again hold up their Road Warrior mantra? Will Alex Smith lead the New York Knicks of football to a championship game (a team that’s usually so good but out of nowhere becomes terrible for ten years)?

Who knows… in five years, you may refer to Peyton as Eli’s older brother.