I’ve read on Twitter somewhere that never has a 91 win team been as hated by their fanbase as these New York Yankees. I wonder why?
Back in the spring, I detected something curious around the Yankee clubhouse and in the media. Lots of talk about how this team can be “great.” Sometimes it was “special.” Other times, “elite.” It was almost as if the entire managerial staff went to some off-season seminar or Ted Talk entitled “Dare To Be Great.”
That talk, which came mostly for Aaron Boone, but sometimes from Cashman and even Aaron Judge of all people, troubled me. I’m old, so I’ll confess to being a bit crotchety, but I’ve always been a big fan of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” In other words, never describe yourself as great or anything like that. Leave that for others to say. Further, never refer to any current baseball team as great. The ’27 Yanks were great. The ’98 Yanks were great. No current opponent of you is great either. Moreover, greatness occurs on the field NOT in the clubhouse.
I think all this talk of great has poisoned the well, sort of speak. It created, over a period of weeks and months, unrealistic expectations for this Yankee team. If the team is so great, how could they lose to Red Sox? Worse yet, to the Orioles?
The “Good Time Feel” of this team turned sour right after the sweep in Boston in early August, and now the fan base seems downright mad. Today fans often boo at the Stadium, and not just Stanton either. That sweetheart of a man named CC felt their ire as well.
But let me take this further. Not only does referring to the team as great create unrealistic expectations that can turn the fanbase against you, but it can also actually cause even more harm. It can affect performance.
The baseball season is tough. It’s long. It’s painful. It’s a marathon. The teams that perform the best aren’t just the ones with the most talent. They are also the teams which have players who stay focused continuously. Every day they stick to their routines and put in the tedious hard work the fans don’t see.
Joe Torre called the baseball season “a grind.” He called his players, some of the best who ever walked on a baseball field, “grinders.” I don’t remember him ever referring to any of his current teams as “great” or potentially great.” The grinder mindset is the attitude you need to win and win long term. You have to stay focused and resolute even when you arrive at the hotel at five in the morning.
I fear when you are told by your manager and coaches that you are great, that somehow that thought buries somewhere in the back of your brain and can negatively impact your intensity. You start to feel entitled. The grinding grinds to a halt.
I don’t know if all this talk of being great or elite (Boone said just a couple of days ago that his team was primed to be elite) is a factor in the team’s lackluster play the last two-plus months. It’s not something you can prove one way or the other. But I do know the fans are mad. Perhaps unreasonably mad and Yankee management is at least partially responsible for that.
Right now I can think of a few adjectives other than “great” to describe these New York Yankees. And I bet Pete Campbell can think of some too all the way from Wichita, Kansas.
Photo Credit: Baseball fans wearing New York Yankees Aaron Judge (99) jerseys watch batting practice before a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, Friday, May 4, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)