``We stunk. From top to bottom, there was nothing good about the way we played. You can't just turn it on and off. You don't want to beat yourself, but we did with our pitching and outfield play. We didn't have many good at-bats. It was sloppy, and I let them know about it.'' That was Joe Torre, on September 16, 1998. Twenty-seven games earlier, the Yankees held a 92-31 record. Remarkably, they began to phone it in and went on a 12-15 slump. Joe Torre called a closed-door meeting. He yelled. He stirred the drink. No surprise, they went on to win 10 of their last 12 regular season games and 11 of the 13 postseason games for a World Series Championship.
You could not relax during a game in front of Paul O'Neill. There are no quotes to substantiate this, but everybody knew that anyone who didn’t run it out down the line, go after balls, play 110%, would get their head handed to them. Who was going to argue with O’Neill, who played every pitch of every at-bat as if it was Game 7 of the World Series, destroying more water coolers than we care to count? He brought an intensity to the game, a need to win, which was contagious. I have to say, it was fun to watch him stir the drink.
“Retire.” That was Thurman Munson's response to any player moaning about playing hurt. He had more joints taped up on game day than King Tut. It did not matter. He went out and gave it his all, every game. He demanded that kind of play from his team. His determination spread throughout the team. It did not matter that they were 14 games out in mid-July. It did not matter that they had to play a 1-game playoff in Fenway. It did not matter that they were down 2-0 in the World Series against the favored Dodgers. He created an intensity that demanded that we win.
If you look throughout the history of the Yankees, you will find these people. You will find them mostly in championship years, but even in years when we did not win it all. You will find them, but not on the 2014 team. If you look at stats alone, at the start of the season, we were postseason favorites. Yes, our starting rotation took a beating, but the replacements have actually done well. The team ERA is better than the league average, so the fault is not there. Yes, the hitting has been poor, but we have players that should be blowing out the competition, in spite of the injuries.
I know I am ranting, but as a lifelong fan of this team, it pains me to watch this. With all of the offseason acquisitions, we got players with great hitting and pitching stats. What we did not get, or have not yet developed, is the character traits to overcome adversity and win in spite of the cost. Not that it has to be a player – the managers and coaches have to get involved in this too. The drive, the refusal to accept losses as an eventuality, is the spark that has been missing. The straw that stirs the drink. If we can save this season, they will have to find it right now. If not, that needs to be top priority for the offseason.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row
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