As a longtime Yankee fan, I see that my October surprise again came early, as routine in recent years as the revelation of Republican skeletons in the closet and about as welcome. This year's giant-killers spring from the swing state of Michigan; fearsome Tigers whose rivalry with the Pinstripers dates back to the beginnings of the American League.
Though they had never faced each other in the playoffs, their history has intertwined, from Ty Cobb's disdain for Babe Ruth's style of play in the 1920s to the sparks ignited by manager Billy Martin who managed both teams in the '70s. From their time-honored uniforms to their beautiful ballparks, both teams are rich in tradition.
This Yankee fan may be in the minority, but if we had to be humiliated in the first round, I'm glad it was to the Tigers and their manager Jim Leyland; a classy baseball guy who says things like, "I always tell my pitchers, 'To me, a role is something you put butter on.' Your role is to come here ready to pitch, and when I call for you, get somebody out."
Alas, not all in Yankee-land are as mellow about our World Series drought--which coincides, by the way, with a certain New York senator donning a Yankee cap-- as am I. For those of you who still suffer, I offer an email written in response to a good friend and fellow Bronx Bomber booster who fired off a 1,300 word email of agony to me shortly after Saturday's massacre:
Lighten up buddy, it's only baseball! It's not as if our country were in danger of being over-run by a vicious enemy determined to end our American way of life! Of course there's still a good chance we'll beat them at the polls in November.
Seriously though, I also thought we'd have no problem with the Bengals. Torre managed to keep the Yanks on an even keel when most of the other front-runners (BoSox, Mets, Tigers, White Sox, Cards, etc.) went through long winning and losing streaks. But as you know, baseball is baseball, and therefore deliciously and sometimes disastrously unpredictable.
With the two extra series that now precede the Fall Classic, I think that even the great Yankee teams of the '30s, '40s and '50s would have had a hard time consistently sustaining the emotional edge necessary to operate at the maximum level for the entire three week slog we now call 'playoff baseball'.
I said over and over during the late '90s that those Yanks would be baseball's last World Series-winning dynasty. It's just too difficult for the players and fans to maintain that high. The Tigers and their fans are there right now. Can they sustain it? We shall see.
We've known all year that our middle relief arsonists were abysmal and that to win, we'd have to out-hit them. And we did, all year until October turned guys like Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman into Cy Young. Such is the magic of Autumn baseball.
All of this continues to prove, as you pointed out, that the biggest payroll seldom wins anymore, though spending your earnings on personnel (instead of whatever the other teams do) is the most prudent, as well as the most honest, way of serving your fans.
As I write this, ESPN is reporting that Torre may be shelved in favor of Lou Piniella. Such is the magic of George Steinbrenner. It probably is time for Joe to go. It's only a shame that it's too late for Willie Randolph to assume the reins.
For us, the pain is over, though the soreness may linger. Although I wish all fans of the remaining teams good fortune, I will now become a disinterested observer. I would, however enjoy seeing the match-up between the speed of Jose Reyes and the sublime talents of I-Rod, who, in my humble opinion, is the greatest catcher ever.
So for me, on to football, where my Chicago Bears will and must return to the pigskin pinnacle!
Postscript to you one-note Yankee haters across the country: While my baseball season is over, thankfully so is yours.
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