Sunday, September 14, 2008


"Consume my heart away; sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal" -- Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium

When the Yankees' season ends, I mourn. A love has abandoned me. The consolation of 162 forlorn evenings and stressful days has vanished. A six-month drama, sometimes exasperating, sometimes exhilirating, but never other than captivating, had ended. I've lost a steady and intimate friend.

And for each unconsummated ending, grief bear its own metaphor.

1986-1993-- a mercy killing. Death after a long, bleak sickness symptomized by dull, agonizing pain and a morphine-induced amnesiac malaise.

1994-- the tragic suicide of youth brimming with the promise of re-birth.

1995-- a sudden heart attack that's tearful and tragic, but somehow redemptive because of a man who'd long outlived the dire prognosis and had, until the final moment, cheated the end.

2001 through 2003-- the passing of a very distinguished, very old man who dies peacefully and painlessly in his sleep after a full, magnificent, vital life and whose accomplishments' grandeur and whose bequest's lavishness comfort his adoring heirs.

2004-- a President's assassination on the White House lawn, a murder so freakish, so catastrophic, so historically notorious that it bespeaks Divine vengeance. Call it Fate, Destiny, the Gods, what have you: the universe's dark and inscrutable forces have intervened. An apocalypse destroys the existing order and creates shock and awe in its wake. It's horror is its mercy. Memory yields to oblivion.

2005-2007-- a car accident, rapid, abrupt, brutal; and no less unexpected or devastating the first time around than the third. One minute the engine won't start, the next the Lexus is flying West along I-80 at top speed, music blaring, the crisp, bracing air and golden sunshine auguring glorious Autumn ahead. And then, suddenly, the crash. In a split second, the world is upended. Traumatic but quick. Bury the season, say Kadish. Stay warm and fight despair until Hot Stove begins.

Not this year. For Yankees fans, 2008 season has inflicted a brand of torment so exquisite and unique it rivals none and begs a ritual to mourn it. 1965? I wasn't born yet. '79 and '82 I can barely remember.

I wish I could. For 2008 reeks of the darkness before the blackness. The Dying of Light in August. Going gently, without rage or suspense or fight, into the fell night. 2008 signifies the dull, omnipresent ache of dwindling days, of marking time before execution, of a protracted, anguish-ridden dying preliminary to death.

It has evoked something of the slow, excruciating, torment I imagine loved ones suffer as they sit vigil over a terminal middle-aged, cancer patient. Radical treatments, sporadic remissions, fleeting signs of recovery afflict rather than assuage. They tantalize with a hope they cannot possibly deliver.

Oh yes, the last September in Ruth's House has turned out historical, after all. The 2008 New York Yankees: Fourth place, under 90 wins, a Lineup that conjures less Murderers' Lineup than Death's Row. The late 80's revisited.

Symptoms of 2008's malignancy, actually, manifested as early as May. In retrospect, we just refused to recognize them. Injured veterans. Floundering rookies. Skill regression. Down years. A surly, rigid manager. A blinkered, hidebound GM. A tattered pitching staff. Pressing hitters. Low RISP averages. Inopportune errors. Missed Cutoffs. Inept bunts. Botched double-plays. Careless baserunning. The runner, with less than 2 outs, forever stranded on 3d base.

But denial was so easy. Some facile explanation-- the weather, the birth pangs of youth, the slow starts of age-- was always ready at hand. And hadn't the team stood at 11-19 in 2005 and at 21-29 just last season? They'd defied the premature obituaries. So too will this one, won't it?

Only the 2008 Yankees never recuperated. More accurately, depleted, debilitated, and old before their time, they've never really breathed life. They've survived, sure. But in a place where their lineage defines identity as "I win, therefore I am" the 2008 Yankees almost count as stillborn, a fetus that never quite existed.

Denial only deferred the reckoning. And when Joba Chamberlain walked off that mound in Texas he took the final prayer with him. Life-support has sustained the team ever since. A 2-4 homsestand in late August against Boston and Toronto just confirmed and publicized the diagnosis. And this time, foiled so often before, the Grim Reaper secured his bounty. The malignancy had metastasized and spread everywhere. No miracle would save them this year. The 2008 Yankees were dying and they weren't coming back.

Like flies to wanton boys are teams to the Baseball Gods, cruel and malicious with a sadistic flair for irony. For the final act of a moribund Stadium, they've cast a terminal patient. A September to forget has become one we will forever have to remember. Then, come October, Ruth's Ghost will have to the House he built all to himself.

In the meantime while their perverse tragic-comedy unfolds, I wince at the gallows humor. Along the stages of grief, bargaining and depression long since have yielded to acceptance. All that remains is to pry from the abyss some meager saving grace, the strength and dignity that comes from graceful endurance and the preparation granted you when you know a certain end awaits.

And so, here, I sit, paying vigil to a living corpse, however dreadful and desolating. However painful the daily reminder that on September 28 the 2008 Yankees will expire, I watch over and love what little of them remains. There will be time, of course, for eulogies and autopsies too. The vultures already are circling. The recriminations have begun. Last year, thirteen consecutive Octobers had multiple fathers. 2008 is an orphan.

For now, I offer the Yankees my allegiance and succor. Small comfort perhaps but I have no power to change their fate. A debt of loyalty, support, and gratitude, I owe them nonetheless. This they deserve, at the very least. For 13 straight years, a brilliant, prodigious, sublime Yankee Colossus has inhabited my life. It has brightened my summers. It has animated my September. It has raised early autumn to a Fever pitch.

This Great Dying Yankee Colossus has inscribed my memories with joys and sorrows and made for Octobers I will cherish forever.

This year, however, I grieve. I grieve for an October bereft, for the dying of an era, and for a Cathedral that closed not with a bang but a whimper.


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