If you're a Yankee hater the baseball season that just finished was a terrific baseball season.
The most terrific since 1913, which is the last time the Yankees had a season more horrific than the 67-win, 95-loss season they just completed. The team wearing pin stripes was the worst team in baseball providing you don't count the Atlanta Braves, and even in Atlanta they don't count the Braves. THE WORST TEAM IN BASEBALL. The franchise that once went 39 straight seasons without a record even close to below-.500 (1926-1964) finished so far in the basement in the AL East they qualified for the playoffs in China.The franchise that, from 1921 through 1981, won 33 pennants (roughly one every other year), and 22 World Series; the franchise that ran the Dodgers out of Brooklyn and the Giants out of Manhattan; the franchise that millions of Americans grew up loving to love or loving to hate finished 21 games behind the Boston Red Sox and 36 games behind the Oakland A's.
The Yankees were a mess. On and off the field. They had their owner exiled from baseball, and they had their best player (Don Mattingly), nursing injuries that kept him out of the lineup much of the year, and batting .256 when he was in it.
I used to dream of seasons like this one. I grew up hating the Yankees. I had a brother who loved the Yankees and if you had a brother who loved the Yankees there was no choice but to hate the Yankees - and love the Dodgers. But it was tough business hating the Yankees when I grew up because if Mickey Mantle wasn't doing something phenomenal then Roger Maris was or Yogi Berra was setting some kind of record or Casey Stengel was saying lines that were corny but that Yankee-lovers thought were clever, and the worst part was THEY NEVER LOST.
They never had a season like they just had.
A bad year was when they lost the World Series, four games to three. They were to baseball what the Mings were to the Orient. Their players were cocky and obnoxious and that was nothing compared to their fans.
Yankee fans won obnoxiously. My brother won obnoxiously. To this day, he has a picture of Roger Maris on his wall.
Their latest season continued an encouraging trend. The Yankees have had declining records for five straight years. They haven't won a pennant or been to a World Series since 1981. They haven't won a World Series since 1977.
All of this pretty much coincides with George Steinbrenner having had enough time to really foul up the dynasty. Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973 and had great success for the first few years, but that was before he had a chance to grab the controls himself and erect a revolving door at the entrance to Yankee Stadium.
In his 18-year reign of error, Steinbrenner had no less than 10 P.R. men, 11 field managers (who combined for 18 different hirings and firings, or one a year), 12 club presidents and 14 pitching coaches (who came and went for a grand total of 26 different terms).
And that's to say nothing of the comings and goings on the field. The Yankees have had more people wearing pin stripes than Wall Street's largest law firms. For example, during the 13 years from 1976 through 1988, Ron Guidry threw to 25 different catchers and second baseman Willie Randolph, himself a rare bastion in the sea of Yankee instability before he retired, played alongside no less than 33 different shortstops.
Patience was not their virtue. If Steinbrenner saw a pitcher throw a wild pitch, he was on the next train to Columbus, or to another organization. Among the Yankee-grown farm club products who were sent packing were Doug Drabek and Jose Rijo, two All-Stars you've been watching pitch for the Pirates and Reds, respectively, in the current NL playoffs; and Willie McGee, who won the NL batting title this year before being traded to Oakland.
Dozens of books have chronicled the Steinbrenner Years, including a new one just out called "Damned Yankees," by New York sportswriters Moss Klein and Bill Madden, who went to the trouble of compiling a list of things Steinbrenner said that he didn't mean. Things like "Yogi will be the manager the entire season, win or lose" (Berra was fired 16 games into the season) and "Believe me, this will be different because Billy and I will communicate with each other" (Martin was fired 11 months later) and "I won't be active in the day-to-day operation of the club at all" (said on Jan. 3, 1973, the day Steinbrenner bought the Yankees).
The bothersome part is that Steinbrenner finally succeeded in firing himself this season. Now there are reports out of New York that the manager, Stump Merrill, will be back next year, and so will Gene Michael, the president, and there are any number of promising players (such as Roberto Kelly, Kevin Maas, Hensley Meulens) that rumors say the Yankees are GOING TO KEEP.
Distressing reports. Things could be looking up. All the more reason to savor the 1990 season. A terrific season. The kind of season you wouldn't wish on anyone. Unless it's the Yankees.