Where was George?

The Yankees ended the season with a swan dive for the ages, and all their once-cantankerous owner could muster was a shrug.

Topics: Baseball, George Steinbrenner,

What can happen to transform a team that has won the last two World Series — a team that was favored to win a third straight World Series just three weeks ago — into the grieving, pathetic mess that the New York Yankees are as I write this?

I don’t know about you, but what I saw was just about the ugliest 19 games of baseball in a row (I’m counting the first playoff game against the Oakland A’s) that I’ve ever seen. They may be the 19 ugliest games I’ve ever seen, period. I’m really not old enough to have vivid memories of the ’62 Mets, but I know that that team can at least plead that it didn’t have Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Some hustling statistician has come up with the information that no team has played so poorly for such a span since the Cleveland Spiders in 1898. This gives the Yankees the distinction of playing the worst baseball in three centuries.

The Yankees aren’t “sluggish,” as Dave Anderson suggested in the New York Times, they’re slugged out. They didn’t “slump,” they dumped. This team hasn’t been coasting, it’s been drifting. This isn’t about the collapse of the starting pitching, but the collapse of a team, from the bullpen to the dugout. What happened to the 2000 Yankees is that they quit; they took off three weeks with pay. All year long the Yankees complained about injuries, and when they finally got the team together physically it was gone mentally. Down the stretch, they didn’t stretch. They played without pride or guts. They played like a team that was satisfied with what it had done in the past.

The 2000 Yankees gave a clinic on how to turn yourself from a winner to a loser. First, they slacked off in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, as if being the best team in the league was no longer a big deal. They started to feel complacent, and the men who run the team allowed them to feel that way. Complacency is great for dairy cows, poison for ballplayers. After deciding they didn’t care that much about being the best, the Yankees then seemed to collectively decide that starting off the playoffs at home was nothing worth breaking a sweat for. Before you knew it, they were looking back on the astonishing possibility that the only thing that kept them from the greatest collapse in baseball history was that time ran out on them.

Who, we are entitled to ask, is going to snap this team out of its sleepwalk? Not Joe Torre, who doesn’t have it in him to tell David Cone that a 4-14 record and an ERA of 6.91 might be an indicator that he’s slipping, or to tell Paul O’Neill, who hasn’t had an extra base hit in four weeks, that he can no longer cut it hitting in the same spot in the batting order as Babe Ruth. Not any of the players, apparently, who appear incapable of motivating themselves.

Excuse me, did I say “motivate”? That’s not quite the word for what this team can’t do. Chuck Knoblauch, the first second baseman ever to start as a designated hitter because he can’t field or throw, said on Monday that he doubted if his team were capable of turning around in the playoffs. “That scares me a lot,” he said.

I tell you what scares me: that a neurotic whiner like Knoblauch could say something publicly about his team’s chances without someone coming down on him. But Torre won’t make needed changes for fear, he said, of “hurting our confidence.” A team that just went 3-16 has confidence?

And the most appalling part of all this is that George Steinbrenner doesn’t see anything wrong with it. “Hey, man, we’re the New York Yankees,” he said in an interview last week. “We don’t have to win. No team has to win.” A player doubts if his team can win again? The owner says his team “doesn’t have to win”? What in the world has happened here? Uh, yes, George, this is the New York Yankees, the team that won one out of every four championships last century. If you don’t intend to field a team that really, really wants to win this year — if you’re a little tired of winning — simply let us know so we can make plans to see the Newark Bears. Or, at least, knock a couple of bucks off Yankee ticket prices.

This kind of thinking had best be nipped in the bud before it spreads. You don’t have to be a Yankees fan to agree with me. Trust me: If this can happen to the Yankees, it can happen to anybody.

Oh, my predictions. Andy Pettitte has just done his usual playoff thing and the series is tied 1-1. First, the Giants will beat the Mets in four, the Braves, now down 2-0, will storm back to win, then lose to the Giants in four. The Yankees will win on Friday night and wrap up the first round against Oakland on Saturday. After that, they’ll win a tough seven-game series with Seattle for the American League pennant. Hey, man, these are the New York Yankees.

Allen Barra cowrote Marvin Miller's memoirs, A Whole Different Ballgame. His latest book is Mickey and Willie: The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>