Perspectives: Rocky III and the 2022 Yankees
by Paul Semendinger
July 27, 2022
Longtime readers will know that I am a huge fan of the Rocky movies. I loved them all, but Rocky III is one of my favorites. There is a discussion in that movie between Rocky and his trainer Mickey that is resonating with me greatly right now in regard to the 2022 Yankees.
The passage from the movie comes as Rocky wishes to fight Clubber Lang. Mickey explains that Rocky has lost his edge, that he doesn't have what it takes any longer. Mickey says:
"Rock, let's put it this way. Now, three years ago you was supernatural. You was hard and you was nasty and you had this cast-iron jaw. But then the worst thing happened to you. It could happen to any fighter. You got civilized.”
It makes me think what someone might say today to Aaron Boone or Brian Cashman:
"Let's put it this way. Now, for the first three months, this team was supernatural. They played hard, they were focused, and had this cast-iron will that kept them in every game so they'd eventually win. But then the worst thing happened, it could happen to any team. They got civilized."
The 2022 Yankees got civilized. They ain't killers like they was just a few weeks ago. To boot:
2022 Yankees By Month:
April: 15-6 (.714)
May: 19-9 (.679)
June: 22-6 (.786)
July: 10-11 (.476)
They got civilized.
The 2022 Yankees since the end of June look depressing like the Yankees of 2018 and 2019 and 2020 and 2021. The Yankees since July 1 look nothing like the Yankees we saw for the first three months of the year:
Players are getting injured by the boatload. Giancarlo Stanton was just put on the IL. The Yankees depth has evaporated.
The pitching often looks mediocre, at best.
The hustle and killer instinct seems gone. One only needed to see Gleyber Torres loaf his way to second on Sunday only to get thrown out at third base to see the Yankees reverting to old (and not championship-level) habits.
There is a lack of clutch hitting or the ability to get runners on base home with any consistency.
The players seem less happy and enthusiastic. One only needed to see how perturbed Jordan Montgomery was when he was removed from the game last night.
The manager is starting to rest players a bit more. Championship players play.
Aaron Boone has been staring to make some less-then-stellar decisions (running them out of an inning last night, pinch-hitting Joey Gallo last night...)
And lesser teams are beating the Yankees or becoming very difficult for the Yankees to defeat. One only needs to look at the recent series against the Pirates, Red Sox, Reds, and Orioles to see this disturbing trend. This is while the best team, the Astros, seem to have the Yankees overmatched in every game.
I have mentioned this before, I don't necessarily buy the "It's a marathon not a sprint" logic that so many use to define the baseball season. People who say that don't really understand marathons. The runners that win those races run hard from the start and then all the way through. It is a sprint for many. The winners usually get there in sub-5:00 miles. They run 26.2 consecutive sub-5:00 miles.
The Yankees were running hard for the first three months of the season and then they took their foot off the gas pedal. They slowed down. They got civilized. They came back to the pack.
The Yankees are no longer a team having a magical and amazing season. No, they're now a team having a very good season. The Astros are right there with the Yankees for the best record in the American League. The Dodgers are right there for the best record in the Major Leagues. This isn't a magical season any longer. It's still a good season, it might be a great season, maybe, but it's no longer magical and on pace to be record setting.
For three months they was superhuman. I have a bad feeling that if the Yankees were to play the Astros in the playoffs right now that it would end just as the first Balboa vs Lang fight did. In that fight, Clubber Lang had a second round knockout. It was fast and furious and over. Rocky was left on the canvas. As Mickey had predicted, "He'll knock you to tomorrow..."
Now, all is not lost. There is still time for the Yankees to right the ship. You know how Rocky got back on top? He rediscovered the "eye of the tiger" by going back to his roots (well, Apollo's roots, but let's not get too technical). He went back to the old ways. He went back to an inner city gym and he trained hard like he had before.
The Yankees can do that. They can go back to their old ways. A championship belt is within reach. But in order to get there, they need to go back to the ways they used to do it. The 2022 Yankees, as currently constructed, will not win the World Series. I don't even think they'll get there. They're showing that they're just not good enough.
But what if they did go back to the ways they used to do it?
Juan Soto is out there. Get him. Luis Castillo is out there. Get him. Make the moves. Get mean and nasty and hard. With a quality starter and a big lefty bat, the Yankees can once again acquire that cast iron jaw. They can, but they have to be willing to pay the price.
The Yankees used to be the team that made the big bold gutsy moves. They need to get that back.
In Rocky III, before Rocky fully commits to the difficult training, he has a heart-to-heart discussion with Adrian on the beach. Rocky admits that he is afraid.
"I'm afraid, all right? You wanna here me say it? You wanna break me down? For the first time in my life, I'm afraid."
Do the Yankees have the heart and the courage to do what is necessary to win or are they afraid? Are the Yankees afraid of the cost in prospects and salary and the looming luxury cap? When it comes to making the big or bold move in recent years, going way back, almost to 2008-09, they have often acted afraid. They Yankees have let big stars go to other teams and help them attain championship belts. With a possible magical season right here, it is time for the team to make a bold step, or two, to go big, like they used to do.
A fighter or a team doesn't attain glory without sacrifice. It takes guts and courage and a firm commitment to be great.
Are the Yankees willing to pay the price?
Before Balboa vs Lang II, Clubber Lang saw only weakness in Rocky. When asked for his prediction for the fight, Lang responded, "Pain." It was only during the fight when Rocky relied on his newly rediscovered inner strength and courage, that he withstood Lang's powerful shots, looked him in the eye, and said, "You ain't so bad. You ain't so bad. You ain't nothing."
Will the Yankees be able to look at the Astros, the Dodgers, and even the rest of the league and say that going forward?
In order to do that, in order to get the edge back, the Yankees need to get back the "eye of the tiger." They need to find that old style of winning. They need to play big to win big.
There is no tomorrow.