Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
ORLANDO, FLA. --
If you'd walked through Times Square during the crisp morning hours of Oct. 17, 2003, those were the shouts that you'd have heard. New Yorkers were abuzz with the thrill of the ALCS-winning home run that Aaron Boone had launched mere hours earlier. Newsstand owners chatted up the guys in suits, and strangers waiting for the subway bonded over baseball, in the way that you'd always imagined characterized the Willie, Mickey and the Duke golden years.
Just a few months later, when the Yanks traded for the game's biggest star in Alex Rodriguez, it happened all over again. The Yankees owned the town, and promised limitless thrills - epic wins and marquee deals, sports on a scale that no other city could match.
What followed instead in the Bronx were years of surprising blandness, an extended depression that is finally over. After Brian Cashman swindled neophyte executive Derek Jeter out of National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees will strut into the Winter Meetings on Sunday as the toast of baseball again. The evil empire. The center of attention.
The theme at the beginning of these meetings is clear: The New York Yankees are themselves again.
The renaissance comes after a long, dull period, the likes of which had not been seen for decades. For any other franchise, perennial contention would have been deemed successful, but the Yanks' championship-or-bust ethos had created a joyless equation for fans chasing the elusive thrills of the early Joe Torre years.
After losing the 2003 World Series, the team muddled through years of playoff failures, moved to a stadium almost totally devoid of atmosphere, and kept a manager in Joe Girardi who failed to capture the hearts of either fans or players.
Sure, they bought a quick championship in 2009, but no one would call the Mark Teixeira -A.J. Burnett - Robinson Cano era magical. After Game 1 of that World Series, Philadelphia Phillies outfielders expressed private shock -- and even disappointment -- that no one in the bleachers had even bothered to heckle them.
This decade brought an even deeper boredom. For anyone forced to choose a defining image of the Yanks in, say, 2014-ish, a fitting selection would be Brian McCann hitting another ground ball into the shift, and a half-empty stadium going through the motions by offering a smattering of dispassionate boos.
But as it turns out, Cashman did well during those years to assemble a team that would recapture our attention with an unexpectedly long playoff run in 2017. Aaron Judge became the new face of the franchise, Didi Gregorius hit more home runs at shortstop than Jeter ever managed, and by the time the postseason came, the ballpark was actually loud again. The team was finally free of the stifling rules of the previous era, where a playoff loss rendered the entire season a failure.
Now, with the acquisition of Stanton - with his intelligence, matinee idol charm, and must-see power - the Yankees have supplemented their already compelling core with a heavy dose of the old magic.
Judge and Stanton are in the same outfield. Girardi is gone at last. Boone is in the dugout. And the franchise is dominating front and back pages.
These Yankees have not achieved much on the field yet, and might never win a championship. We'll see how it unfolds. But after many boring years, they've at least recharged and rebranded, and assumed their customary place both in the industry and their home city.