Those Scrappy, Underdog Yankees
Well, honestly, who doesn’t love a good underdog story? On Tuesday night, the humble and lowly New York Yankees, who have endured every disadvantage in their hapless history as a franchise, finally conquered all the skeptics, all the doubters, all their financial limitations and all of those prophets of doom who predicted yet another lost season in a century of struggles. They won the American League East! Impossible!
It is a sportswriter cliché, yes, but this was, I dare say, a miracle.
“A lot of other people were picking a lot of other teams,” said one of the designers of this Yankees miracle, manager Aaron Boone, who despite being saddled with a limited roster and an ignominious team history somehow managed to bring home this title. It was a triumph of the heart. The Yankees are going to the playoffs!
Who would have thought this possible?
Nobody believed in them. Nobody. Absolutely nobody. And why would they? One has to go back pretty far in the annals of history — all the way back to 2021 — to find the last time the Yankees made the playoffs (and even further — back to 2019 — to find the last time they won the division).
These are the Yankees we are talking about. America’s doormat. There are so few things you can count on in this world, but year after year, decade after decade, one sure thing has been that the Yankees will flounder and fall.
Lovable? Sure, they’re lovable. America’s sweethearts, the Yankees, everybody knows that. But America’s love can only carry a team and a fanbase so far when they never win, and it looks for all the world like they never will win.
I mean, come on, there was a whole Broadway musical called “Damn Yankees!”
And who can forget its haunting spotlight song:
Damn, Yankees, will you ever win?
We have waited for so long
Our heart’s with you, as it’s always been
And hearts, I’ve heard, cannot be wrong
No, nobody thought this Yankees title possible, not in a division with the mighty Blue Jays and their $75 million payroll deficit plus the fearsome Tampa Bay Rays, with a payroll roughly one-third the size of the feeble Yankees.
How do you combat against those sorts of limitations? You don’t, obviously. You accept the unfairness of life. There will always be taxes. Airport flight attendants will always wake you from unsteady sleep with credit card offers. Your phone will keep stupidly autocorrecting words no matter how many times you turn off the feature.
And the Yankees, try as they might, will always have to fight the uphill battle.
Such is the burden of being a Yankees fan. You must live, daily, with the knowledge that the odds are stacked so heavily against you and the hopes and dreams that other baseball fans might feel are always just a shadow’s length beyond your grasp.
But sometimes in sports, the most unlikely things happen. And this particular Yankees team, like Baby, refused to be put into a corner. Let the doubters doubt, this was their mantra. We have each other.
Even now, looking back, it’s not entirely clear how they did it. Relative unknowns like Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo led the charge. Obscure veterans like Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu contributed.
And put it all together, somehow this $245.9 million team of misfits, castoffs and overachievers came together to lead the American League in runs and home runs while also being second in the league in runs allowed and strikeouts. Nobody could have possibly predicted that kind of success.* No system ever invented could have possibly predicted them to win, say, 99 games.**
**The PECOTA system totally predicted them to win 99 games.
Yes, of course, there had to be moments throughout the season when Boone and his compatriots looked out at the ragtag lack of talent on the field and then looked around at all those teams in the American League with larger payrolls (zero) and then heard the mockery of all those non-believers who picked them to finish second in the division and settle for the wildcard and thought to themselves: “What chance do we have?”
But then they shook their heads. No! They would not let the doubters define them. They would not let the odds defeat them. They would push through it all, defeat their shabby history, and find a way. This is how the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team did it. This is how Appalachian State did it. This is how Valvano’s Wolfpack did it.
“Together,” the Yankees thought. “We can do this together.”
And now, together, the New York Yankees are division champions. It’s strange to see those words, right? But it’s real. The Yankees are division champions. The doubters, all those doubters, cannot take it away from them. Disney, undoubtedly, has already started casting the movie.