As spring training fast approaches, I recently had a conversation with a friend who is a die-hard Yankee fan. I respect this friend a great deal because for one, he’s a really nice fellow and another; he is a true Yankee fan, not some Johnny –come-lately. He can, off the top of his head, recite the Yankee lineup from 1969. You know, Horace Clarke at second, Roy White in left, Joe Pepitone at first, and Bobby Cox at third—yeah, that Bobby Cox. Hey, if you were a baseball fan in the New York area in 1969 and rooting for the Yankees, no doubt of your allegiance to the pin stripes.
Our conversation revolved around the coming season as he wondered what Yankee fans may do if the Bombers play as badly as they look on paper right now. (What, you’re not excited about the Travis Hafner signing?)
I have been saying for a number of years now that the Yankees would falter because of age but every season I have been proved wrong. I know Yankee fans bitch and moan how last season ended but let’s not forget they still won the division with 95 wins and won the ALDS before falling to Detroit in the ALCS. I hardly consider last season a colossal failure for the Yankees even though their offense went silent against Tiger pitching. However, expectations for the storied franchise are so high that Yankee fans lose their minds when they are not seeing their team being carried down the canyon of heroes in lower Manhattan.
Regardless of how well or poorly the Yanks do in 2013, do you really think a Mets fan cares to listen to Yankee fans whining of a potential demise in the Bronx? I ran some statistics for the last 18 years, since the strike tore apart the 1994 baseball season and the three tiered playoff format began. The results are startling and after reading this post, if there is a Yankee fan anywhere that complains about poor play or the fact the Yankees may not make the post season in ’13, they should be ashamed of themselves. For the team from the borough of the Bronx is a gluttonous one. In most categories that I gleaned from Baseball-Reference.com, the Yankees come out on top of all other teams and not just by the slimiest of margins.
What is so fascinating about the Yankees compared to the Mets, or should I say all other teams, is their tremendous ability to sustain success. In all the categories that I ran, the one that I found the most amazing was winning percentage. Since 1995, the Yankees have never finished below .500 (actually the last year the Yanks had a losing record was 1992). None of the other 29 teams can make such a claim. In fact, the lowest winning percentage the Yankees compiled in a season since ’95 was .540 in 2000. That season, they won their third consecutive World Series and beat you know who.
During this range of 18 seasons the Mets finished above .500 nine times. While the Yankees average number of wins a season was 96.2, the Mets averaged 81.0, exactly at .500. (Of course the Mets did not play 162 games every season. Some years, a rain out or two was not made up and the season of ‘95 was shortened due to the lingering strike.) When we look at all teams with the most .500 seasons over the last 18 years, the Mets are tied for 16th place, with the Yanks in first two full winning seasons ahead of the Boston Red Sox (16) and the Atlanta Braves (16). The Mets are in 17th place in average wins.
How would you like to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates? This will even make Mets fans feel good. How many seasons over .500 have the Pirates had since 1995? Ready? None!
The Bucs best season was 1997 and last year when they managed to win 79 games. The Pirates are on the rise with some really good young players. Let’s hope for Pittsburgh’s sake the owners don’t start trading them away again. Certainly Pirate fans are not going to feel sorry for Yankee fans.
Here’s another startling statistic in regards to the Yankees. Their win total of the last 18 seasons is 1,731 victories. That’s 69 more wins than the Atlanta Braves and 128 more wins than the Boston Red Sox, their arch rival. The Mets have 273 fewer wins than the Yankees and the Kansas City Royals have 501 fewer wins. (Arizona and Tampa Bay actually have less wins than the Royals but both did not come into existence till the 1998 season.)
What is the significance of the number .944?
Well that is the percentage of playoff appearances the Yankees made from 1995 through last season. When you do the math (or just look up the records), the Yankees missed the playoffs just one time during this stretch. That is simply remarkable. No franchise of any American professional sport comes close. You would consider the Atlanta Braves an uncanny group to have made the playoffs 13 times in 18 years. The Cardinals were outstanding having played into October ten times and even the Red Sox making the post season nine times is a tremendous feat—but 17 out of 18 seasons? That is downright unbelievable. Again, no tears for Yankee fans please.
And where is the other New York team when it comes to post season appearances. The Amazins made the post season three times—1999, 2000, and 2006, twice as a wild card and once as the division winner.
Over an 18 year period, since the three tiered playoff format was introduced, a team making the post season would have the potential of playing in 54 post season series (not including the wild card game introduced last season). That’s an LDS, an LCS, and a World Series each season for 18 years. Of course that would require the absurd. A team would have had to win 18 consecutive world championships to have played in and won 54 post season series.
We can all agree that a team making the post season, say, half of those 18 years is outstanding. Let’s also assume that a team in the post season nine times out of 18 years and winning the World Series twice is exceptional. Perhaps even getting to the World Series one or two additional times but losing would add to that team’s excellence. A team that fits this bill is the St. Louis Cardinals. In the last 18 years, the Cardinals, a model franchise from top to bottom, made the post season 14 times, won two world championships, three pennants and in doing so won 13 post season series overall. That’s a percentage of .241 and the second best in baseball since 1995. The Braves won 10 post season series (.185), and the Red Sox won a post season series nine times (.167). The Mets won four post season series (.074), the highest achievement being the 2000 NLCS over St. Louis. The Yankees, the team whose fans are coming unglued over the thought of mediocrity, they have won 22 post season series. That’s a percentage of .407. Again, another surreal statistic that supports the fact the Yankees are (or were) the greatest sports franchise in history. Yankee fans… do you see what I am getting at?
Since ’95, the Yankees also lead all the other teams in division titles won with 13. They have won the most pennants, seven, and of course the most world championships with five. During this stretch, the Cardinals, Red Sox, Giants, and Marlins have won two World Series. (The Marlins are bit of an oddity in that they never have won a division title but were crowned world champions twice in the only two post seasons they were in.) The Braves, Phillies, Angels, Diamondbacks (in only their second year of existence) and White Sox won a single world championship rounding out the 18 played since ‘95. Twenty other teams are still looking for the ultimate prize under the playoff format that began in 1995 and was slightly modified last season with the addition of a second wild card.
The point of all this number crunching is that no matter how you shake it, there simply has been no better baseball franchise than the Yankees for the better part of the last two decades. They created a great core of players through their farm system in the early nineties, made key trades and good free agent signings since to bolster an already talented roster. But at some point, even the greatest of teams must falter or take a step back and regroup.
The current problem the Yanks face is they still have a whole lot of money tied up in some very old players. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixieira, and C.C. Sabathia will account for 90 million dollars in 2013 salary. Those four players will make more money than the total salary of 15 other teams. Add to this list Robinson Canoe’s 15 million (who is in the last year of his contract), now we are talking 115 million for just five players. With the new collective bargaining rules in place, the Yankees must get below the 189 million dollar threshold for the 2014 season or pay heavy taxes to both leagues. They are not about to give out absurd contracts this season that raise their salary for next when they would be taxed as high as 50 percent.
But the biggest problem the Yankees will face is the expectations that go along with wearing the pin stripes. The Yankee fan base is so accustomed to winning it is unclear what will happen if that stops. During last year’s ALCS, when the Yankees could not do anything against superb Detroit pitching, boos could be heard all around the stadium and there were many empty seats—unheard of just a few years ago. Realize there are many Yankee fans that are not old enough to have experienced a losing season. This will be new territory for them if it comes to pass. Will Yankee fans be supportive and give their team a couple of years to rebuild or will they turn their backs in disgust, some even move across town if GM Sandy Alderson becomes successful in building the Mets into a contender. And do not think for a second there are not a percentage of “swing” fans that will gravitate to Flushing if the Mets rise while the Yankees fall. It has happened before. I know many ‘80s Mets fans that became ‘90s Yankees fans.
I am not predicting a losing season for the Yankees but it could happen. Passing on Josh Hamilton and signing Travis Hafner is a good business decision for the long term health of the franchise. It just is not a decision the late George Steinbrenner would have agreed with. Finally, it appears the Mets have got it right, at least in how to run a ballclub. Their organizational philosophy is more in line with the Cardinals and Braves than it is with the Angels or Dodgers who are attempting to be the Yankees west. Even the Yankees know that and are singing a different tune. Alderson is on his way to creating an organization that others are now looking at and trying to pry the chips from. The Mets now have two prospects in the top ten of all minor league prospects and many more in the top 50. That’s were winning teams need to be.
So if it comes to pass that the Yankees take a slight downturn while Brian Cashman gets that salary in order so he can also do some rebuilding of his own, trust us, we Mets fans feel your pain. But first walk a mile in our shoes before you come looking for sympathy. We have none to offer.