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Championships are overrated


LAS VEGAS — I learned yesterday that there is a swath of Yankees fans who use the phrase “one in 17.” Maybe it’s a hashtag, I don’t know. The point is that it is used as a means of disparaging Brian Cashman and the Yankees for their alleged failures in having won “only” one World Championship in the past 17 seasons. This is not used ironically and it is not a joke. In the minds of these fans Cashman is, for this reason, a failure, as are the New York Yankees.

Later, when I talked about that some on Twitter, some Yankees fans tried to defend that mindset. I won’t bore you with the back and forth on that or single out any individual person, but I will share a quote from one of these people:

“Last year was the worst 100 win team I ever saw. Weak starting pitching, a lineup that couldn’t string three hits together and struck out a billion times. [Cashman’s] goal is to have 9 Dave Kingmans on the field. Garbage.”

I wish I was making this up. I wish I had never heard of the “one in 17” subculture at all, because it’s objectively insane.

Setting aside the extraordinarily convenient cutoff of 17 years — how many in 22, friendo? — I will grant that winning “only” one title in a 17-year span is somewhat unusual for the Yankees, historically speaking. And I suppose that one must acknowledge that the Red Sox and Giants have more titles over that same 17-year span. Things could be better on that score for the New York Yankees.

But it’s also the case, is it not, that the Yankees have been, more or less, the best team in baseball by any measure other than championships during that time too? Both Boston and San Francisco had sub-.500 seasons and even last place finishes before, in between and after their championships. Maybe they just have that 2009 World Series trophy, but there is no team a person could root for which is more assured of year-in-year-out success than the New York Yankees. They have not had a season in which they have lost more games than they have won since 1992. 1992!!

Are Yankees fans spoiled? Sure, on some level they are. But I don’t think this is about Yankees fan entitlement as such. Indeed, I think it speaks to a phenomenon in sports that applies to fans of any team: an overemphasis on championships. Indeed, I think championships are highly overrated and that caring only about championships is a great way to make yourself miserable as a sports fan.

Winning championships is, obviously, the goal of every sports team, but you are not a sports team. You are a fan. Sports are entertainment to you, not a means of personal validation. Because, again, you haven’t done anything to earn the validation of a championship like a player or a coach or an executive has. You watched it happen, but it’s their entire professional existence. They spend all of their waking hours to achieve that goal. You invested a little time, some of your disposable income and, depending on your temperament, greater or lesser degrees of emotional investment in order to watch baseball games.

You can’t say that the stakes for you are anything like the stakes for someone who owns, operates or plays for a professional sports franchise and thus you can’t say that anything less than a championship is failure and expect me to take you seriously. Especially considering that, when they’re being honest, and when they’re not giving postgame interviews, even the people in professional sports will tell you that they don’t actually think in those terms themselves. There are executives for 86-win clubs who are happy with how their team did given the talent they have. There are players who are quite proud of their years even when they get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.

I’m not sure where the “anything less than a championship is failure” idea came from, but it’s relatively new.

Over the past couple of days in Las Vegas I’ve talked to a lot of fans and writers and friends about it and most of us agree that it was not a prominent concept among sports fans even a a couple of decades ago. I personally suspect it’s a function of branding and marketing, which became far more important as the 80s turned into the 90s and sports became an omnipresent lifestyle product rather than a mere entertainment. The “Just Do It” and “SportsCenter” era did a lot to immerse fans in the athletic ethos and to convince fans that they themselves share the traits of athletes. Motivational speeches and slogans doubling as product pitches, practice montages and veneration of the athletic work ethic as a means of signaling virtue and the general blurring of who the “we” is when we talk about sports has convinced a generation or three of fans that teams and fans are all in it together. That fans must, necessarily, share an athlete’s goals if they wish to understand and appreciate sports. If anything short of a championship is a failure for Michael Jordan, Tom Brady or Derek Jeter, it must be for me, on my couch, too.

So, yes, I get it. I understand that George Steinbrenner, as a matter of branding his business, used to say things like “anything less than a championship is a failure for the New York Yankees” and that a lot of people adopted that as their mantra as well. They came by it honestly enough. I also don’t want to shame fans or tell them how to appreciate sports, so if that’s the approach you take, by all means, feel free to continue to take it, even if I think it’s rather insane. This is still America and one is entitled to adopt “It’s all about championships” as their statement of purpose as a sports fan if they so choose.

But I would hope that these same people are willing to acknowledge that such an approach is not the only way to enjoy baseball. And I would also hope that, given how rare championships are for any team, including the New York Yankees, that they’d appreciate that viewing sports through a championships-or-bust prism is an excellent way to make sure you enjoy sports far less than if you viewed things differently.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Braves 3, Reds 1: I was at this game with 12,948 of my closest friends, many of whom were disguised as empty seats. We had a good time, though. Ozzie Albies‘ leadoff homer allowed me to launch into a jag about how bad his contract extension is, Yasiel Puig‘s fifth inning two-base error that allowed what proved to be the winning run allowed me to launch into a jag about the pros and cons of Puig as a player and the Braves victory allowed me to talk about my mixed feelings as a Braves fan given the front office’s miserly and cynical approach to the club. Which means that I drove a couple hundred miles, got home late last night and I’m sleep-deprived this morning to, you know, be at work. Oh well, at least baseball is pretty.

Cubs 7, Dodgers 6: The Dodgers had a 3-0 lead when the Cubs scored six runs in the sixth inning via two three-run homers, both of which came with two outs. Walker Buehler gave up one to Javier Báez and Scott Alexander gave up the other to Jason Heyward. Talk about not being able to buy a friggin’ out. The Cubs won for the seventh time in eight games. Oh, and this is fun: Pedro Strop got the save for the Cubs. On a night when his car was stolen before the game, he had to talk to the cops about it during the game before he pitched and in which it was reportedly involved in a police chase while he pitched.

Cardinals 5, Brewers 2: Macrell Ozuna hit a three-run homer and Yadi Molina added a solo shot in the Cards’ four-run fourth inning. Adam Wainwright allowed one run in six innings for his 150th career victory. After the game he said, “It means something to me. I’m proud to have been a Cardinal for the whole time of it, too.” Which seemed off to me because my mind still has him having made his debut with the Braves but, nah, he didn’t. He was just a prospect I was wishcasting on and for whom I was merely imagining major league glories at the time Atlanta traded him to St. Louis. But hey, I still have all of those sweet J.D. Drew memories. The Brewers have dropped seven of eight.

Rockies 9, Nationals 5: Raimel Tapia had two doubles and drove in three runs and Germán Márquez allowed three runs over seven, striking out seven. Daniel Murphy returned after 20 games lost to the injured list and then almost went back on it after nearly getting run over by a giant racing tooth, toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. I wish I was making that up.

Royals 10, Rays 2: Blake Snell‘s return from the injured list did not go according to plan: three runs — two earned — on five hits and he couldn’t even get the second out in the fourth inning. Adalberto Mondesí hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs for Kansas City and Billy Hamilton had two hits and two RBI. The Royals snapped their five-game losing streak.

Speaking of “snapped,” I’m taking the kids to Avengers: Endgame tonight. Forgive me if I’m distracted today. I promise I won’t spoil anything tomorrow. But that’s just because I’m taking tomorrow off. If I was working I’d totally spoil stuff because I can’t help myself.

Indians 6, Marlins 2: José Ramirez hit a solo homer in the first, had an RBI single in the third, and hit a two-run double in the eighth, so I guess he’s pulling out of that slow start. Jefry Rodríguez got the start for Cleveland and allowed only one run on three hits through seven. He didn’t get the win, though, as this was a close one, with the Tribe blowing a 2-1 lead thanks to a Martín Prado homer in the eighth before putting up a four-spot in the bottom half of the inning.

Athletics 6, Rangers 5: Chad Pinder hit a two-out RBI bloop single in the ninth to give the A’s the walkoff win. Earlier he made a diving catch to rob Shin-Soo Choo of a hit leading off the fifth inning when the game was tied at three. Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien homered as the A’s completed a three-game sweep. Nomar Mazara hit two homers for Texas.

Padres 1, Mariners 0: Chris Paddack outdueled Félix Hernández, tossing seven one-hit shutout innings and striking out nine. Ian Kinsler‘s second inning homer was the only run scored in the game, which lasted a crisp two hours and five minutes. It’s appropriate, then, that Hernández passed Don Drysdale on the all-time strikeout list during this one, as the game may as well have taken place in 1968 or something.

Giants 4, Blue Jays 0: Drew Pomeranz tossed six shutout innings and two relievers finished the job, holding the Jays to only two hits on the afternoon. That’s OK, though. Jays fans have their mind on something else now.

Phillies 6, Mets 0:  On Tuesday, Mets reliever Jacob Rhame buzzed Rhys Hoskins‘ tower in a way neither Hoskins nor the Phillies appreciated. Last night Hoskins got his revenge, facing Rhame in the ninth inning, he drove a 1-1 fastball over the left field fence for a two-run home run. He then broke out a slower-than-molasses home run trot:

It was the slowest trip around the bases in baseball since 2015, according to the folks who keep track of such things. Hoskins also walked and tripled.

Diamondbacks 11, Pirates 2: Ketel Marte homered twice, once as a lefty, once as a righty, as the Dbacks romped. They’ve been romping for three straight days, actually, outscoring the Pirates 25-7 in the first three games of this four-game series. It’s getaway day today, so I imagine the Pirates are hoping Arizona just mails it in.

Orioles 4, White Sox 3: Stevie Wilkerson of the Orioles came to bat in the fourth, a ball came close to him, he acted like it hit him, the up directed him to first base and he began walking down the line. The White sox challenged the call, it was overturned, Wilkerson came back to bat and promptly hit a solo homer to give the O’s what turned out to be the winning run. That’ll show ’em.

Red Sox 11, Tigers 4: J.D. Martinez hit two singles, a double and drove in a run, Christian Vázquez had two RBI singles and Eduardo Rodríguez allowed only one run over six as the Sox got an easy win. Haven’t been many of those so far this year.

Astros 7, Twins 1: Justin Verlander gave the Astros the strong start they’ve been needing of late, going eight innings, allowing only one run on four hits while striking out eight. Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley each drove in a pair as those two and Carlos Correa all homered.

Yankees 6, Angels 5: The Angels led 5-0 heading into the sixth inning, didn’t score another run and watched a Yankees comeback capped by D.J. LeMahieu singling in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Andrelton Simmons hit two homers but the Angels lost for the ninth time in ten games.