In the normal course of human events, it has been easy these past few years to forget that while we look at the Yankees and October as interchangeable, as one and the same, they haven’t always been that way.
Your father’s Yankees once endured a stretch of 14 seasons without playing even one postseason inning, 1981-1995, a time when the prevailing thought was that dynasties were dead. George Steinbrenner got himself kicked out of baseball, the Yankees lost a lot of games in the early ’90s.
Your grandfather’s Yankees once endured a stretch of 11 seasons without playing even one postseason inning, 1965-75, a time when the prevailing thought was Yankee Stadium was an irretrievable dump and the Yankees an irretrievable dumpster fire. Steinbrenner got himself kicked out in those years, too. The Yankees finished ninth in 1965 and 10th in 1966. Really. You can look it up.
And even your great-grandfather had to endure some lean times. The Murderer’s Row Yankees dominated the sport in 1927 and ’28, and went 8-0 in the World Series, inspiring the first cries of “Break up the Yankees!” But the core of that team – Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, about as good a core as you can ever have – would play together until 1935 and win only one more championship, in 1932.
So what’s befallen the Yankees the past few years isn’t going to inspire a whole lot of agonized empathy from the rest of the sport. The fact that when the Yankees were set to play Tuesday against the Twins in the AL wild-card game, the Yankees had gone five full years without a playoff game win – since Game 5 of the ’12 ALDS against Baltimore – was not going to inspire a wave of hand-wringing and general sadness.
Still, when you consider that from 1995 until 2012, the Yankees made the playoffs in 17 of 18 years is almost staggering. In the new baseball order, you don’t have to finish in first place every year to get some swings in October. And yet the Yankees didn’t make it at all in 2013, 2014 and 2016, and only managed a wild-card cameo in 2015. It was an odd trend to get used to.
So don’t get used to it.
These things are never guaranteed, of course. But where the Yankees sit right now, it’s easy to see that this is just beginning another run where they are a part of October every year.
Aaron Judge and Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are already here, all of them anchoring the starting lineup against the Twins. Clint Frazier is already here, on the bench. Gleyber Torres is coming. Chance Adams is coming. Justus Sheffield is coming …
One of the cool things you can already see coming is a renewal of the old annual battles with the Red Sox for supremacy atop the AL East. This crop of Sox already has two AL East titles to their credit and their own roster of youth – Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers. And what’s lurking just beyond THAT are the Sox and Yankees flexing their financial might every offseason trying to land that year’s must-have free agent.
It’s all there. It’s all set up. It’s all seemingly already in the cards, assuming players stay healthy, assuming they stay on track to keep developing, assuming they build on all the positive vibes accrued this year. The baseball postseason is such a crapshoot you can never much guarantee much of anything once you get here.
But getting here? That’s half the battle, and it’s half the fun, and it’s something the Yankees are once again primed to make a regular habit. Starting with this wild-card game and whatever else is waiting for them in 2017; extending five, 10, maybe 15 years ahead. Hopefully the rest of baseball enjoyed their respite.