Back To One

by Bryan

In Heaven, there’s a whiteboard. Today it will be someone’s job to go and erase the number on there. Yesterday, it was 3,297. For the last nine years, somebody has added 1 to the singles column, but today whoever pulls the job—a bummer on this day, as far as jobs in Heaven go—will take an eraser to the whole thing. There won’t be any ghost numbers left on the board from ink stains. This is Heaven, and the board works perfectly. No, the only number up there today will be a big, fat 1.

So it ends, a near-decade without a Yankees title. Really, I’ve got nothing to complain about. To say it was a good run is a tremendous understatement. Sure, it was close at times, but the 2004 Red Sox showed us the value of “close.” Joe Buck still says Dave Roberts was out. Joe Buck can eat it.

If you are a Yankees fan and are reading this: you have won. Yours is once again the best team in baseball. It really is a stupefyingly good baseball team, ranking up there with the Sox’ title winners and the 2002 Angels of the teams of the decade. Today, and only today, you should celebrate their victory without regard to their status as as a colossus built upon stacks of money. Today, you are allowed to cheer.

Tomorrow you will be reviled. In 1996, a Yankees title was welcomed by a portion of the nation that like to see baseball’s traditional powerhouse back at the top. In 2009, it’s a little different. There were no truly lean years; there was only one year they didn’t make the playoffs. That was last year, and oh, was it glorious. Unfortunately yet predictably, it spurred a Newtownian spending spree. Their action over before October, the reaction was to get the best players on the market at whatever the price.

With CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira on the squad, the Yankees weren’t picked by everyone as odds-on favorites, but they were picked by some. Then the games started, and they lost their first eight meetings with the Red Sox… who barely seemed to relish it. At least outwardly, the teams had switched places. Now Boston was the squad full of humorless automatons, and the Yankees played with passion. Once they started beating the Red Sox, they stuck themselves at the top of the division, staying there with come-from-behind and stay-ahead victories galore. The only question from July on was whether or not they could do it in October, “when it matters.” Or, if you prefer, “in the clutch.”

Ah yes, “the clutch.” Bugaboo of some sports journalists, sacred ground to others, “the clutch” leads to the most violent verbal battles in baseball today. Were the Yankees the best team in baseball before they won the World Series? Some would say yes, others would say no—that the World Series would decide it. Both sides have merit, or at least precedents. Like those who would crown the Yankees prior to the Series, no one confuses the winner of the World Series of Poker with the best poker player in the World. There are games, there are variables, and a “champion” is crowned. Will they be a good poker player? Almost certainly. Will they be the best? Almost certainly not (though this year, it is possible).

Conversely, in football, no one would bestow the title of the “best team in football” upon anyone until after the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s because football’s disparate elements—the block, the pass, the catch—only exist in the context of the game. The act of hitting a baseball can be separated out from the game, and the whole concept of the World Series of Poker is built atop a game. The more gray area there is, the more we’re willing to pronounce the end winner as the best.

For years, though, the Yankees have stocked their roster and come up short… and this after a decade where everything went their way. No baseball team in a 30-team league should win four World Series in five years and come three outs from another, like they did in the late ’90s; that’s skill combined with luck. When the Yankees chased that success with money in the ’00s, it wasn’t forthcoming. The Great Evening Out had begun, and it lasted almost a decade. Whether it was talent or money or just plain luck that snapped it, who knows? All we know is that it’s over.

The fear is that this is the first of many, and it’s a fear that lies dormant inside me, but not forever. To win two, you must win one. Until today, the Yankees hadn’t done that. Now the real fear begins to creep in. Tomorrow, someone will put a 2 on that board, the next day a 3, the next day a 4. The Yankees are champs, but a new dynasty isn’t set in stone. The number always exists, and all we can do is hope that it gets larger every day.

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