"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Fault Lies Not In Our Stars…

Therapists usually say that there’s some kind of reason for just about any behavior, however seemingly irrational; even if you end up hurting yourself, it probably served a psychological purpose. I’ve been thinking about this recently in light of the Yanks’ ALCS loss, and the accompanying customary wave of blame from fans that fell on various members of the team and front office. I think the  tendency of fans — and certainly not just Yankee fans, but perhaps especially Yankee fans — to instinctively blame their own team after a loss, rather than crediting the opponent, is pretty interesting. Obviously not everyone does this, but as an overall fanbase mood I think it rings true, unless maybe some undisputed whiz like Cliff Lee is directly involved. 

Setting aside for the moment whether or not it’s accurate or fair in a specific instance, what’s the psychological gain here? The outcome of any game depends on the combination of one team’s strength and another’s weakness, of course, and it’s often hard to disentangle a hitter’s success from a pitcher’s failure, or vice versa. How much of Colby Lewis’s kickass performance on Friday night was due to variables he controlled directly, and how much was due to the Yankees’ inadequate approach or execution at the plate? It’s not possible to tell precisely, although a lot of the newer baseball stats our SABR-inclined friends come up with are designed to help sort this out. And my first instinct, like many people in the bar where I was watching, was to yell “C’mon you useless #$&*s, it’s Colby Lewis” at the little pinstriped men on the TV. 

I think in the end, it’s mostly about control: the idea that your team mostly controls its fate (like the idea that you yourself mostly control your fate) is generally preferable to the alternative. No one likes feeling helpless to change their situation. Everyone wants to believe that we’re in charge of how our lives turn out, not larger forces we can’t affect. And hey, if the Yankees lost because they failed, well then, they’re still better. They just didn’t show it. There must be something they could have done differently.

I’m not entirely sure whether the blaming-your-team tendency is more prevalent in New York City, and specifically among Yankee fans, but I suspect as much. It seems clear that fans everywhere do this to a certain extent, but I think that like just about everything else, it’s louder in New York. And while Mets fans do it too — as Alex pointed out yesterday, the moaning about A-Rod and Ryan Howard ending their respective Championship Series with called third strikes brought back vivid memories of the hysteria over Carlos Beltran’s taken curveball in 2006 — I believe you can make an argument that Yankee fans do it most of all: this is part of the wide-ranging legacy of George M. Steinbrenner.

This is the flipside to all that winning, and the result of the idea, now internalized by seemingly the entire Yankee organization even in The Boss’s absence, that any year that doesn’t end in a World Series victory is a failure. Not anybody else’s succes: your team’s failure. We’ve heard this view expressed in different ways by many people for many years now — by George himself, by Brian Cashman, by Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, even by scrubs passing through in August and September. This year, Cashman and Joe Girardi both made a point of saying that Texas had just flat out-played the Yankees, which I personally felt was good to hear; I think many fans share that point of view, too, but outside of our cozy corner of the blogosphere, it hasn’t been the dominant tone.  

Believing that they can and should win the World Series every single year is, from one angle, one of the most admirable things about the Yankees. The organization is never content with a few years of mediocrity; never holds back from a signing or trade that could help, damn the financial consequences; never coasts on a new Stadium or a star signing. And that is great for their fans. But that kind of ambition, by necessity, comes with a big heaping stench of failure. I think George Steinbrenner, in his prime, felt that having his employees live in terror of that failure was an important motivational tool; and the Boss will certainly be missed, but I hope his vision of win-it-all-or-else gets to rest with him. Other teams are gonna get that trophy sometimes, and not just because you messed up or didn’t get it done. Just because they’re better.

Categories:  Emma Span  Yankees

Tags:  ALCS  george steinbrenner

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1 omarcoming   ~  Oct 26, 2010 5:53 pm

Many younger fans don't understand that the best you can hope for is to contend. Winning is not a given.
Big Stein gave us 16 straight yrs. of terrible baseball. The young fans don't remember the failure before he got suspended
The Yanks have advantages that other teams do not have but it doesn't guarantee playoffs or a WS win.
Get used to it. The Yanks cannot be kept alive by buying players. They must produce their own. Be patient. It may take some time.

2 Mattpat11   ~  Oct 26, 2010 6:01 pm

I haven't heard the moaning over Alex's take, but really, I find that absurd. Alex wasn't going to tie the game in that at bat, he certainly wasn't going to win it, frankly, best case scenario he doesn't even make it all that close. Unless you really, truly felt the most improbable one game rally, probably in sports history coming in your bones, I have no idea why you would *care* how the last out was made.

Howard and (particularly) Beltran are a slightly different case. It has to be gut-wrenching to see your season fall apart because someone couldn't get the bat off his shoulders in the most important at bat of the season. In Beltran's case specifically, taking the pitch that everyone in the country knew was coming had to be galling for Mets fans. Its not like he could have possibly been caught off guard by the hook. I think a wild, mistimed swing and miss would have sit much better for many people than just watching the season end.

And the Rangers completely outplayed the Yankees, but the Yankee season was a failure. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

3 Emma Span   ~  Oct 26, 2010 6:37 pm

[2] See, I don't think the Yankee season was a failure. They kept me entertained through late October and came within a couple games of the World Series. I don't feel I can ask for much more.

4 Emma Span   ~  Oct 26, 2010 6:37 pm

[1] Nice handle. The cheese stands alone!

5 Mattpat11   ~  Oct 26, 2010 6:49 pm

[3] Honestly, I thought the last two months of the season were extremely tedious. October wasn't their fault, there are just way, way too many off days in the playoffs.

But September, with all the rest and Gaudin and Royce Ring just wasn't fun to watch. Had they won it all, I'd be tempted to argue that it was worth it. It really wasn't.

I've always been a 1 winner, 29 losers guy. Its a very clear standard for success, and it makes it even more special when you reach it

6 RIYank   ~  Oct 26, 2010 7:19 pm

Yeah, I think that's interesting too.
No, it's not just NY fans. It's ubiquitous in New England, too.
The idea is that your team is the agent, the doer, and the rest of the teams are like Nature. When you fail, of course it's your fault -- what, you're gonna blame nature? The world is fixed and immutable, and only We have free will.

I'm sure this reveals something deep about human nature.

7 Emma Span   ~  Oct 26, 2010 7:50 pm

[5] Sure - September was a drag, and it's not like they were a perfect team or anything. Also I'm not trying to say that they, or any team, aren't deserving of criticism; the Yanks did make their share of mistakes. But for me, there's still plenty to enjoy about a good team that plays well (most of the year anyway) and just falls short.

8 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 26, 2010 8:05 pm

[0] I think when your team is the favorite, when your team has better players, the tendency is to blame them for losing if that should be the outcome. Whether or not this is the case in 2010 is to some extent debatable, but when it is clearly not the case, when your team is the clear underdog, it's easier to give credit to the opposition.

in 1996, if the upstart yanks had lost to the braves as it looked like they were going to after the first 2 games, nobody would have blamed the yankees - they would have credited the back to back champs for being in another league. no san diego fan is sitting there blaming the pads for losing the 1998 world series.

9 hiscross   ~  Oct 26, 2010 8:07 pm

27 World Championships and 40 American League pennants, just Think how impressive that is. Especially for a team who didn't start winning until 1923. The Yankees define greatest, like Apple defines style. Both have their issues, but you aren't going to see me with a Met or Red Sox cap on or use a piece of crap Dell. I define myself as Yankee (not a fan) because I work hard everyday to be better than the day before. Yes, I am unusual because I am a US federal employee and work in DC. Yes, you civilians pay my salary, but I try to give you a Jeter or Mickey Mantle time at bat. Quality, just like the Yankees. I have a Yankee cap on my dash board and have a "Who Is John Galt?" license plate frame. I've been to all three Yankee Stadiums and I've been going to game since 2001. Being a Yankee is special, Enjoy being one, because the others choices all suck.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Oct 26, 2010 9:45 pm

It's an interesting question, but I think context is an important part of the answer. The Yankees were a better team than the Rangers over 162 games, so when they get outplayed by so much in a six game series, well, it's quite reasonable to cast a doubtful eye toward the Yankees.

Also, I think we need to pause for a moment when questioning the rationality of a fan's interaction with his team because, after all, being a fan is highly irrational. It makes no sense to spend 162 days following a game in which you have no control over the outcome, so the idea that one's reactions to losing would be irrational is perfectly logical.

[3] I agree with [5]. What made this season a failure is not getting bounced in the ALCS, but the philosophy the team adopted down the stretch. Personally, I don't think winning is the only thing that counts, but I do think that trying to win is.

11 monkeypants   ~  Oct 26, 2010 10:24 pm

10) i generally agree, though with one modification. The team played like such crap for the last third of the season...seemingly because they weren't trying their hardest to win, whether that was the case or not....that I had somewhat lost interest by the playoffs. My expectations were centainly lowered.

12 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 27, 2010 1:36 pm

[10] I totally agree. The Yanks abandoned their own philosophy down the stretch, perhaps due to undisclosed injuries, but for whatever reason they did not play to their stated capabilities and eventually ran into a motivated team that "manhandled" them. I doubt that our knowing about the injuries would have changed the outcome of the series; after all we're irrationally connected because we cannot affect anything, right?

Why hide facts if our knowledge doesn't matter? Disclosing key injuries now seems like a major cop-out...

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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