On Wednesday Night Baseball, in front of yet another national audience, the New York Yankees took on the upstart Oakland Athletics in a game between two teams that could not be more different. The Athletics are always flying under the radar and exceeding expectations, and the Yankees have been struggling amidst ever-lasting high expectations, and dealing with the last year of Derek Jeter, arguably their most beloved legend, on a team full of historically beloved legends.
During the broadcast came the news that felt like a metaphor for the 2014 season. Don Zimmer, the much-loved, 83-year-old, 60-plus year veteran of baseball, passed away peacefully after battling with his health for months. Zimmer was an icon all over baseball, and his legacy as a true Yankee man digs deep in New York fans, and his passing flashed yet another feeling of loss to go along with this already-depressing season.
They lost the leader of their bullpen, and the definition of professionalism in Mariano Rivera last season, and possibly the most talent-gifted player in the league in Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners. Curtis Granderson left to go crosstown to the New York Mets, and Nick Swisher already made the move to the Cleveland Indians. It’s becoming overwhelmingly apparent, if it wasn’t already, that the Yankees are facing a difficult road ahead.
The Yankees are rebuilding, but they won’t be able to rebuild like any normal team. A team like the Athletics has brewed a stable of great players, while avoiding massive contracts and commitments. In a word – Moneyball. The Yankees still have some staple players, but they have no leader to build around. Once again, the Yankees will have to convince a top-flight player to come to the team based on money and historical allure. If they can’t do that, the Yankees could be facing a drought of success similar to that of a couple decades ago.
The Athletics’ slow and steady win over the Yankees Wednesday night also provided a relevant parallel. The Yankees essentially had one good inning, where they scored four runs against the Athletics’ zero. That inning was just enough to give the Yankee fans a glimpse of the past, with Jeter starting a rally, and then power from a former Boston Red Sox player (Jacoby Ellsbury) extending the lead. Slowly but surely, the Athletics came back to win. Yankee fans are being constantly reminded how a changing of the guard must happen, and it’s happening now.
Regardless, Don Zimmer will be missed as a magnetic personality and baseball legend, and the Yankees, as they always do, will be back to dominance sooner than any other team could manage in sports.