Pissing Off the Baseball Gods Vol. I: Pinstripe Pride and the Ensuing Fall

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November 19, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Baseball is an incredibly superstitious sport; from players such as Wade Boggs and Justin Verlander, and instances like a black cat walking across Ron Santo in the one deck circle, it’s a sport that is steeped in superstition as much as it is rooted in tradition.  The reason for such is that much the same way that the course of the NBA is dictated by David Stern, the MLB is governed by the baseball gods.  They are the committee that controls the flow of the game and the outcome of events.  Like the gods of ancient mythology however, they are not infallible and from time to time have been stymied by the actions of a certain player or team.  As such, there comes a price for crossing the gods and their plans for baseball. 

Pissing Off the Baseball Gods: is a 30 part anthology wherein I will go through each of the 30 franchises in the MLB and give an example of how they crossed the baseball gods, and give the ensuing penalty that arose from their transgression.  Essentially, a gigantic dose of karma, each team has had to pay for a victory they shouldn’t have had, or having unfavorable players on their team.  Most of the examples provided may seem disassociated and incongruent, but given the superstitious nature of baseball, chances are it’s just the price to pay for pissing off the baseball gods.

The New York Yankees, are the most dynastic team in all of sports.  Every generation there is a new dynasty it seems; one that builds on the rich traditions that were laid by the previous ones.  Now even though it seems to be the will of the gods, the Yankees and their fans have had to pay for their hubris.

Non Yankee fans are thinking to themselves “They’ve won 27 championships, what bad thing has ever happened to them?”.  While this may appear true, it’s really not.  When winning is the expectation and not a pleasant surprise, an insatiable hunger for victory is fostered that can only be quenched via a championship.  For Yankee fans, not winning the World Series is the same as not making the playoffs, is the same as going 0-162.  If we don’t win the World Series, then there was absolutely no purpose for the entire season.  That’s just how it is; I’m not asking to understand it, I’m just explaining the thought process of millions of fans worldwide.

Keeping things current, the most glaring example of a time when the Yankees pissed off the baseball gods came in 1996, specifically winning the World Series.  We shouldn’t have won it, plain and simple.  We beat a better team in the defending champs, Atlanta Braves.  The 1996 championships is my favorite one that they’ve won since I’ve been alive (and arguably my favorite out of all 27), and most of that comes from the fact that we beat not only the defending champs, but that we outplayed a better team.[1]

Judging by the first two games of the series where the Braves knocked the Yankees around by a combined score of 16-1 it seemed the Braves were  going  to have their way the entire series…oh, and this all happened in the Bronx too.  For everyone involved (save of Joe Torre) it looked like the Braves were going to sweep the Yankees in embarrassing fashion.[2]  But something happened in Atlanta, and it happened rather unspectacularly.  David Cone pitched game three, arguably the most important game of his entire career, and got the win to save the Yankees from a 3-0 hole.  Then in game four the Yankees came back from a 6 run deficit to win it in extra innings by a score of 8-6 to even the series up.

Even though most people cite game four as the turning point in the series, (specifically Jim Leyrtiz game tying home run) the actual turning point was game five, which the Yankees won by a score of 1-0 even though no earned run was allowed during the course of the game.  Andy Pettitte, who had gotten his ass handed to him in game one was facing off against Cy Young winner John Smoltz, a rematch of game one.  Based on that game one matchup it was anticipated that the Braves would blast Pettitte and that Smoltz would baffle the Yankees.  But somehow, a 24 year old Andy Pettitte looked destiny in the eye and scoffed.  With a 1-0 lead in the 9th inning, Joe Torre sent Pettitte back on the mound instead of pulling him for a hitter in the top of the 9th when the Yankees were up.  This hubris almost cost the Yankees in the short run as the Braves very nearly won that game, but they prevailed and wound up winning the World Series three days later in the Bronx, for their first championship in 18 years.

The Braves scored more runs, had more hits, had a higher team batting average, and a lower team ERA, but still lost.  They were supposed to be the team of the 90s, but out of nowhere come the Yankees to steal that title away from them.  The 1996 World Series was a case of David vs. Goliath, and in that scenario David won.  Fast forward seven years and the 2003 World Series was another David vs. Goliath matchup, except that this time the Yankees were Goliath, and the same fate that befell the Braves would befall the Yanks as well.

For those unfamiliar with the 2003 World Series, all you really need to know is that it was to the Yankees what the Vietnam War was to America.  It’s a loss that still makes us collectively scratch our head, and it’s something that drove us a little crazy as both a nation and a fanbase.  The 2003 championship was ours to lose; we had just beaten the Red Sox, the fucking Red Sox, in a grueling seven game war of attrition just to lose to these upstarts in Florida that had a fanbase of only three people.  But lose we did, and in shocking fashion.

After going up 2-1 after the first three games, it seemed that the series was a lock.  After all the Marlins were just happy to be there and expected to have their asses handed to them.  But it didn’t happen.  Much the same way that Joe Torre sending Pettitte out to pitch the 9th inning of game five is the moment when the gods were defied, the 11th inning of game four is where the gods extracted revenge for the Yankees hubris back in 1996.  With the score tied (obviously) the bases were loaded for ALCS hero Aaron Boone to deliver the game winning sacrifice fly, but instead strikes out.  Sure enough the Yankees don’t score, and the Marlins wind up winning the game in the 12th inning, then go on to win the next two games as well.

2003 is a year that the Yankees should have won it all, but because we won when we shouldn’t have had back in 1996, the scales needed to be balanced, the debt had to be paid.  One that we took from the Braves, would have to be equaled by one that was taken from us by an inferior foe, much the same as we had been in 1996.  If 2001 marked the end of the most recent Yankee dynasty, 2003 is most certainly an epilogue; our last chance to win with that core group from the 90s.  Just as we had stolen our way into a dynasty, a few scant years later the dynasty would end in thievery.  In 2003, the Yankees weren’t victim to fatigue or a younger, unfamiliar pitching staff, they were victims to the baseball gods enacting vengeance for a slight committed seven years prior.  Pinstripe pride is founded upon victory, and for the Yankees and their fans there is no greater pain than defeat.

Next Week: The Baltimore Orioles


[1] The other part of it being my favorite is that it was the first one (in a long time).  Much the same way that every Red Sox fan cherishes 2004 over 2007 or 2013, 1996 was the first taste of victory the Yankees had experienced during my time of existence.

[2] For George Steinbrenner this would have been the worst form of déjà vu, ending one pennant drought just to get swept in the World Series is exactly what happened to the Yankees in 1976.

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