Add ’em all up, from October 1, 1921, a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia A’s in the first game of a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, to October 11, 2017, the fifth game of the American League Division Series won, 5-2, over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, and you conclude the New York Yankees have clinched something worth clinching on 103 separate occasions. The first time it happened, Damon Runyan characterized manager Miller Huggins’s demeanor as “in happiness or sorrow […] something of a picture of dejection.” Nice to know Joe Girardi does his darnedest to keep stoicism in style.
In ye really olden days, whether at the hand of Huggins or at the behest of Berra, pennants were secured within the parameters of regular seasons. The Yankees commenced their collection as tenants of the Giants in Manhattan 96 years ago and repeated the process the next year, and then another 27 times as the Bronx Bombers through 1964. Divisional play, when the leagues were split in two, meant capturing precursors. The Yankees won four American League East flags (but didn’t dare fly such paltry prizes) between 1976 and 1980 and added a fifth through 1981’s emergency contrivance ALDS. Those five division wins spawned four pennants that further brightened their spacious bank vault.
The segmenting of leagues into three divisions and the addition of extra playoff spots and series added more opportunities for more clinchings and more celebrations. The champagne flowed amongst Yankees almost every October for two decades from 1995 forward, sometimes just once, sometimes a whole lot. There were commemorative caps and t-shirts distributed — available immediately after the last out at your nearby Modell’s! — for winning six Wild Cards, thirteen division titles, eleven League Division Series, seven League Championship Series and even a Wild Card Game when that became a prerequisite for advancement.
Oh, plus the rings. Always the rings. Not always, but often enough, you might have heard. There were 27 sets of those awarded between 1923 and 2009. Actually, the first time the Yankees won the World Series, their players were given pocketwatches. Same difference, though, even if it’s all about the pocketwatches, baby! doesn’t quite have the same shall we say tenor.
Whatever the nature of the bling, the beast was generously adorned. The hearty handshakes, the ebullient embraces, the hooting, the hollering, the sense of success that begot more success…the Yankees did that 103 times across a span of 97 seasons encompassing 53 postseasons.
But they didn’t get to do it Saturday night at Minute Maid Park , and for that we are thankful.
Hail to Houston, champions of the American League in the fifth season of their elaborate student exchange program. Undercover Astros, answer to our prayers. It’s not easy to win an ALCS or an NLCS. As the Washington Nationals could attest, it’s not easy to qualify for an LCS no matter where you put it. The Astros have qualified across league lines. And they’ve never played a dull LCS, regardless of which L they’re vying to represent in the World Series. We know they’re National Leaguers at heart. We’ve seen the birth certificate. We definitely appreciate all they’ve accomplished in their current assignment. (How appropriate that the 2005 N.L. champs were handed their 2017 A.L. trophy by Frank Robinson, still the only player to snag MVP honors in each league.) Glued to the bottom of their class as they migrated from the N.L. Central to the A.L. West, it seemed preposterous three years ago when a widely disseminated magazine strongly suggested we check back around now and see how close they’d be to a world championship.
They’re very close, which is great for them. They’ve arrived very close by knocking off the Yankees, which is great for us. Thank you Hinchmen and congrastrolations.
Sportsmanship alert: congratulations to the Yankees as well. Helluva year absolutely, helluva future probably. Feel free to wretch, but they seem worthy of a tip of the hat even as we revel in the aftermath of irritatingly delayed Elimination Day. We didn’t want the Yankees anywhere near the World Series. Their proximity was too tight for comfort, to be sure. I woke up this Sunday morning in a state akin to that felt by Kevin Costner as Kenny O’Donnell at the end of Thirteen Days, knowing an event of untold horrors had been narrowly averted. In O’Donnell’s case it was resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
As Mets fans, we assumed another Yankee World Series appearance was a done deal. They won a Wild Card, they came from behind to win their Wild Card Game (albeit at the expense of their patsies the Twinkies) and they overcame an oh-two deficit to take their ALDS from Jay Bruce and the Indians. Those goggles they donned in the clubhouse when the bubbly started to spray were surely going to get another workout. Once the Yankees revved up the comeback machine in the ALCS — down oh-two; up three-two — our impulse was to forget we can’t stand the Hollywood Dodgers and take L.A. to block.
Desperate times call for Dodger measures , but they won’t be necessary. This postseason has been officially elevated to enjoyable (no Yankees) if not ecstatic (no Mets). That’s Houston’s doing. Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers channeled the best of Don Wilson, Larry Dierker and J.R. Richard, while the Astro offense found its pulse. Perhaps all that switching between leagues stirred havoc with their bearings. More likely, you couldn’t keep Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the rest of the analytically aligned All-Stars down for long. If anybody could quash the Sports Illustrated cover boys of 2014 , we knew, by gut, it would be the Yankees. We hadn’t seen that movie where the Bombers destroy all comers, model sparkly new rings and strut up Broadway in eight years, but we never forgot how it works. We assume it’s always on the verge of a harrowing reboot.
So do the Yankees, I suppose. Maybe theirs is way to approach your business. I noticed for all the talk about how the 2017 Yankees were an uncommonly “fun” edition (as if winning something that merits a celebration a hundred times prior wasn’t fun), the coalescing conventional wisdom coming out of their ALCS loss was this was valuable experience for these Yankees, that the disappointment will be fleeting and the learning will be what counts as they go on to their implicit quota of bigger and better achievements. All these wonderful young players of theirs have now been to the Norman Greenbaum Preparatory School, steeling themselves for the Octobers ahead when falling several games shy of a world championship will be considered unacceptable (prepare yourself, you know it’s a must ). This, it has been agreed, wasn’t just 2017 for the Yankees. It was another 1995, the implication being another 1996 and so forth necessarily wait directly around the corner. Book the Canyon of Heroes ASAP.
Call it pinstriped privilege, if you like. For teams like ours, we’re generally thrilled to win anything. We’ve had twenty distinct celebrations in our history, including a couple that have followed absolutely hopeless eras. Our first champagne pour, on September 24, 1969, came on the heels of an 89-loss season that was deemed a vast step up from all the seasons that preceded it. Our 2015 division title was a heaven-sent revelation after the plethora of campaigns in which the Mets couldn’t crack 80 wins. When not treating a seven-game ALCS defeat as a trial run for the next dynasty, those who speak for the contemporary Yankees, lacking sports fandom’s otherwise prevalent Long Suffering gene, will tell you what a fantastic and utter surprise getting as far as they did was, taking into account where they’d been and all the rebuilding they had to do.
In the four seasons directly prior to 2017, the Yankees posted only winning records; continually floated on the fringe of Wild Card contention; hosted a playoff game once; and gathered a bounty of young talent. If we — and a majority of major league franchises — did that for four years, we’d label it an accomplishment. For them, it was a fallow period. We should all have such a baseline of misery.
While the Yankee Celebration Count stalls blissfully at 103, another calendar of local interest pushes forward. October 21, 2017, marked 2,085 days since the last New York major professional sports championship was attained. On February 5, 2012, the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Nobody around here has done anything similar since. No Stanley Cups. No NBA titles. One World Series played in — by us — but none fully wrangled. And no Super Bowls. (Caveat: I’m not including soccer in this calculus and likely never will.)
We are closing in on historic as this metric goes. Should neither the Giants nor Jets hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 4, 2018, the count rises to 2,190 days. The modern record between New York major professional sports championships sits at 2,280 days. The Yankees of perpetual dynasty won their last World Series on October 16, 1962. Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis, shortly after which vast cultural upheaval unfolded, transforming the nation as we knew it, leaving New York’s athletic entitlement behind. It took the balance of the Sixties to get the sporting interests of the city and its immediate environs back on the board. The Jets brought us to the top of heap on January 12, 1969. The Mets kept us there on October 16, 1969. The Knicks maintained the new New York status quo on May 8, 1970. Champagne flowed anew. Four Meadowlands Super Bowls. Eight Metropolitan Area visits from Lord Stanley. The ABA Nets twice. Everybody anybody roots for in these parts would get a taste between January 12, 1969, and February 5, 2012.
Now nobody in New York wins it all. Nobody’s edged nearer to absolute victory lately since the 2015 Mets, who fell three games shy. No NHL finals the past three springs. No NBA playoffs the past two. The Giants have reached the vital portion of January once. The Jets have abstained, courteously. Based on current trends, neither football team is poised to snap the streak this February. By the time we discover if we are surprised on the ice or hardwood this June, the wait will have surpassed 2,280 days, leaving the Big Apple and adjacent North Jersey dry for as long as multiple big-time professional sports has existed.
I really wanted the Mets to be the ones to end the drought . I still do. I’m glad that possibility — conceivably under the guidance of Mickey Callaway  — remains viable. The Yankees may have gained valuable experience in the ways of winning, but it guarantees them nothing. We gained valuable experience pulling up short in 2015 and 2006 and it guaranteed us nothing.
It was fun anyway. All the years when we celebrated the steps toward a world championship yet wound up without a world championship generated a ton of fun. The journey can be spectacular despite the destination emerging as elusive. When your baseline for misery isn’t 84-78 but 59-103, you learn to savor every drop of champagne, every trip to Modell’s. Maybe not expecting much and being grateful you received anything isn’t the way to approach your business, but unless you’re swimming in a swarm of rings and pocketwatches 27 trinkets deep, it’s probably better for your daily well-being.
We’ll be back with some thoughts on the new manager of the Mets as soon as we gin a few up.