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Perspectives: Where Do They Go From Here?

by Paul Semendinger

September 13, 2021

***

19. There are just 19 games left in the season.

My first thought as the season winds down to a precious few games is sadness. I hate the end of the baseball season. I so look forward to Yankees baseball. I love the daily games. I love the ebb and flow. I love that the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint.

I always miss baseball, a ton, in the winter.

A ton.

All that being said, it wasn’t been a fun year as a Yankees fan. By the time the Yankees got good, or seemingly good, I had basically, already lost hope. I saw too many weaknesses, too many flaws, not enough grit, and sound play to make me truly believe that what I was seeing in July and August (all those wins) was sustainable.

This is a flawed team. Very flawed. They have demonstrated that, very clearly, these last 15 games. A good team, a team that fashions itself as a champion, does not go 3-12 over a fifteen game stretch in September (in a close race) – especially when those opponents are primarily second-division clubs. The Yankees lost a lot of games to teams they were supposedly better than.

The truth is… they weren’t.

If the season ended today, the Yankees wouldn’t be in the playoffs.

If the season ended today, the Yankees wouldn’t even have 90 wins (they’re now on pace to win 89 games).

I am so disappointed that this is the product that the Yankees have given the fans while at the same time being very sad the season is ending.

The frustrating thing is that it didn’t have to be this way.

***

Last night during the game, as the announcers were talking and reflecting on the Yankees, one referred to Gene Michael’s philosophy as he built the great teams of the 1990s. It was said that Gene Michael looked for two thing – he looked for players who could handle New York and he looked for left-handed hitting.

These last two seasons, both disappointments, the Yankees tried to build a team bereft of left-handed hitting.

They addressed that at the trade deadline, but it wasn’t enough.

It was very clear these last few years that the Yankees, right from the start, were delivering a product that was flawed.

Left-handed hitting.

Left-handed pitching.

That’s how to build a winner in the Bronx.

The Yankees tried to do it without either.

The other thing that Gene Michael did, and it’s something the Yankees even started to get away from as they went into the 2000s, was bring in players who had been winners. It takes something different to win. It takes more than talent and skill and ability. It takes more than the statistics show. Being able to win takes a certain grittiness and ability to do whatever is necessary to find victory. Plays who win know how to dig deep and find something extra. They’re not always superstars (but they often become legends in their own right).

The great Yankees teams always included players like this, not guys in the Hall-of-Fame, but winners due to their tenacity, drive, and such. (Trying to find players who have this lies at the root of the great “scouting vs statistics” discussions. Is a player “more” than his numbers? Do you play certain players even though they might seem to be inferior statistics-wise?)

Tommy Henrich, “Old Reliable” was a player like this. Bernie Williams also. The list of these important “clutch” players is long indeed. It includes guys like Hank Bauer, Jorge Posada, Thurman Munson, Sparky Lyle, Moose Skowron, Elston Howard… even Roger Maris and Paul O’Neill. Guys like Bucky Dent and Tony Kubek and Billy Martin, among others, were somehow more productive and valuable than their statistics indicated.

The Yankees of recent years seem not to have this type of player, except maybe Brett Gardner, who now is at the end of his career.

The Yankees need to players like this and make them important pieces as they move forward. It’s part of the solution…

I went back to the 13-game winning streak and found something interesting. I, along with others, noted this before, but it’s real… the players who carried the Yankees at that time weren’t just the superstars, it was others too.

Andrew Velazquez played in all thirteen of those games. Rougned Odor was in 12. Tyler Wade played in 9 games.

Then, the Yankees stopped playing them.

They also were winning with players like Greg Allen and Jonathan Davis in the lineup. Then they stopped playing them as well.

A smart team would look at this and draw some conclusions.

A team needs the stars, absolutely, but it also need the little guys as well.

A few years ago Ronald Torreyes was that guy. The Yankees treated him similarly.

Those great Yankees teams of the Torre era had players like Luis Sojo, Miguel Cairo, and Enrique Wilson… role players who helped the stars.

Running a team and a franchise is not easy. I hope that as the Yankees plan for next year, and beyond, they reflect and see that they need more players with athleticism. That was what those players brought.

They also brought grit which is just something that the current stars seem to have less of. They just don’t seem to have that fire.

Too often we see a big swing and a miss for strike three and the player looks and acts like it’s no big deal. It’s just back to the bench.

I think that’s a problem.

***

I think it’s clear now, to many, if not all, finally, that the Aaron Boone experiment didn’t work.

I wish I had been wrong about him. I wish there were some championships these last few years.

It’s clear that Aaron Boone was in over his head. The almost championship Yankees of 2017-2021 was not the place for him to learn how to manage a baseball team.

I do think he learned a lot. I can see Boone managing another team with great success. He was just the wrong manager at the wrong time for the wrong team.

It seems all but certain that the Boone era will be over.

***

19 games to go.

Where do they go from here?

10 of the games are against second-division clubs.

9 of the games are against their A.L. East rivals.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

I never want a season to end, but if the Yankees make a run, I hope that does not obscure the fact that big changes will have to be made regardless.

If the Yankees go 19-0 over this stretch, they’ll end with “just” 98 wins.

It hasn’t been a great year. For too many months, it wasn’t even good.

What a shame.

It could have been so much more…

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