I’m no fan of Chris Russo as a broadcaster, sports analyst, or human being, but his absence as a partner and counterweight (figuratively—there’s no way he could do it literally) to Mike Francesa is sorely missed during the Yankees September swoon. If you listen to Francesa and his guests, this run of poor play is little more than a blip with multitudes of excuses and Fight Club-style group therapy sessions to assuage the small warning light in the backs of their collective heads telling them, “Yes, the Yankees might actually blow this.”
Is it a “blip”? The Yankees were 60-39 on July 27th; since then, they’ve gone 19-23. That’s a quarter of the season. That’s no small sample to be dismissed. Objectively, they’ve had one good month this whole season in June when they went 20-7; aside from that, it’s been this. There’s a disturbing amount of delusional denial within the media of what’s happening with this team.
This from Ken Davidoff in the New York Post today:
You can’t call this your classic collapse. The Yankees are winning too often, playing too well, to draw comparisons to any of the all-time tank jobs.
Really? Is that the barometer? Because they’re not comparable to the 1964 Phillies; the 2007 Mets; the 2011 Red Sox and Braves, then it’s not as bad as it seems? It’s a ridiculous argument that isn’t worth examining the current Yankees circumstances and peeling the layers of other collapses. They’re playing too well? Where? Art Howe used to get roasted in the same pages in which Davidoff writes because he explained away the Mets losses with, “We battled.” Are the Yankees battling? I suppose they are. But they’re also losing those battles.
This overriding theme is the classic excuse of, “It’s not their fault.” But whose fault is it? The umpires? Other teams for not blindly accepting the Yankees’ superiority and letting them win? You can’t look down on other franchises and openly promote historic greatness and then complain when the formula doesn’t hold true. It doesn’t work this way with the Yankees. They don’t want to hear excuses from other franchises as they look down smugly from their self-created perch, so they shouldn’t be indulging in such weak excuses themselves. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins or any of the other clubs on their supposed powderpuff schedule is going to have sympathy, want to hear about how the playoffs aren’t the same without the Yankees or other similar bits of absurdity.
There appears to be a coping structure in place among those whose embarrassment will rival that of the Yankees organization if the team does somehow manage to stumble out of the playoffs; that they’re more concerned with the ridicule they’re going to have to endure rather than honestly analyze why this is happening. Much like the entire YES Network, the media contingent whose lifeblood hinges on the success of the Yankees, and the fanbase, there’s a tacit decision to ignore this reality as if it’s going to go away; as if the schedule will save them.
Every Francesa guest has been offering validation to his underlying pleas to tell him and the listeners/watchers that everything’s going to be okay with little basis for the assertion other than the schedule. From Peter Gammons to Sweeny Murti to Mark Feinsand to anyone and everyone, they’re clinging to what the Yankees were and thinking that it’s still what they are. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. He sounds like one of his callers. If he had Russo—or anyone willing to stand up to him—it wouldn’t pass without protest.
The Yankees’ margin of error that is usually in place in September has been wiped out since they blew that 10 game lead and there are not one, but two teams ahead of them in the American League standings. They’re tied for first place in the division, and three teams are right on their heels. Mistakes or strategic missteps are magnified when the margin for error disappears. Manager Joe Girardi’s strategic moves are under greater scrutiny because they matter. In July, when they were rolling toward the playoffs, one small bullpen call that didn’t work wasn’t an issue because it was a tiny pebble in the river of that lead. Now there’s no river. It’s a disappearing puddle. This is how you wind up with Girardi physically looking like Billy Martin after a 5-day bender and losing his composure at the provocation of the instigator Joel Sherman. Girardi has handled himself as well as can be expected and been a professional. That’s not going to fly with the masses. They want someone or something to blame.
Francesa’s new template is to desperately look at the upcoming schedule and, in an identically ignorant fashion to his annual picking of the Twins in the AL Central since “I awways pick da Twins,” is picking and choosing wins and losses. This isn’t football where there are factors such as quarterbacking, special teams, matchups, and home field advantages that will make a difference.
The Red Sox won last night because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on Jon Lester’s wildness. David Robertson’s luck in getting himself into and out of trouble didn’t work its magic. The idea that the Yankees were going to stroll into Boston and sweep the Red Sox—no matter how poorly the Red Sox were playing—is ignoring how much hatred the key performers in last night’s game, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, have implanted in their psyches from battles between the franchises over the past decade. That permeates to the clubhouse. The players can feel the buzz in the ballpark and it’s going to spur them to play harder. Manager Bobby Valentine, knowing his time as Red Sox manager is dwindling to these final three weeks, also despises the Yankees from his time as Mets’ manager and would love to put an addendum on what is likely his final ballroom dance as a big league manager with “helped knock the Yankees from the playoffs” instead of having “Red Sox disaster” standing alone as his managerial epitaph.
Semantics and the cuddly positive reinforcement that the heroes from years gone by like Andy Pettitte will tear off his shirt and go into a Superman act to save the day aren’t solutions. They’re dreams. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting it, but that’s something no one invested in the Yankees is willing to do.