It’s 1993. You’re a 10-year-old Yankee fan, sheltered in the innocence of childhood. You love to play ball and you run like a deer. You dream of playing for the Yankees. Although you don’t know it, you’re seeing the budding of a dynasty—21 straight years of winning records. During that span, your Yankees will make the playoffs 17 times, win 14 division titles, appear in seven World Series, and win five Championships.
Five years later it’s 1998. You’re 15 now and realize your chances of playing for the Yankees—or any big league club—are nil. You watch the flowering of five Yankee greats who come up together through the minors—Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter. The team wins their second championship (the first was two years earlier), winning 114 games and sweeping the World Series. You think it’ll last forever.
In 2003 you turn 20, a college student. You cheer the Yankees to two more championships (1999, 2000). Then you feel the agonizing pain of defeat, as the team loses the 2001 Series in the seventh game to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Reality begins to bite. You think for the first time that maybe it won’t last forever.
Another five years pass. You’re 25, and you meet and fall in love with the man you will marry. It’s 2008 and the Yankees seem finished. No more championships. You and your lover suffer through the debacle of the 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox, down in games 3-0, come back and beat the Yankees. Reality takes a big bite. But the thrill is not gone. In 2009, with the aid of free agents Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, the Yankees win their last World Series of the era.
Now it’s 2013. You’re pushing 31, the bloom of youth gone, middle-age looming on the horizon. But you and your husband have produced twins, a new generation of Yankee fans. The Yankees too are growing old. Yet you saw one of the most compelling teams of all. This club lost seven starters to injury—two for the entire season and five for the bulk of it. Backup players went on the disabled list. According to statistics, they should have lost more than they won. Yet they made a run for the playoffs that carried into late September. How did they do it?
Manager Joe Girardi kept them afloat through the adept manipulation of smoke and mirrors. But there’s another reason—mysterious and intangible: The Pinstripes. Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner, Alphonso Soriano, and Mark Reynolds were all mired in the doldrums of late-career ennui, as was Ichiro Suzuki two years ago. Each of them, when he buttoned up the jersey of the New York Yankees with its classic interlocking NY, felt a jolt of pride and energy that drove the Yankees to a playoff run.
But age finally took its toll. The smoke cleared, the mirrors cracked, and the pinstripes faded. Gone now are the great Yankees of our time—Bernie and Jorge first, and now Andy and Mo. Jeter, who may come back for one last hurrah, will not be the same. Gone is the Jeter of the cat-like move to his right, the backhanded snare of a blistering grounder, the leap into the air, and the firing of a rocket to first base to nab the runner by a step.
You learned something over the past two decades as you grew from that 10-year-old Yankee fan to the one approaching middle age. It’s not about winning and losing ballgames. It’s about losses of another kind—the loss of innocence, the loss of dreams, the loss of parents and friends, and the loss of our heroes.
They’re gone now, those gentlemen Yankees, and we’ll miss them dearly. But the time has come to say good bye.