Originally written Sept. 23 on his blog:
When we are winning, we think it will last forever. This time and in this place, we have discovered the secret of unending success. The price of our home will keep going up. Our stock portfolio will continue to appreciate. Our company will continue to grow. Our baseball team will keep winning their division.
We are vaguely aware of storm clouds, but all we see is the shining sun. But then reality intrudes. Things start to go wrong. We rationalize. We make excuses that it is just a hiccup or a series of coincidences. Next year we will win again. We will go all the way.
Yesterday afternoon, I looked into the abyss. In that black void, I saw all my rationalization and excuses for what they are. I saw no bright tomorrows, only years of futility. I saw the wilderness, a land bleak and barren where only the hopeless and defeated live. It is a land without hope, only a weary journey from one pointless year to the next.
Yesterday afternoon, I watched a special day in Yankee Stadium. It was a day of goodbyes and sweet memories, punctuated by bitter realization of what the future holds. Andy Pettitte, the winner of so many “must win” games, started his last baseball game in the confines of Yankee Stadium. Next week he will be retired. The stadium was sold out because it had been designated Mariano Rivera Day. Mariano Rivera, the legendary Yankee pitcher, will disappear into retirement next Sunday as well.
The two men were brought up as rookies to join the team in 1995 and have been integral to its success ever since. The Yankees have been winners since 1995. They have won 5 World Series as well as have been in the playoffs every year but one. Now at the end of this remarkable run of success, the baseball world has looked back and begun to speak of the Core Five, the players who were at the center of this success. The Core Five; Bernie Williams in center field, Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter a future Hall of Famer at shortstop, Andy Pettitte the starting pitcher and Mariano Rivera the greatest closer of all time.
Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada departed in recent times past. Now we will be without Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Only Derek Jeter is left, but only the hollow shell of Derek Jeter remains. Watching Derek flail at routine grounders is painful in the extreme. It calls to mind my memories of a sad sad picture, some forty years past, of the incomparable Mickey Mantle trudging back to the dugout, with head bowed and shoulders slumped, after helplessly swinging at three straight fastballs. Time robs all of us, none escapes, not even baseball players. Blessed is he who retires before the embarrassment that is our decline robs us of all dignity.
For those who follow sports, or for that matter, life itself, there is no surprise in the ravages of time. We understand the truth of the cry at an English King’s coronation, “The King is dead. Long live the King”. We will be replaced by another; one younger, faster, better. The Yankees will go on next year without Mariano and Andy. They will go on even after Derek Jeter accepts the truth and goes into that dark night of retirement. I will miss them greatly, but the absence of the Core Five is not the reason for my distress. I mourn their passing, but there have been many great players on the team over the past 18 years.
But today I look into the future and see the wilderness. The winds blow, the coyotes howl and the scorpions hide in the rocks. In my despair, I imagine myself a Roman legionary standing watch on the snow-covered walls of Cologne in the Year 404 AD. As I look over the lights of the town below, I see the dark masses of German barbarians crossing the frozen Rhine River. The lights are going out, and it will be a long time before they return.
I can no more renounce my love of the Yankees than I can stop breathing. They are my team and will remain my team. But I have no faith in the ownership or leadership of the team. The glory and the power that was the Yankees of the past 18 years was the work of leaders who have departed and are gone. The final faint echoes of the masterpiece they created were briefly visible for the last time yesterday.
We who love the team are left with it in the hands of small men trying to fill the shoes of a giant. They are men with minds and instincts attuned to cutting costs and increasing revenue. Bequeathed by fate with a larger than life franchise, they have gone to Harvard Business School and are eager to run this team like a “business”. Never mind that their father, the greatly reviled and laughed at George Steinbrenner, bought a team now valued at $2.3 billion for only $10 million forty years ago.
The Yankees must compete in a division against two of the most well managed teams in baseball, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. The owners of the Yankees are wanna be CPA’s, while the General Manager is suffering a mid-life crisis. His only apparent talent appears to be finding bargains on Craigslist. The ability of their player development system to either find talent, or develop it, based on the evidence is non-existent. Their on-the-field manager, Joe Girardi, is a man of integrity and class, but we know the fate of managers condemned to endless losing seasons.
Indeed, it is the wilderness that awaits us. In the dark years of losing seasons ahead we will remember the glow of 1996 when the years of plenty stretched into the future. The Old Testament reminds us that the wilderness is a place for spiritual renewal. The wilderness is a place to cast off the vanities and affectations of success and return to the humble virtues for an eventual return to prosperity. I only hope that we, unlike Moses and the refugees from Egypt, need not wander there for forty years before we are once more worthy to look forward to baseball in October.
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