Thursday, May 25, 2006

Steinbrennerization of Baseball

by Scott Silversten

It’s all George Steinbrenner’s fault.

Wait! Before you get ahead of yourself, this is not a column about the bloated payroll of the New York Yankees. Despite what many think or say, any other owner with Steinbrenner’s riches would be doling out the same amount of cash each year in an attempt to give his city a championship team.

Rather, this is a column about the mentality that Steinbrenner has fostered since purchasing the Yankees in 1973, and more specifically, a mindset that has overtaken so many during the course of the last decade.

When exactly it reached ridiculous proportions is up for debate, but there is no denying the absolute mind-blowing, hard-to-comprehend overreactions of the New York baseball fan to any minor thing that goes wrong during the course of what used to be a long season.

The Yankees and Mets no longer play a baseball season that once consisted of ups and downs, good and bad streaks, high and low moments. Rather, now both teams play 162 separate and individual seasons that all must be judged on a daily basis.

This past weekend’s “Subway Series” was just the latest example of the way individual and team performances are blown out of proportion by fans and, lest they be absolved of blame, members of the media. Talk radio is a major culprit, but mostly, it’s the “Steinbrennerization” of the New York baseball fan.

The definition of “Steinbrennerization” reads as follows: The inability of an individual to see the big picture in a sport in which failure is commonplace for even the greatest teams and players.

In the opener of the latest most over-hyped series this side of Yankees-Red Sox, the Mets got off to a nice start with a dramatic 7-6 victory on Friday night. The win came in large part due to the ineffectiveness of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who allowed a pair of doubles (ok, David Wright’s game-winner was officially a single) in the ninth to suffer the loss.

So what do we get? Panic from Yankee supporters about the decline of their “once-dominant” closer along with cries that the team just can’t compete with top-level competition this season.

Of course, all doubts about Rivera were pushed aside the following afternoon, when the righthander tossed two dominant innings as the Yankees posted an extra-inning triumph. No, Saturday night and Sunday morning were reserved for panic about the Mets closer, Billy Wagner, who imploded by allowing four runs in the ninth of a game his team had led, 4-0.

“How can the Mets recover?” came the cries of the Orange and Blue faithful. “It might take days to put this one behind us,” they yelled.

Well, the only reason it took one day is because Sunday’s game wasn’t until 8 p.m. The Mets rebounded with a victory, Wagner was again dominant and all was right in Flushing.

With a day off in Queens on Monday, the Yankees moved on to Boston and a date with their rivals. In the opener, they were clobbered, 9-5, the final score only looking respectable after Alex Rodriguez delivered another “non-clutch” homer in the top of the ninth.

“This is it,” extorted the Bronx faithful. “Two more games with Boston, too many injuries, we’re going to be eliminated by Memorial Day!”

So what happens? The Yankees get a strong outing from Jaret Wright on Tuesday, Rodriguez finally hits a big homer (although not REALLY that big, because the Yankees were already winning) and the American League East is once again a race.

As you read this on May 24, the season is essentially one quarter over. ONE QUARTER! It’s a cliché, but needs to be repeated: baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. There are a lot of hills and valleys along the way to October. The best teams will lose 60 games, and the best players will not get a hit in roughly 6 ½ out of every 10 at-bats.

And each failure doesn’t deserve to be greeted with catcalls. As Carlos Beltran rounded the bases in the 16th inning on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, do you think Mets fans recall the many boos they showered on their centerfielder during April’s opening week?

Actually, forget April, the opening week of May ended with the Mets leading the Atlanta Braves by nine games, a margin that was cut in half within less than three weeks with still another week of games remaining before the calendar flips to June.

A former assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue, Steinbrenner has treated every Yankees loss over the last three decades like it was going to cost his team a spot in the Rose Bowl. Ironically, things have only gotten worse since 1995, when the Yankees began a streak of what now stands as 11 straight postseason appearances.

Taking the temperature of teams every 24 hours is an approach that just doesn’t work in baseball, with its daily grind and, sometimes, mundane routine.

There is a scene in the movie “Fever Pitch” in which Jimmy Fallon’s character and his friends are sitting around a bar sulking about that day’s tough loss by the Red Sox. They glance to a nearby table, and see a few members of the team eating dinner, acting like nothing is wrong.

It is at that moment that Fallon realizes a simple truth; players are not easily affected by a loss. They go home, eat dinner, and come back tomorrow in an attempt to do their job better than the day before. Anything short of that approach would essentially drive players, coaches and managers into an insane asylum before summer even arrives.

It is only fans, the media and George Steinbrenner who can’t seem to grasp this concept.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

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