Tuesday, June 19, 2007



As I watched the Detroit sun set on the Yankee 2006 season, some small part of me died inside. And if I exaggerate it is only because bereavement is about as close as I can come to describing just how distraught this loss has left me. What’s more, I suspect, somehow, I’m not alone. If on a different frequency, perhaps, I speak for you.

For those of us who are devoted fans—for whom summer evenings and Yankee baseball are synonymous, for whom the players’ performances and the seasons’ vicissitudes affect us as the fortunes of family, for whom the Game at day’s end distracts us from life’s stresses and disappointments and inhabits our dreams -- for the passionate and zealous among us the abrupt end of the baseball season can sicken the heart and leave behind a void. But this year’s resounding defeat in the ALDS at the hands of the Tigers brings a torment entirely its own.

Losing four games in a row to the Red Sox in ‘04 afflicted us, sure; but like a slow and debilitating disease, the protracted decline, however excruciating, at least afforded its loved ones the opportunity to prepare ourselves to say good-bye. And then of course, we could console ourselves that just the year before we’d stolen life from death to throttle the very same enemy and that the score had only evened.

Losing to the Angels last year, of course, hurt too. But like the graying middle-aged man stricken with cancer before his time; the patient who nonetheless battles the pernicious disease for a decade and manages to prolong his life against expectations and even to live a richer, fuller existence in the bargain before succumbing; the Yankees resiliently triumphant late pennant run to salvage a dying season gave us a September thrill to assuage the grief of a terminal October.

Losing this year to the Tigers however dealt the shock and disbelief, the trauma and agony to which only the sudden, inexplicable death of young, vibrant, healthy man can compare. He runs four miles every day. He eats three square meals. The doctor declares him fit to live until 90. And then one day, out of nowhere, he keels over and expires. And to compound our grief, the doctors really don’t know why. Some suspect it’s the arms; others tell us it’s the heart; still more, blame a deficient mind and temperament. He didn’t enjoy himself. He spent too much and earned too little. He couldn’t stand the pressure of his environment. He didn’t believe in himself.

The greatest lineup ever assembled, the prognosticators said, and we believed them. No one can pitch to them, they said, and we believed them. Isn’t baseball about scoring more run than the opposition? Well who can outhit this team? And so, we believed ESPN; and we believed WFAN; and we believed the sportswriters and the newspapers and the ballplayers of Octobers past. THIS Yankee lineup was unstoppable. THIS Yankee team could not be pitched to. THIS Yankees team was going to return the Trophy to its rightful owners.

But we loved ones know the patient better than the experts. We lived with him through spring training, through summer’s dog days, through the triumphs and travail of a 162 days and evenings. And even if we allowed them to fool us, deep down, we’ve always suspected the reason. The aneurysm that an aging, tired, overworked and debilitated pitching staff lodged in the brain, swelling on hubris and hype and self-delusion, got bigger and bigger until, in Detroit, it exploded and left us to mourn over the corpse and to point fingers.

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