Some teams would be ecstatic about winning their 75th game of the season on Aug. 18, leading their division by seven games with 42 to play and considered a mathematical lock to make the postseason. Not the Yankees.
The regular season is viewed as a formality in the Bronx — a six-month practice for the postseason. Winning 95, 100 or 114 games from April to September is as valuable as winning 72 if you can't win 11 in October. And any season that doesn't end with a confetti-filled Canyon of Heroes, usually ends with this statement from The Boss:
"I am deeply disappointed at our being eliminated so early in the playoffs. This result is absolutely not acceptable to me. Nor to all our great and loyal Yankee fans. I want to congratulate the (winning team's name here) organization and wish them well. Rest assured, we will go back to work immediately and try to right this sad failure and provide a championship for the Yankees as is our goal every year."
There aren’t too many teams in sports that believe anything other than a championship is a failure. And in a league with 30 teams, in which just eight make the postseason, the idea might be a bit irrational. But it's what separates the Yankees from the other 29 teams in the majors and almost every other team in professional sports.
Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte know what it’s like to earn a ring while wearing the pinstripes as homegrown talent. Alex Rodriguez and countless others over the last eight seasons can shed some light on what it’s like to play in New York with bare fingers. And newcomers CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira will find out what it means to be a free-agent acquisition in the Bronx come the second season.
Sabathia has already won 14 games, and he could win 20 this season. But if he lays an egg in Game 1 of the ALDS, nothing he did from April to September will matter. And the same goes for Burnett and his regular-season accomplishments.
Teixeira could be the MVP of the American League in 2009, but if his October is anything like his April, A-Rod will have to tell him how valuable MVP awards earned in the regular season are then.
The Steinbrenners didn't spend over $423 million on the three to reach the postseason. They spent the nearly half-billion dollars to win the postseason.
If the Yankees continue on their current path, they will lock up home-field advantage in the first round of the postseason and likely throughout October. Unable to reach the ALCS in their last three playoff appearances, the stakes are much greater now for the highest-priced team, in the highest-priced stadium, on the biggest stage in the world.
The Yankees can be the "greatest regular-season show on Earth" as Mike Lupica has called them since their last world championship, but like Big Stein has said in recent years, anything but a ring is a "sad failure," and rightfully so.