George Steinbrenner started and perpetuated the notion that a New York Yankees season is a failure if it doesn’t end with a World Series title. Not that winning a championship is the goal — it’s obviously every team’s goal — but that in addition to it being the goal, it is the only acceptable outcome. That a baseball season is a binary proposition: triumph or disgrace.
I get it. It’s motivational and, as the Yankees won a lot of World Series titles between 1996 and 2001, it served as a nice little way for Yankees fans to take pride in their team, its rich history and, of course, for the Yankees to build a unique brand identity.
But it’s also unrealistic. Even with all of their advantages over other teams, baseball is still tough enough and random enough to where nothing makes a World Series title even a close-to-good bet. I mean, they’ve been among the best teams in baseball for the past decade and they have one title in that time. That’s awesome — better than most — but it’s evidence that no matter what you do, there is luck and chance and stuff that enters into the deal.
But in addition to “World Series or bust” being somewhat unrealistic, it also creates a sense of entitlement in some fans and a built-in disappointment-creation device for others. Think about it: if your old man tells you that nothing but the best will do, you’re likely to become either some hyper-competitive kind of person or an often-depressed one. While I’m fortunate to know several grounded Yankees fans, it’s not a stretch to say that there are many who are either really angry or really morose today.
And even though Steinbrenner is dead, the expectations remain the same. Just ask team president Randy Levine, who summed up the season thusly today:
“We are the Yankees,” Levine told ESPNNewYork.com on Friday as he and the franchise coped with being eliminated at home in Game 5 of the ALDS by the Tigers. “That is the way The Boss set it up. When you don’t win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year.”
Let me ask you, Yankees fans: did you feel like you just wasted the last six or seven months of your life? While, sure, the ALDS was a disappointing, are you bitter? Is it a dark time and do you face a brutal winter, or did you actually, you know, have a lot of fun following a damn good baseball team this year?
Don’t worry: if you’re not bitterly disappointed — if you actually can settle for less-than-a-championship most years — I won’t tell anyone.