Sometimes persistence and sticking it out through the tough times is rewarded. Last season — just as an example — it did for the Washington Nationals, Toronto Raptors and Andy Reid. Told for years they couldn’t win the big one, they did.
But you could persevere and be the current Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Dodgers (at least entering this postseason) or the Patrick Ewing Knicks. You could spend your life tantalizingly close, convincing yourself next year is your year.
You are Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips losing consecutive AFC titles to the Pittsburgh Steelers four decades ago and vowing to a fan base, “One year ago, we knocked on the door. This year, we beat on the door. Next year, we’re going to kick the son of a bitch in.”
Except they didn’t. The door stayed shut. No one ever guarantees persistence and belief in a talented core will eventually result in a ring and a parade and a confetti legacy. The late-’60s/early ’70 New York Rangers. The late ’80s Cleveland Browns. The late ’90s Utah Jazz. Glenn Close being nominated seven times for the Oscar.
They are all Sisyphean. They see the mountaintop, but the rock rolls back and they have to start all over again.
This is where the current-day Yankees reside, with Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman holding a déjà Zoom press conference Wednesday explaining for another year the frustration of being so near and so far.
Boone said, “You realize how close you are to being a championship team. … It eats at you and motivates you and is something we have to live with.”
Boone stated a case for how “razor thin” the difference has been between the Yankees and the teams that have eliminated them in his three years as manager. A few feet from a ninth-inning Gary Sanchez walk-off grand slam that would have forced a decisive 2018 Division Series Game 5 against a Red Sox team that might have run out of pitching. Outscoring the Astros in the 2019 ALCS and the Rays in the 2020 Division Series — tied 1-1 through seven innings of a decisive Game 5 just last week against Tampa Bay.
“We are trying to kick that door down,” said Boone, who has a 2021 contractual option. “We are trying to climb that mountain. We know how close and capable of it we are. That is the motivation. My contact status and all of that will take care of itself. My focus is getting us to the top of the mountain.”
Now they have to decide whether this is essentially the right group for another climb. Hal Steinbrenner already has stated Boone will be back. Is he weaker inside the clubhouse for the Division Series Game 2 decision to piggyback J.A. Happ behind one inning of Deivi Garcia? Happ passive-aggressively disagreed with the choice. CC Sabathia, a Yankee adviser, lambasted the decision on his podcast. It would be hard to believe that other players aren’t dubious about the strategy.
Modern teams have an executive collective that provides data and recommendations for managers to make choices, especially nontraditional ones. Yet, the players generally still want to believe the manager is making the final decision. Both Boone and Cashman insist that is the case. Boone said he did not imagine he needed to re-establish that with his clubhouse, explaining, “Our people understand it is my decision.”
We will see. We will also see who those “people” are. To that end, Boone asked to “keep in perspective how close we are.” What will have to be diagnosed internally is whether it is “close” enough to try it again with essentially the same core or make seismic roster changes.
Nothing will impact the choices like how much Cashman has to spend — or not spend — and he said he would not “telegraph” what the payroll will be once he is provided it. But he noted the COVID-created revenue losses of the organization were real. So expect the cut to be at least below the 2021 $210 million luxury-tax threshold, so $30 million or more.
So while Boone and Cashman praised DJ LeMahieu, Masahiro Tanaka, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres, they did not say the free agents LeMahieu and Tanaka will be back or that Sanchez is still the starting catcher or Torres the starting shortstop. There was no commitment to diversify the heavily righty lineup. Cashman is too veteran and coy to lock into positions a few days into the offseason before he even has had formal scouting meetings.
But as much as the individual personnel, the Yanks will have to ask if they keep Stockton and Malone-ing this or if there is a staleness to the formula. They made a huge investment — their Kwahi Leonard move — for Gerrit Cole last offseason. That worked for the Raptors, not the Clippers or Yankees. This offseason, do the Yanks move out pieces who have had New York success to improve defense up the middle, add more lefty hitting and provide financial wiggle room to deepen the pitching staff?
“We have a championship roster, I think that is a fact,” Cashman said. “We are not the champions. That also is a fact.”
Do they really have a championship roster that they should stick with to kick down the door? Or are they Glenn Close and, thus, still so far from a title?