It was just yesterday when it seemed like the New York Yankees were doing the baseball impossible, which is also known as completely leaving the pack in the AL East. Even its second best team has had the Wild Card spot on lock 13 of the 17 years it existed with a sole winner. It’s the jungle, and there damn sure aren’t any lions in it.
Yet, if there were, the masters of the domain would definitely be the Yankees. They’re the standard bearer in the sport and are quietly in one of their most successful stretches in their celebrated history. But based on what’s happened in the last few weeks, they could be on the verge of a monumental collapse. The Baltimore Orioles have hawked down the Bombers to pull even in the AL East, and they don’t appear to be quarter horses with theirs; they are legit. Add in the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays (led by the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon) are right in the mix as well? The Yanks better start hitting up the chaplain before throwing their stripes on.
It really hit me on how real this was when a beat reporter had the cojones to ask Derek Jeter, baseball’s White Knight, if he was “scared” about how the team was performing recently. Now stop. Close your eyes and run down the Jeter highlight film that’s filled up the last 20 years of the game, and think about how bad business has to be for somebody to come at him like that. But the next day, the Yanks went out and lost again, and their fall from the heavens to the commoners was complete.
Why is this happening? There are a lot of reasons that could be in play, but there’s one common denominator that can’t be ignored: they are flat-out old. There’s no everyday starter on the team under the age of 29, and the two that are 29 are the oft-injured Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin. Robinson Cano, an exception’s exception, also rings in at 29, even counting that, this is an elderly (and increasingly fragile) squad by baseball standards. The average age of the rest of the starting nine is 36. THIRTY-SIX. They even embraced this “seasoned” element by going out and getting Ichiro, to affirm what seems to be a secret desire to move out the Bronx and to Florida full-time, to complete their old folks migration. If there were passes to go out for closer parking and cheap movie tickets, the Yanks would have the best spots in both.
Look, there’s no doubt that the Yanks are still talented. You should always respect your elders, especially when they are still baseball’s best lineup (when healthy). They should still win the division as they steady this recent skid and leave the fight for what’s left to be drug out between the Orioles, Rays and Oakland Athletics for the two Wild Card spots. But the long-haul that seemed destined to end up in the World Series just a few months ago seems like it may be slipping further and further from their reach.
I mean, everybody knows old folks get up early, but don’t stay out too late.