Yankees-Braves series causes unsettling flashbacks

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The Yankees play the Braves starting tonight, and whenever that happens, I get seriously bad flashbacks . . .

I was in my second year of law school in the fall of 1996 and I had a
professor that semester who would just go on and on and on about the
Yankees. He’d use them as the example of greatness, in much the same
way people used to use Cadillacs (e.g. “Goldman Sachs is the New York
Yankees of investment banks,” etc.). I cut him some slack because he
was in his early 50s, which meant that he grew up at a time when the
Yankees won all the time and such comparisons made sense. Because of
his age, he could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that the Yankees
hadn’t won anything in close to 20 years, and had only been in the
playoffs once in the previous 15. The way in which he clinged to the
past was kind of cute and endearing.

But then the Yankees started working their way through the playoffs.
My Braves — the reigning World Series Champions — were too, and
despite a big scare from the Cardinals in the NLCS, I and many others
expected them to coast easily to another title. My professor, high on
New York’s run, noticed my Braves cap in class one day and decided to
taunt me a bit. Asking me how I’d feel when the Yankees thrashed the
Braves. Asking me if I’d need a couple of days off from class to
recover from the epic beatdown that was to come. When I realized that
he was looking for someone to jaw back at him I obliged, and for a
couple of days two or three minutes of class was taken up with our
smack.

When the Braves put the hurt to the Yankees in games one and two, my
professor backed off. I, however, amped it up. I talked about how
unlikely it was for a team — especially a green and untested team like
the Yankees — to come back from a 2-0 deficit. Especially when they’d
have to beat Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux —
in that order — to do it. I was a total ass about it, really, and that
would have remained the case even if what happned over the next four
games hadn’t happened.

But it did happen. Oh, God, did it happen, and to this day I can’t
think about that World Series without shuddering, partially because of
just how epic was the Braves’ fail, but even more so for the complete
lack of humility and grace I displayed in the runup to it all. To my
professor’s credit, he only rubbed my nose in it for, oh, three weeks
afterwards. When I got my A in his class, I couldn’t help but wonder if
pity was just as much at play as performance. Since then I’ve done my
best to blot the memory of 1996 out of my mind, and I’ve succeeded to
varying degrees.

But then a blogger like Jay at Fack Youk goes and starts what looks to be an excellent series reviewing the 1996 and 1999 Yankees-Braves World Series,
and the bad memories start flooding back. Not so much for 1999 — every
Braves fan just sort of knew on some level that the Yankees would kill
us — but for that awful, awful 1996.

He has Game one up right now.
Since I knew it would have a happy ending I managed to make it through
it. By tomorrow morning he’s going to have Game Four posted, however. I
can’t decide if I’ll read it yet. It’s been over 12 years so you’d
think I could handle it by now, but I’m not sure I can. Maybe I’ll
email Jay and ask him to move Game Four up to this evening so it will
be a little more acceptable for me to take a belt of scotch or
something before diving in.

Anyway, Jay’s series should be enjoyable for (a) anyone too young to
really remember the details of the 1996 Series; (b) Yankees fans; and
(c) masochistic Braves fans. As for the rest of us? Well, whatever
doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, and the 1996 Series hasn’t
killed me. Yet.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.