Not to be disturbingly self-centered or anything, but last night my team, the Boston Red Sox, lost a big one, in part because their old hero Pedro Martinez wasn’t up to the task of holding back a steamrolling Yankees lineup. (How do you say “daddy” in Japanese?) I’m talking about the designation of being Team of the Decade. Had the Phillies somehow won last night and in a Seventh Game tonight, only they and the Red Sox would have two World Series titles during the first decade of the twenty-first century, and the Red Sox would trump the Phillies, in my opinion, with their heavier playoff presence throughout the decade. The Phillies made it to the postseason three times, all in the last three years, while the Red Sox made it six times, and on top of that they made four appearances in the league championship series to the Phillies’ two appearances.
But that’s all moot: the fucking Yankees won, bookending the decade with titles in ’00 and ’09. And if you compare the accomplishments of the two teams with two World Series trophies in the decade, it’s not really that close. The Yankees won the division eight times to the Red Sox’ one division crown, and the Yankees added four more pennants to their gluttonous collection while the Red Sox won two. You could certainly argue that the Red Sox, in ending their 86-year title drought, deserve the distinction of being the story of the decade, and I’d also hold that in their two monumental ALCS clashes with the Yankees their comeback from an 0-3 hole in ’04 trumps the Boone home run in ’03. Really, the story of the decade comes down to the following message, written by a Yankees fan friend of mine in an email chain among friends a few days ago, as he described his mindset with his team holding a commanding three games to one lead:
“i’m permanently scarred from 2004. i’m convinced we’re gonna blow it. you happy now, red sox fans?”
I’m sure there aren’t any Yankees fans feeling any scars this morning, but at least the seed of doubt has been planted in their minds, and I guess that’s the best those of us who live under the basically eternal Yankees reign can hope for.
I say basically eternal because as I was thinking about this whole team of the decade thing during the series, I started going back over baseball history to see who would be the team of each decade, starting in 1900. I discovered that the Red Sox had a chance to become the first team ever besides the Yankees to repeat as team of the decade. How can anyone else repeat when they never get a chance to win the distinction in the first place?
Below is how I see it, decade by decade. I stick to the basics here, which is that I judge a team’s claim on a decade by championships. It may not necessarily be the best barometer of a team’s worth over the course of a decade, but championships are what we fans want.
1900s: Chicago Cubs
1910s: Boston Red Sox
1920s: New York Yankees
1930s: New York Yankees
1940s: New York Yankees
1950s: New York Yankees
1960s: New York Yankees
1970s: Oakland A’s
1980s: Los Angeles Dodgers
1990s: New York Yankees
2000s: New York Yankees
A couple notes on the list: I think it speaks to the game played during my childhood and teen years as a golden age of baseball that the 1970s and 1980s are the hardest for which to crown a Team of the Decade. (The 1960s are also a little iffy, since the Cardinals won as many titles as the Yankees and beat the Yankees head-to-head, but the Yankees won five pennants to the Cardinals’ three.) The 1970s are tough because there were so many dominant teams, the Yankees, Orioles, and especially the Reds all having strong claims for supremacy over the A’s, who followed their dynasty with a dive into putridness by the end of the decade. The 1980s are even tougher because it was the only decade we’ve ever seen without a dynasty, the Dodgers the only team with two titles, the first in a strike year and the second several years later by a squad that is often brought up as a “team of destiny,” which is a nice way of saying they somehow won even though they weren’t exactly bulging with Hall of Fame talent.
One thing you can say for certain about the first of the two Golden Age decades, the 1970s, is that the man pictured in the card above was the Player of the Decade, in terms of championships: he won five. Here’s my stab, without researching it beyond leafing through the jumbled mass of facts and fictions in my mind, at choosing the championship player of the decade since 1900:
1900s: Frank Chance
1910s: Harry Hooper
1920s: Babe Ruth
1930s: Lou Gehrig
1940s: Joe Dimaggio
1950s: Yogi Berra
1960s: Mickey Mantle
1970s: Reggie Jackson
1980s: Lonnie Smith (that’s right; look him up)
1990s: Mariano Rivera
2000s: Derek Jeter
The last two decades have come down to the last year to determine a decade champion. Had the Braves beat the Yankees in 1999 they would have been gotten the distinction, and if the Phillies had won this year the nod would have gone to the Red Sox. Now we’ll all have to wait around another ten years, if we’re lucky enough to last that long, to see if anyone else can sneak onto the list for a change. For now, as the card at the top of this page puts it, let’s just face it: the Yankees reign supreme.
I’ll leave it to Artie Lange to have the last word on the matter. I’m currently reading the recent book, Too Fat to Fish, by the comedian and compellingly self-destructive, big-hearted Howard Stern show personality, who is a raging Yankees fan, and the high point of his life is the moment memorialized by the card at the top of this page. He was there that day. Though he misspells Mike Torrez’ name (and earlier misidentified the yielder of Reggie’s third home run as Bob Welch, who wouldn’t have his famous showdowns with Reggie until 1978), he does a good job of describing the way childhood joy can turn into something almost haunting as the years go on:
Torres caught the ball easily to end the game, and he and Thurman Munson embraced at the mound and started the celebration. When I saw that they’d won, I practically went numb. I started screaming and jumping up and down uncontrollably; it was such an overwhelming feeling of elation that I was incapable of containing myself in any way. To this day, I have never been as happy as I was at that moment. I think that deep down, subconsciously, I have been chasing that feeling ever since. That type of rush, the kind that overcomes every bit of your being, is the same rush you get when you first chase money and gamble. And heroin? Don’t even get me started. I’ve done both of those over and over again, and even at their best they don’t measure up to a fraction of what I felt that night. I think most people’s happiest times occur when they’re children. Whether you’re rich or poor, we’re all kids for a while; we are basically carefree . . . the only time in life when anyone can ever be 100 percent happy. Not to sound like a negative prick, but once you become an adult, particularly if you do not have money, life becomes just one stressful, unending parade of depressing bullshit.
I didn’t put all this together as a ten-year-old. I was too busy losing my mind with joy. (p. 34)