COMMENTARY | It is said that in baseball that springtime is the season of hope. Every team, every fan base goes into the coming season with thoughts of great things for their teams come autumn.
But sometimes teams come into seasons with great expectations only to fall flat, leaving their fans and themselves with the bitter aftertaste of shattered dreams and goals not achieved.
Every franchise has teams that have built up expectations only to have the guys on the field crush those dreams like aluminum cans in a recycling machine.
Three teams in New York Yankees history stick out like no others for disappointment and the stench of failure. Here are those teams:
3. 1982 New York Yankees
The Yankees had won five division titles and four American League pennants in the previous six seasons, but had taken a humiliating loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 World Series. The Yankees pitching staff had been battered, surrendering 27 runs in the six-game series, including 24 while losing the final four games after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
Owner George Steinbrenner promised changes, according to Bob Cohen of TheBaseballPage.com. Reggie Jackson, an enormously popular player in the Bronx after his three-homer barrage in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, was allowed to leave via free agency. Dave Winfield had been dubbed "Mr. May" by Steinbrenner after his 1-for-22 showing in the World Series against the Dodgers.
The Yankees signed free-agent outfielder Dave Collins, who had stolen 79 bases for the Cincinnati Reds in 1980, and then traded two prospects to the Reds to pick up outfielder Ken Griffey. Steinbrenner wanted to emphasize speed and aggressive baserunning.
Steinbrenner also made a trade that would look horrible in retrospect, sending young outfielder Willie McGee to the St. Louis Cardinals for journeyman left-hander Bob Sykes. Sykes never pitched in a game for the Yankees. McGee went on to win two batting titles and a Most Valuable Player Award for the Cardinals. Whoops.
The 1982 team never quite came together. Manager Bob Lemon was axed after just 14 games and a 6-8 start. Gene Michael was reinstalled as the dugout boss after he had been fired by Steinbrenner the previous September and replaced by Lemon (this sort of thing happened quite a bit during Steinbrenner's early years owning the club). Michael was let go with 62 games left and the Yankees at 50-50. Scout Clyde King took over the club and the Yankees stumbled to a 79-83 finish.
Little did fans realize at the time that it would be the first year of more than a decade of mediocrity, or worse, in the Bronx. New York didn't return to the postseason again until 1995.
2. 1959 New York Yankees
Entering the 1959 season, there was no reason to think the Yankees weren't primed for a fifth straight American League pennant and a serious run at a second consecutive World Series title. In the previous decade under Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel, the Yankees had taken a remarkable nine pennants and won seven World Series.
Instead, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, falling to an almost unheard of 14-22 and 9.5 games out of first place by May 26. New York would recover, to an extent, but their 79-75 record left them as an also-ran, 25 games behind the pennant-winning Chicago White Sox in third place.
Lots of things went wrong for the Yankees in 1959. First baseman Bill Skowron hurt his back and played in just 74 games. Defending Cy Young Award winner Bob Turley went from a 21-7 mark with a 2.97 ERA, a 1.247 WHIP and a league-leading 19 complete games in 1958 to just 8-11 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.451 WHIP while losing his spot in the starting rotation in 1959.
The offense struggled. The Yankees hit just .260/.319/.402 as a team and scored only 687 runs, a drop of 72 from the previous year. The staff ERA went up more than a quarter of a run from 3.22 to 3.60. Scoring less and allowing more runs is never a great recipe for success.
At the end of the season, the Yankees made a trade with the Kansas City Athletics for a slugger named Roger Maris, who would win the next two MVP Awards, set a home-run record and help the team to five straight AL pennants.
1. 2004 New York Yankees
The Yankees were coming off a World Series appearance in 2003, where they fell to the wild-card Florida Marlins in six games. But the Yankees reloaded for 2004 in a big way, trading infielder Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later to the Texas Rangers shortly before spring training opened to get reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez. With Derek Jeter entrenched at shortstop, Rodriguez shifted over to third base. The Yankees also signed free-agent slugger Gary Sheffield, who had hit 39 homers and drove in 132 runs the previous year for the Atlanta Braves.
This team was loaded.
On the mound, free-agent Kevin Brown was expected to pitch like the guy who had won 14 games and had an ERA of 2.39 in 2003 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, Brown struggled in the Bronx, missing time with injuries and managing a 4.09 ERA in 22 starts.
Still, the team steamrolled through the American League East, winning 101 games and finishing three games clear of the Boston Red Sox, who captured the American League wild-card berth by seven games.
The Red Sox swept the Anaheim Angels and the Yankees made quick work of the Minnesota Twins in a four-game American League Division Series, setting the stage for a rematch of their epic American League Championship Series from the previous October, when Aaron Boone launched a home run off Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th inning to give New York a dramatic Game 7 victory.
There would be no such drama in 2004, or so it seemed.
The Yankees outslugged the BoSox 10-7 to take Game 1. Jon Lieber out-dueled Pedro Martinez in a 3-1 Yankees win in Game 2.
Shifting to Fenway Park for Game 3, the Yankees exploded for 19 runs and 22 hits, crushing Boston 19-8 behind two home runs from Hideki Matsui. This series was over; after all, no team in Major League Baseball history had ever come back from three games down to win a seven-game series.
With a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4, Mariano Rivera, also known as the greatest closer in postseason history, came to the mound to finish off the sweep. Kevin Millar coaxed out a walk and pinch-runner Dave Roberts had one of the most important stolen bases in postseason history, swiping second base and scoring the tying run on Bill Mueller's ground-ball single to center.
In the bottom of the 12th, David Ortiz launched a two-run homer off reliever Paul Quantrill and the Red Sox were still alive. Ortiz had the game-winner in the 14th, a single off Esteban Loaiza, to give the Red Sox the win in Game 5.
Boston went on to win Game 6 (Curt Schilling's infamous "Bloody Sock" game) and Game 7 at Yankee Stadium to complete the greatest comeback in baseball history.
Or the Yankees finished off the greatest choke in baseball history.
That's all a matter of perspective.
Phil Watson is a freelance journalist and commentator based in upper Michigan who covers the New York Yankees for the Yahoo Contributor Network.
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