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Comparing Yankee turmoil across the years
Huge Yankees win last night, or at least it felt that way. I wrote about how Joe Girardi needs to deploy his people-management skills, not really his strength, to get through what's looking like a turbulent season.
I'm hearing much talk in the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) that this is a Yankees season unlike any other. That the vast clubhouse tension can really sink this team.
I'm skeptical. I'll acknowledge that the team's starting rotation is as dicey as, if not dicier than, any team in Brian Cashman's 14 years as general manager. That could very well land this team in third place. But I think it'd be the pitching, rather than the clubhouse drama, that would lead the way to such a result.
Let's talk clubhouse drama. Let's go through the most challenging seasons since 1996. Why since '96? A) I don't want to address the "Bronx Zoo" days, as I wasn't there; and B) the media proliferation, fueled by the explosion of the Internet, really has changed this dynamic. It's not even sensible to compare the Torre/Girardi years to the Martin/Lemon/Martin/Howser/Michael/Lemon/Michael/King/Martin/Berra/Martin/Piniella/Martin/Piniella/Green years.
So here we go:
What lit the fuse?: The 2002 Yankees' early departure from the playoffs set off George Steinbrenner in a way we hadn't seen during the earlier Joe Torre years.
Key characters: Steinbrenner, Torre, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre, Billy Connors, Derek Jeter, Raul Mondesi, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens, Jose Contreras and David Wells as Himself.
Best feud: Zimmer vs. Steinbrenner. Torre's longtime bench coach lashed out at Steinbrenner for his trouble-stirring ways.
Stress enhancers: The Boss took on Jeter before spring training. Torre, Stottlemyre, Connors and Steinbrenner became embroiled in a brouhaha concerning the development of Contreras, the Cuban rookie. Mondesi left in the middle of a game and subsequently got traded. Giambi, in his second Yankees year, was erratic, and he first became entangled in the BALCO mess. Clemens struggled to win his 300th game.
Oh, and Wells came out with a book in which he took a shot at Clemens and bragged that he was "half-drunk" when he pitched his 1998 perfect game.
Biggest baseball problem: The setup men were just awful. The team's worst inning, from an ERA standpoint, was the eighth, at 4.67.
Saving grace: The starting rotation, headed by Clemens, Mussina, Wells and Andy Pettitte, was superb.
How much did the tension matter? I think a decent amount. Give credit to the Marlins, who played a great World Series, yet the Yankees seemed exhausted - partly by the ALCS, but also partly by the grind of the entire, trying season.
What lit the fuse? The Yankees' 2004 ALCS collapse against the Red Sox.
Key characters: Steinbrenner, Torre, Brian Cashman, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Bernie Williams, Giambi, the YES Network.
Best feud: Torre vs. YES. The manager snapped on television when he got tired of negative questions being fed to him by upper management.
Stress enhancers: The Yankees got off to a terrible, 11-19 start. Cashman, in the last year of his contract, clashed with Steinbrenner until The Boss finally yielded and gave him newfound autonomy. Pavano, in his first year with the Yankees, pretty much took a siesta for the second half of the season, drawing the wrath of his teammates. Johnson, also in his first year, started off poorly and turned people off with his prickly personality.
Williams, the beloved icon, could no longer handle everyday playing responsibilities. A-Rod played great but still had a proclivity for alienating his teammates with diva-like behavior. Giambi, coming off a benign tumor from the prior season, played so awful in the first half that the Yankees tried to pressure him into going to the minor leagues.
Biggest baseball problem: The starting rotation. It was largely dreadful in the first half.
Saving graces: The shocking quartet of Chien-Ming Wang, Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon and Al Leiter helped out an improving Johnson and Mussina. A-Rod deserved his MVP award. Giambi experienced a remarkable, second-half revival.
End result: They lost in the first round to the Angels, in an exciting, five-game series.
How much did the tension matter? Not very much. The Yankees actually were feeling very good about themselves entering the postseason and ran into enough ineptitude and bad luck to eliminate them quickly.
Discord scale: 5
What lit the fuse? The impending expiration of Torre's contract, at the conclusion of the '07 season.
Key characters: Torre, Cashman, Ron Guidry, Jeter, Rodriguez, Giambi, Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, Joba Chamberlain.
Best feud: A-Rod vs. the world. Even while putting together a phenomenal, MVP-caliber season, he announced that he and Jeter were no longer friends, got caught cheating on his wife and distracted the Blue Jays' Howie Clark from a pop fly by yelling, "Ha!"
Stress enhancers: Torre and Cashman, once allies, drifted apart due to extensive disagreements about Torre's player deployment and game management. Although they succeeded somewhat in downplaying this tension, it became apparent with the development of the "Joba Rules." Guidry, Torre's pitching coach, was right in the middle of this, as well.
Giambi brought unwanted attention on himself when he (sort of) admitted to using steroids in a newspaper interview and wound up having to meet with George "Go Sawx!" Mitchell. Damon spent the first half in such a funk that Torre challenged him on it, as Torre wrote in his book "The Yankee Years." And Mussina pitched so poorly that he was removed from the team's starting rotation.
Biggest baseball problem: The slow, 21-29 start resulted from pretty much terrible play everywhere.
Saving graces: The offensve exploded in the second half. Roger Clemens returned and, while not great, provided a huge upgrade over the likes of Tyler Clippard and Jeff Karstens. Chamberlain gave the Yankees their best setup man since Mariano Rivera set up John Wetteland in 1996.
End result: The Yankees lost to Cleveland in the ALDS.
How much did the tension matter? Considerably. The Yankees appeared out of sync all season and especially in their short playoff run.
Discord scale: 9.
What is it with the odd-numbered years?
What lit the fuse? A noisy offsesaon in which the Yankees informed Jorge Posada he'd no longer be catching, brought back Jeter only after contentious negotiations, failed to sign Cliff Lee and committed a ridiculous contract to Rafael Soriano over Cashman's objections.
Key characters: Hal Steinbrenner, Cashman, Joe Girardi, Jeter, Posada, Soriano.
Best feud: Jeter and Posada vs. The Man. Or, to be more specific, The Men. The Yankees authority figures - Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Cashman and Girardi.
Stress enhancers: Everything about Soriano. A sudden run of poor defense.
Biggest baseball problem: A lack of timely hitting.
Saving graces: So far? Cashman's under-the-radar acquisitions like Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Russell Martin. Slow starts by the Rays and Red Sox. Eventually? Perhaps some big trades.
End result: After finishing 93-69 and winning the AL wild card, the Yankees will lose to Oakland in the ALDS.
How much will the tension have mattered? Somewhat. Jeter's decline, in particular, will generate much agita concerning his role in the lineup.
Discord scale: 6. I put it here because, ultimately, the most important person whose job is on the line is Posada, who almost certainly won't return. Girardi, signed through 2013, is safe, and it's hard to see Steinbrenner not wanting to retain the impending free agent Cashman.
So there you have it. Please discuss.
Sorry, no additional links today, as I'm flying to Baltimore to stay with the Yankees.