Yankees May Be At End Of Championship Run

Published on: 21st July, 2010


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New York – It wouldn’t be the first time a great sports franchise has gotten old, seemingly all at one time but the New York Yankees should be aware, very aware, just how close they are to falling into loser’s oblivion in the very near future.

If any team should be acutely tuned-in to how suddenly a championship pedigree can turn into second-division mediocrity, it’s this historic franchise. All they need do is look at how their great teams of the fifties and sixties were allowed to get old together without replenishing the talent base and how that era’s great core of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra/Elston Howard all lost their youth collectively within a couple of years time.

Before you knew it, Yankees fans were left with names like Horace Clarke, Danny Cater, Jake Gibbs, and Dooley Womack to lead the way through the rest of the underachieving sixties and early seventies, until the irascible George Steinbrenner swooped in from Cleveland to take the crumbling team and stadium off the thankful hands of CBS in 1973.

Now, we fast-forward to 2010 and the Yankees are playing good baseball, good enough to be in first place in the American League’s East Division with the best record in the game, 58-34. But, it’s a very fragile and tenuous record, one capable of changing in that veritable blink of an eye.

Like the famous Yankee core of that earlier era, the current-day core of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite, and Mariano Rivera has carried the franchise to multiple championships. And, just as that Mantle-led group of the Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk-managed Yankees aged none too gracefully, we are now seeing the inevitable physical breakdown of today’s heroes, as well.

It’s more than just the fact the Core Four, as they’ve been called, have been superb, productive players throughout their careers. It’s also important to note the positions they play are not going to be easily replaced, positions that are arguably, the four most important on a major league team.

It is well-known in baseball circles that a team cannot even attempt to think about being a championship contender unless it is strong “up the middle” as the saying goes. In baseball parlance, high levels of production on the field and at bat are necessary from the catching position, shortstop, second base, and centerfield. Looking into the Yankees future, these positions will very much be in the transition phase over the next year or two because of age or the need to improve on the current players in those positions.

Jeter’s batting average, here in late July, is down to .268. Is that a news flash? Let’s see, the sure-fire Hall of Famer with the lifetime batting average of .315 is now 36-years old. There are a lot of miles on the shortstops’ legs and entire body and it’s finally starting to show in a diminished performance this season. His stolen bases are way down, his ability to cover his position is diminished, and his bat speed appears decreased.

To Yankees fans, it’s a huge story for a couple of reasons. There doesn’t appear to be a replacement on the Yankees roster or in their minor league system capable of approaching the consistent productivity Jeter has been delivering day-in and day-out for 16 years. At so important a position as shortstop, where an outstanding player with great range in the field and the ability to turn the double-play can stop the other team from scoring, any diminishment has a huge impact on his team’s ability to win. The Yanks have been spoiled by the excellence of Jeter. They recognize, better than anyone, that you just don’t replace Hall of Famers, even in the age of free-agency.

The one player without whom the Yankees arguably would not have won even one championship during these last 14 years is Rivera. He has become the greatest closer in the games’ history and for all these years has been what separates the Yankees from all other teams. Nobody else has had a closer of his quality. There have been teams with better starting pitching, better iineups, better managers. But, no one had Rivera and that’s why the Yankees won. The eventual retirement of Rivera, now suffering from chronic knee and oblique pain, and the likelihood he can never be satisfactorily replaced will most certainly bring the Yankees back to the pack.

Posada has been a proud, serious-minded player for his entire career. As a young player, he hated being platooned with Joe Girardi, his current manager when he felt there was no comparison in their talent levels. He was probably right but Posada finally became a competent defensive catcher who learned the nuances of calling a good game for his pitching staff. He is an ancient player for his position but continues to swing the bat as well as ever. Girardi recognizes the need to keep his games-played to the 100-120 range to preserve Posada’s skill level. But, at 38-years old, Posada’s career as a catcher has been on the back end for several years now. It’s conceivable he will be a designated hitter next year and a backup catcher. The Yankees are surely looking to replace him with a younger talent.

That takes us to Pettitte. His performance this year has been extraordinary, considering his age and his production over the past several years. He’s been on a 20-win pace this season, with 11 wins at the All-Star break. But then, the 38-year old lefty showed his age in his last start this past Saturday afternoon. In his windup, he strained his groin muscle. He wasn’t stretching for a ground ball, he wasn’t running down to first base. Nope, he was just winding up to throw a pitch and felt his groin pull. Pettitte Is now out for what the Yankees are saying will be 4-5 weeks. That takes Pettitte into September when he might return to the team. At his age, who knows what he’ll be capable of after taking a month and half of the season off.

With five world championships and eight American League pennants under their belt since 1996, Jeter, et al, have become a legendary entity unto themselves. The Yankees, however, should recognize there is scant time left to the careers of these four players. As a result, Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman understands they are on the cusp of turning over the leadership of their team to new players. The question is, to whom?

All of these doubts and questions about a team come with the territory when players reach their upper thirties in professional sports. Rivera, Pettitte, Posada, and Jeter’s combined age is 152. That, by itself, creates plenty of doubts for Cashman.

When you throw in the 34-year old Alex Rodriguez and the 30-year old Mark Texeira, you realize this particular championship era for the Pinstripes is coming to a close. The end of the era could happen much sooner than later, especially when your most important players, your core, can break down so suddenly.

And then, the Yankees will be left with players like Swisher, Pena, Granderson, Gardner, Cervelli, and Chamberlain to take this franchise to new heights. Or lows.

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