In case you missed the confetti and screaming fans downtown on Friday -- and the previous 177 games, for that matter -- the Yankees won their 27th World Series title last week. They steamrolled through the playoffs with an 11-4 record, trailed in a series for all of one game and beat arguably the two best major league teams not in pinstripes (Angels and Phillies).
I could spend the next 2,000 words tracing the "arc" of the Yankees' season, but there's not much of an arc on which to wax eloquent. The Yankees started in a trough, turned it around in May when A-Rod came back, went into the All-Star Break hot, came out hotter, grabbed first place in the AL East
on July 21, and kept trending upward all the way to the parade. That's the honest -- albeit simplistic -- explanation.
OK, OK. Let's explicate that a little. There were two major keys to the Bombers' season. First was that all four major offseason acquisitions -- C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher -- thrived in their first season with the Yanks. Yes, even Swisher thrived. When your No. 8 hitter has an OPS of .869 and the MLB average for all players is .751, just forget his nightmare postseason and enjoy how stacked your lineup is.
Of the newbies, Sabathia made the biggest difference in the playoffs, giving the Yankees their first dominant ace since Roger Clemens. At 29, C.C. has plenty more good years left in him. Along with Mark Buehrle
and maybe Roy Halladay
, he's got the best shot among active pitchers at 300 wins, and his seven-year contract means Yankee fans should get to see a lot of them.
The second key to the season was A-Rod's epiphany. After admitting to steroid use, losing his wife and dealing with a possible career-ending hip injury in the same year, Rodriguez said he "hit rock bottom". Everyone knows his subsequent revelation: Remove himself from the spotlight, put the team first, take the pressure off himself, become a better teammate... you get the idea. We've heard sportscasters and media pundits discuss it all season.
The general reaction from people has been, "It's about time" or "Finally, he stopped being a self-centered moron". Few people have discussed or even acknowledged how hard it must have been for A-Rod to reinvent himself. For the better part of his life, A-Rod has been treated like baseball royalty, feted and hailed as a baseball god. A $252-million contract
and adoring fans bases in two cities before the age of 30 will go to anybodies head. Only New York fans aren't forgiving, not for anybody, and especially not for a pretty boy who makes more that most of us could ever dream of for playing a game. So when A-Rod flopped in the postseason three years in a row, the fans got harsher, which increased the pressure, which made him play worse, which made the fans get harsher. And so it went.
In order to "turn things around" this spring, A-Rod had to basically humble himself before the jeering masses and simply take the beating he got in the press and at every opposing ballpark. Sure, it's not in the same universe as what a guy like Jackie Robinson went through, but you can't tell me it wasn't excruciating for a guy who was programmed to be egotistical to bow his head, admit his mistakes and get back to work.
A regular season of 30 homers and 100 RBIs in just 124 games was impressive enough. His postseason heroics were simply sublime. Other than Mariano Rivera -- who at this point has reached demigod status in my book -- no one did more than A-Rod to bring home the title.
(Honorable mention: How 'bout that Derek Jeter? The mainstream media writes him off before the season and he puts up these numbers
. Jeter says he wants to play until he's 43. After a season like this, it's hard to argue with him.)
Good enough arc for you? Now for the real fun stuff.
Several local papers wrote an article summarizing each of the Yankees' 27 championship teams. Some even ranked them. And invariably, three teams came to the fore: 1927, 1939, 1998. Let's see how the 2009 edition stacks up against each of those teams.1. 2009 v 1927
Ah, Murderers' Row. There's something about that saying that strikes fear into the heart of opposing players. As dangerous as A-Rod and Teixeira were in the middle of the lineup, something tells me they won't have their own moniker in 2101. When people think "Murderer's Row," the think Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
That year, Ruth and Gehrig combined for 107 home runs, 339 RBIs, 307 runs, 81 doubles, 246 walks, 864 total bases and 410 hits. I'm not convinced the Pittsburgh Pirates did better as a team this season. The numbers speak for themselves, and a supporting cast of Tony Lazzeri, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs gave the '27 teams a lineup far superior to this year's team -- and I called the '09 lineup "stacked".
All five of the '27 starters had at least 10 wins, though ace Waite Hoyt didn't have the track record Sabathia does. Miller Huggins' club even had a bona fide reliever, Wilcy Moore. Moore picked up 13 saves, which in those days was akin to 50 today.
That squad went 110-44 and swept the Pirates in the Series. Their lineup may not have as good top to bottom; every spot in the order was dangerous this year, at least in the regular season. But if you added Rivera to the '27 roster, that team wins 125 games in the regular season
without breaking a sweat. Of course, Rivera wouldn't have been allowed to play back then. But that's a different story.2. 2009 v 1939
The '39 club had just one hitting superstar: Joe DiMaggio, who hit .381 with 30 homers and 126 RBIs in one of his best seasons ever. He was surrounded by not-so-household names like Charlie "King Kong" Keller and Red Rolfe. Behind the plate was Bill Dickey, the first in a long line of great Yankee catchers. Overall, though, this lineup didn't have the overall punch of the current Bombers. And yet they averaged 6.40 runs per game, while the '09 Yanks averaged just 5.65.
At this point, it's worth saying that it's hard to compare eras. Hideki Matsui wouldn't have had a place in '39 even if he were white because there was no DH. Even Jeter, he of mixed parentage, doesn't get past Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Where the '39 team definitely outclassed this year's club is starting pitching, where they were literally twice as deep. Seven different pitchers recorded double-digit win totals, and each pitched at least 120 innings. Hall of Famers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez anchored the septet, which finished with a combined 91-34 record.
Once again, they didn't have Rivera, and they didn't have an explosive combination at the top of the lineup like this year's Jeter-Johnny Damon combo. But 106-45 and a sweep of the Reds in the World Series puts them ahead of this year's club as well.3. 2009 v 1998
By far the most interesting comparison, since both teams played in almost the same era (2009 was ostensibly minus the steroids). The teams also share the Dynasty Boys -- Jeter, Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte -- and current manager Joe Girardi backed up Posada on the '98 squad.
The '98 team didn't have anyone to go longball for longball with Teixeira and A-Rod. But Jeter actually had a better statistical season that year, and Scott Brosius provided the back-of-the-lineup boost this year's team got from Swisher. Both teams had second basemen that drove fans crazy, Chuck Knoblauch because of his occasional throws into the stands and Robinson Cano because of his apparent lack of effort. As a batting order, though, the '09 teams is superior, if only because the '98 squad platooned Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee in left field.
What made the '98 team was pitching. The starting rotation had Pettitte, David Wells, David Cone, and from May on, Orlando Hernandez (El Duque!!!). Hideki Irabu was a serviceable fifth starter during the regular season, and at no point did the Bombers have to piece together starts with Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin types.
What's more, the bullpen was better, maybe the best of all time. Rivera was hitting his prime and was unhittable from June on, and Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton were a nasty lefty-righty setup combo. It helped that Joe Torre didn't have to use converted starters in the bullpen, like Girardi did with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. In a short series, this club was as hard to beat as any team in the last 20 years.
At the end of the day, these Yankees don't match up to any of the three monoliths. But who cares? They won the World Series. That's all that matters.
The 1998 team headed into the offseason with significant personnel questions, most notably whether to re-sign Bernie Williams (which, thank God, they eventually did). And the winter saw a huge trade that sent Wells packing and brought Clemens in.
In the coming months, we will undoubtedly see the same thing happen to these defending champs. Some players will be re-signed (Damon? Pettitte?), others will be let go (Matsui?). And there will be at least one move no one saw coming.
But if you ever lose faith, remember what happened to the post-1998 team. They won it all in 1999 and 2000. This team has the makings of dynasty, so get ready to sit back and enjoy.
For now, I can only tip my cap to a fantastic season, a scintillating postseason, and a 27th title. As Mel Brooks said: "It's good to be the king."