Emotion. Depending on the way you use it—or how the reader looks at it—is either one of the strongest tools or biggest flaws a journalist can have. Sometimes both.
As I shift my focus largely from print to broadcast journalism, that statement stays with me.
There is a case to be made that the most objective reporting on this team’s current state would likely only be carried out by fans of teams that are not linked to the Yankees by rivalry. In more ways than one that is likely true. But there’s an element of emotional investment, and for many fans, actual monetary investment as well, that goes into their evaluation and expectation from the team. It makes sense. Fans willingly devote 500 hours a year to the professional exploits of 25 men whose collective fate has no actual bearing on their personal lives, yet remains responsible for a perhaps-overly-large chunk of their sanity and happiness.
And that’s where some of the most perceptive—albeit sometimes blinded—outlooks on any given team can come from.
Let’s not get it wrong, it could be much worse; you could hand the keys to your mental state to the Pirates. But at multiple points down the line, whether it’s April, June, September (let’s not talk about October), you start seeing the team fail to return on the energy you put into them. Coupled with previous failures you may or may not have experienced, this distorts your perception of the team, but it also enriches it.
A lot of us have grown up with this core, or at the very least, watched them grow up over the last four-and-one-third years. Regardless of what you think of their aggregate performance on the field, it’s evident to anyone who watches the Yankees that they are the most mercurial team in at least the last decade. Reporters and fans alike have accurately characterized that when they’re winning, it looks like they can never lose; when they’re losing, they look like they can never win.
The Yankees are currently going through a phase of the latter right now, having been swept by the Detroit Tigers last week, managing to eke out a split versus Tampa Bay, then proceeding to promptly get swept again by the Boston Red Sox on their home turf. Internally, we all know that this team is going to end up just fine. Their floor seems to be 90 wins. Floor. They are going to make the playoffs, and although maybe making the playoffs as the division winner is not the certainty it once was, a Wild Card probably will be.
At some point, though, you start asking yourself whether the Yankees’ mercuriality is beginning to become progressively unreliable. The last Red Sox series exposed all the flaws that the team has on offense. They are built to win on the home run ball but are struggling at doing just that. They are built to have the luxury to ignore a few defensive errors or base-path outs here and there and outmuscle their opponents anyway. They are not doing that. To the viewers, it looks like a mess of mismatched philosophy, sloppy practice, and terrible luck (looking at you, umps) that have combined to accumulate bad baseball play.
Bad baseball play that is, for the record, statistically unsustainable. While the Yankees rank near the bottom of the league in hitting with runners in scoring position, baserunning prowess, and while their 3.72 runs/game are the lowest in more than four decades, they are walking at the second-best rate in the league. They are hitting the ball at the third-highest average exit velocity in the league. They’re swinging at bad pitches at the fifth-lowest rate in baseball (credit MLB.com’s Mike Petriello). Over the remainder of the season, that sort of production doesn’t manifest in the sort of offense we’re seeing right now.
There is a distinction there. The Yankees are not a bad baseball team. Are they playing like one the last couple of games? They absolutely are. Should fans be worried that their slumps have conveniently come at the worst times, to the tune of a 7-18 record against AL East opponents that are not the Orioles? It’s not unreasonable. But it’s also only June 8. There are 102 games left to go. If they simply play .600 baseball the rest of the way, they’ll end up at 92-70.
It’s easy to head down the path of self-loathing and wishing we had never heard of this team at all. I find myself up and down that cycle on a daily at this point. But that right the there is the core of it all—as fans, it’s hard to settle down and stake out for the long road of 162. It will always be that way. And when the team is playing an objectively terrible brand of the game, as is the case right now, there’s little reason to look ahead to the next month, or two months in advance. But if you want to maintain your sanity, pretend they don’t exist for a day or two, come back when they’re pummeling another team, and yell about the World Series being back on to your heart’s extent.
And if you find everything I just said extremely pretentious, you can watch me blow up on the Core Four podcast, available everywhere.
Insert Elmo In Hell meme here.