Thursday, November 05, 2009

Six Reasons Why I'm Happy That the Yankees Won Last Night

Also known as the post that I never thought I would write.

For the record, I hate the Yankees as much as any self-respecting Southerner. That said, I found myself in the unique position of not rooting against them last night. I'm still coming to grips with this new feeling, so an explanation is in order:

1. The Yankees achieved nothing other than successfully exercise raw economic power. Honestly, how much of a baseball achievement is it to pay more money than any other team for the three biggest free agents on the market in a winter in which there were three big free agents on the market? It must have taken some real skill for the Yankees to figure out that C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira are good players. And lo and behold, who were the Yankees' heroes in the post-season? Burnett (at least in game two), A-Rod, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui. Mercenaries, all of them. Oh, and let's not forget about the Jeter/Posada/Pettite/Rivera core, who do prove that the Yankees are about more than just offering more money than anyone else in baseball...or at least they were over a decade ago. The Yankees winning is a nice reminder of how baseball actually works, and for that I'm happy.

2. I found the idea of the Phillies repeating to be distasteful. I have nothing against this Philadelphia team, other than the fact that they represent Philadelphia. There's nothing aversive about Utley, Rollins, Howard, Lee, or Hamels. However, I have this gnawing notion that a team that repeats as a champion ought to be a great team. No college football team has repeated since 1994-95 Nebraska. No college basketball team has repeated since 1991-92 Duke. No NFL team has repeated since the 2003-04 Patriots. No NBA team has repeated since the 2000-02 Lakers. No baseball team has repeated since the 1998-2000 Yankees. All of those teams were great. Does this Phillies team fit that bill? A team that won 92 and 93 games in a relatively weak league? (And before 2008, the Phillies had not won 90 games in a season since 1993.) There's nothing awe-inspiring about this Philadelphia team, so my sense of order in the universe has been confirmed by them not winning the title.

[Edit: a helpful commenter pointed out that I forgot that Florida repeated as national champions in college basketball two years ago. I'm comfortable labeling that Florida team as great. I'm uncomfortable with the fact that I complained at the time that Florida would have been viewed as an all-time great team if they were North Carolina or UCLA and now I've forgotten that they repeated. Another commenter has pointed out that I glossed over USC's back-to-back titles in football. I could make the "they didn't win consecutive crystal balls" argument, but I don't really believe that. If you are #1 in the AP poll at the end of the year, you're a national champion, just like you are if you win the BCS trophy. USC and LSU were both champs in 2003. I should refrain from making statements without thinking about them.]

3. It shows that numerous figures in the media were idiots for the "A-Rod is a choker" meme. I have to admit that I'm happy for Alex Rodriguez. One of the dumbest labels in sports is the "he doesn't respond to pressure" tag. The tag is inevitably applied based on a small sample size and selective use of evidence. It assumes that someone who is better than 99.9% of the population at a particular sport suddenly loses the ability to handle performance anxiety. Most importantly, the people who apply it never get that their binary clutch/unclutch worldview is flawed, so when an athlete or coach shatters their perception, they don't admit that they were wrong. Rather, they just move on to the next person to label unfairly.

Bill Simmons, make my point for me:

More than a few Colts fans thanked me during signings this week for "coming around on Peyton" or "finally appreciating Peyton." As if I had been irrationally biased against him this entire time. Look, you can't tell me Manning didn't reinvent himself to some degree in 2008 and 2009. I always thought he was the A-Rod of football: great when it didn't matter, sketchy when it did. You may disagree. But that's how I felt. This season, he has reached "I will never, ever, EVER bet against that guy in a night game" status. Which is saying something. He owns that team. Owns it.
HE'S THE SAME GUY YOU RIPPED AS A CHOKER FOR YEARS!!! It's not like Manning got some sort of personality transplant and he can suddenly respond to pressure whereas before, he wilted. He's the same guy who led his team from behind on a number of occasions in college and the pros, only now, he's not being judged based on a small sample size of road playoff games against a defensive genius at the top of his game deploying excellent personnel. Simmons' refusal to admit that he was wrong illustrates perfectly why clutch/unclutch analysts keep on making the same mistake. So yay for A-Rod (a player who had 1,000+ OPSs in the 2000 and 2004 postseasons) for winning a title and getting a collection of misguided critics off his back. I'm anxiously looking forward to the next highly conditioned, incredibly successful athlete who is going to be portrayed as the Scarecrow.

And before I finish with Simmons, note that he deployed the "that's how I felt" crutch, which is a surefire way to know that someone is wrong because they are substituting their feelings for an actual argument. He's like the opponents of gay marriage who defend their position with the "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman" claim. That's not an argument; it's a statement of feeling. I don't care what you believe; tell me why you're right...or maybe you can't.

4. Speaking of Simmons, the obnoxiousness of the Red Sox Nation phenomenon has softened my dislike of the Yankees. If nothing else, Boston's emergence as a Yankees-lite franchise has reduced the Yankees' role as an evil hegemon in baseball. (To Simmons' credit, he has acknowledged the Yankees-lite point on a number of occasions.)

5. The Phillies' loss probably annoys Buzz Bissinger. Also, the Yankees winning makes Mets fans even more miserable. Schadenfreude!

6. The Series didn't go seven games, so we won't be subjected to an endless barrage of "what a classic!" myth-making that occurs like clockwork when baseball teams from the Northeast are involved.


Anonymous said...

The Florida Gators repeated as college basketball champions in 2006-2007.

Anonymous said...

Man, did you ever nail this one. You summed up how I felt perfectly.

I'd also add that it would have been really tough for me to see the Phillies win 2 titles back to back when our Braves could only manage 1 in 14 trips to the postseason. That may be petty, and the Marlins may have already done just that, but that's how I felt.

Anonymous said...

USC won back-2-back national titles in 03-04 and 04-05. They were an all-time great team, so that's not inconsistent with your analysis. Not as great as Nebraska, but great.

Paul M said...

I agree that Im glad for A-Rod to get all of the critics off of his back. But I disagree that people can't learn how to deal with pressure and anxiety as they experience it more.

For example, many people are terrified of public speaking. Inherently, it is a very public affair which opens people up to criticism, so they may feel anxiety or stage fright before they speak, hurting their performance. However, the more time you spend in front of people, the more comfortable you get and learn how to harness those emotions and so they don't cripple your message. You're the same you, but you have uses past failing to better your current self.