Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Bookend Champions

It seems appropriate, in a way, that the first decade of the 21st century should begin and end with the New York Yankees winning the World Series.

With the exception of the 1980s, the Yankees had world champions in every decade of the 20th century since winning their first title in 1923.

Beyond that, I see no special significance in the Yankees' victory. Even though the Phillies were the defending world champions and they won the series opener behind the brilliant pitching of Cliff Lee, you didn't need to be psychic to see the Yankees — the only major league club to win 100 games or more this year — emerging with the trophy.

They've won the championship 27 times, which is nearly three times as many as their nearest competitors, the National League's St. Louis Cardinals.

In hindsight, it seems only appropriate that the Yankees should win the title in their inaugural season in the new Yankee Stadium. They won their first title the year they began playing in the original Yankee Stadium, so why should things be any different with Yankee Stadium 2.0?

As Mike Lupica writes in the New York Daily News, the title seems at home there.

I don't know if, as many are suggesting, this was one of the great Yankee teams of all time. It's hard to make that assertion, when the past is dotted with names like Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio and Mantle. But even if the Yankees did not field a lineup of immortals (and who's to say, at this point, that they did not?), that takes nothing away from what they achieved.

I'm sure there is great pain among Philadelphia baseball fans today. The city waited nearly 60 years to avenge the Whiz Kids' loss to New York in 1950, but the Phillies only got halfway there. Well, at least this time they won a couple of World Series games. The Whiz Kids lost a four–game sweep. Maybe the third time will be the charm for Philly, but if it takes as long for that rematch to materialize as this one did, fans who remember the Whiz Kids and lived to see the rematch will be long gone. For that matter, many of the fans who watched this series but weren't alive in 1950 will be gone as well.

More than most sports, it seems, baseball is a tough sport in which to repeat. The team the Phillies beat in last year's World Series, for example, the Tampa Bay Rays, did not qualify for this year's playoffs. And you don't have to go back too far to find other examples of teams that thought they would be back in the playoffs the next year but wound up slipping from the postseason radar.

Phillies fans should be grateful that their team had the opportunity to defend its title. Even if the Phils fell short of their goal, they enjoyed an opportunity that baseball teams don't get very often.

Unless you're the Yankees.

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