Sunday, October 19, 2003

Yanks Go Home....

SDB appended the baseball themed post that I commented on the other day, with a metaphor that in the field of international relations, the United States is comparable to the New York Yankees in baseball. It's a decent metaphor, not just in the way that SDB says but also in that a lot of people believe, with some justification, that the way the Yankees do business, while certainly good for the Yankees, isn't always good for baseball in general.

SDB also says that, while other teams wax and wane, the Yankees don't. That's not totally true, although it's certainly true that the Yankees wax and wane less than other clubs. But they have had their periods of ineffectiveness, as this table shows. They didn't become a force until the 1920s, with Babe Ruth's arrival. This began their most remarkable period of extended excellence, for over the next forty years the Yankees never went more than three years without finishing in first place. But then, between 1965 and 1975, they did not finish first a single time, and six times in those eleven years they finished more than twenty games out of first place.

The Yankees rebounded in the late 1970s and early 1980s, finishing first four times in five years between 1976 and 1980. But after 1980, they didn't finish first again until 1996 (1994, actually, if one considers that strike-terminated season). And the worst Yankees teams ever were the ones that took the field between 1989 and 1992. This whole period, incidentally, encapsulates the career of Don Mattingly, who is one of the most popular players to don the New York pinstripes since Reggie Jackson.

SDB attributes the Yankees' success over the last eighty years to money, and I'm certain that's a big part of it. But I'm wondering how big a role money played, or even what role it played, in the days before free-agency when baseball players were pretty much forced into playing for whatever team they ended up with, unless they got traded. I'm no expert here, so I'm wondering how the Yankees managed to be competitive for all those years when they couldn't just go out and sign the biggest players to the biggest contracts. Did they simply have the best scouting and farm systems in baseball for all those years? Were they simply lucky to have one great player after another -- and I'm talking GREAT players here, many of them among the very best ever -- come through their system? How on Earth did the Yankees do it?

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