The life of a beleaguered Yankees fan as Aaron Boone returns
The news hit true Yankees fans like an uppercut to the jaw. Not only was Aaron Boone returning as manager, but the team gave him a three-year contract extension with a club option for 2025. Loyal rooters felt hollow, drained and disillusioned. Insulted, in fact. Sure, Boone is a likeable guy, but bringing him back as skipper fortified an acceptance of mediocrity that has become the Yankees’ modus operandi. It signified, once and for all, the death of Yankee otherness, leaving the Bronx Bombers as just another team hoping to stay semi-relevant amid baseball’s evolving landscape.
Why is the consternation so vehement, I hear you ask? Just how unorthodox is this move in the wider scheme of baseball history? Well, Boone will now become the first Yankees manager in 99 years to be granted a fifth season at the helm without winning a World Series ring in any of his first four campaigns. Just let that sink in a little. Rarely has this franchise persisted with such a disappointing manager. Yet here we are. Such is the plight of your modern, beleaguered Yankees fan.
Adding salt to the wound, a statement from Hal Steinbrenner, the team’s insipid owner, lauded Boone’s ‘baseball acumen’ as a key factor in his return. There was no mention of the 2021 Yankees being the worst baserunning team in the American League, per Fangraphs. Nor was there mention of the same team committing more errors than all but four big league clubs. But hey, why quibble over semantics? The fact that 40% of Boone’s coaching staff has been released was glossed over, too, platitudes masking incompetence in contemporary Yankee dogma.
The ultimate affront came from Brian Cashman, however. “If he was entering the free agent market, I believe he would be the number one managerial candidate in baseball,” the general manager said of Boone. That I, and many other Yankees fans, could name a dozen better candidates exposes this particular lie, but do not let that stop the media lapping up the soundbites and peddling the narratives. Do not let that halt the propaganda machine, because enough people fall for the regurgitated rhetoric each year to keep this franchise in profit.
Are the Yankees really that out of touch? Are they really that stubborn, arrogant and insouciant? Are they really that tone deaf to the demands of an apathetic fanbase? Year after year after year, they stick to the same flawed blueprint, doubling down on analytics while ostracising anyone who believes in culture, values and principles. That the Yankees’ power was built on culture, values and principles is painfully ironic, of course, as mastery of the so-called intangibles – heart, hustle, leadership, chemistry – helped stockpile the resources that are now routinely squandered by spreadsheets and calculators.
This is just the start, though. Cashman’s contract expires following the 2022 season, but Hal views him as an infallible messiah, the geeky brother he never had. Cashman has worked in the Yankees’ baseball operations department for 36 years, and he has led the front office for 24 seasons. There is no sign of his reign ending soon, on-field results be damned, and Hal will likely tether Cashman’s tenure to that of Boone for the foreseeable future, leaving Yankees fans to gnash their teeth while wading through pervasive turgidity. How much longer can this go on?
Conventional wisdom holds that Boone is merely a puppet while Cashman is the wicked ventriloquist. If such a dynamic does exist, with Cashman pulling the strings, it merely underscores his myopic ineptitude, rather than that of Boone. Once a shrewd strategic operator, Cashman’s total surrender to objective algorithms has dulled his effectiveness, to a point where the Yankees have won just one world championship in two decades. Filtered through a prism of impenetrable autonomy, Cashman’s defective ethos stops the Yankees from winning, and that chasm may soon be impossible to reconcile.
As such, Yankees fans have a right to feel betrayed by this regime. The commentariat may argue that Yankees fans do not qualify for feelings of anger and pain. The team has won 27 World Series titles, after all, and its evocative brand produces exorbitant revenues each year. Pinstriped sympathy does not exist through vast swathes of America, but Yankees diehards have legitimate frustrations that must be heard. We deserve far better than what is perennially served up by this anachronistic establishment, and it is larceny to all baseball fans that we simply allow it to happen.
Yes, the Mariners have not played a postseason game since 2001, and that sucks for their devout supporters. Sure, you will find more poignant tales of baseball woe in Cleveland and Arlington, Milwaukee and San Diego. Heck, the Yankees last finished below .500 in 1992 – before I was even born. But this is different. This is the New York Yankees. Championship expectations are woven into the fabric of this organisation, and a 12-year drought in the Bronx equates to a decades-long famine elsewhere. Moreover, Yankees fans are sick of annual postseason defeats to Boston, Houston and Tampa Bay. Indeed, many hardcore acolytes have simply given up.
For those who remain, however, to be a Yankees fan nowadays is to meander through life in a dull, empty malaise, waiting for the next galling humiliation. The Red Sox keep winning despite a revolving door on Yawkey Way. The Dodgers keep dominating despite gargantuan luxury tax bills. And even the Mets keep targeting the brightest minds in the game, unperturbed by rejection. Meanwhile, our hearts are as empty as the Legends Suite seats behind home plate – a shell, in other words, of what they used to be. Collectively, as fans, we have limited faith that management will construct a team in our image, adhering to the salty values of New York. Therefore, all we can do is shout at the moon, because nobody is prepared to channel our passion into on-field change.
One title may not even be enough to exorcise the stasis at this point. The Red Sox have won four championships this century, compared to the Yankees' one. Moreover, since the Yankees last won back-to-back championships, once the yardstick for their dynastic core, 13 different teams have scaled the World Series mountain. Almost half of the league. To wit, Boone was right when he recently said everybody else had caught up to the Yankees. In truth, it happened more than a decade ago, and nobody has bothered to react.
Accordingly, I have now been a Yankees fan for eight barren seasons, and hope of witnessing them win a world championship has dwindled to a distant mirage on the horizon. At this stage, I can only wonder what life will look like when I eventually see the Yankees win it all – in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. I’m currently 27 years old, and the prospect of turning 35 or 40 without seeing the Yankees back on top is now a realistic possibility. That speaks to the complete dénouement of a once-proud institution.
To some outsiders, that may seem hyperbolic, given the Yankees’ continued willingness to wield a $200 million payroll, but those who watch this team every day – those who live and die with every pitch – know the true extent of its existential crisis. Put it this way: since rebranding as the Yankees in 1913, the team’s longest World Series title drought is 18 years, and its deepest pennant scarcity is 15 years. The current incarnation is two-thirds of the way to eclipsing the ominous title benchmark, while the pennant nadir is already 80% eroded. We are approaching unprecedented levels of Yankee futility.
Indeed, with little credible hope on the horizon, and with perennial failures returning at pivotal positions, we may well surpass those ignominious milestones, en route to the most desolate epoch in Bronx baseball history. For the next three years, at least – and most probably until 2025 and beyond – such purgatory is our unshakeable milieu, as the Yankees keep trying the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
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