On Joy and the Expectation to Win

Report: Winning bid for Darvish is larger than Dice-K's
Report: Yankees are "not getting" Yu Darvish

In some ways, the Knicks and Yankees are very much alike. Both franchises have long been run by families that believe you have to spend to win, and have attacked the free agent and trade markets with zeal. Both have therefore been subjected to various luxury tax and revenue sharing plans that are aimed at their ability to spend at a much higher level than other clubs. Finally, both play in recently built or refurbished spaces that allow them to charge their fans exorbitant fees to enjoy the gameday experience.

However, when it comes to the most important elements, these two franchises could not be more dissimilar. The Knicks were, for a very long time, the worst run franchise in the NBA and possibly all of sports. The GM tenures of Scott Layden and Isaiah Thomas were riddled with terrible trades for aging and overrated stars, long term contracts given to injury risks, poor drafting, scandals, and worst of all, interminable losing. The Knicks were a punchline for over a decade, so much so that many Knick fans have been wary to jump back on board now that the team seems headed in the right direction.

Conversely, much like DJ Kahled and Tim Tebow,  all the Yankees do is win. Over the last 13 years, the Yankees have been run shrewdly by Brian Cashman, and with a major assist from the Steinbrenner wallet have continued to build the legacy of the winningest franchise in sports. They have numerous marketable stars and fan favorites, and have also added a solid farm system to provide the franchise with exciting young talent. They have long provided a striking contrast to the Knicks, throwing the Dolans’ failures into stark relief.

This contrast also manifests itself in how fans react and relate to the two clubs. One thing that constant winning does is breed the expectation of success from fans. We no longer hope that the Yankees can contend, but expect it, and we have not experienced an expectation-free season since 1996. We get a bit confused and upset when the Yankees claim they want to cut payroll, as they have set a certain standard and we fear that they may no longer be able to meet it. This kind of attitude lends a certain tension to each season, as high expectations also leads to a greater fear of failure. I know I am not the only one who feels a modicum of relief mingled with the joy I experience when the Yankees clinch a playoff spot or win a playoff series.

Conversely, the Knicks enter the upcoming season with a different sort of expectation. They finally put the club in the capable hands of Donnie Walsh, and he has handed things off to Glenn Grunwald, who also seems to know what he is doing. The team finally looks ready to contend, but it is hard to tell at this point whether we can expect a deep playoff run or whether they are built to win one round and then bow out. When they lost in last year’s first round, most Knicks fans shrugged it off and looked excitedly to the future. There is a great level of mystery to their upcoming season, and any success will likely be met with the pure, unbridled joy reserved for a team and a franchise that has long suffered as a laughingstock and a perennial loser.

That sense of pure joy is somewhat missing from Yankee fandom. With frequent winning comes a greater fear of failure, and that greater fear of failure will by nature cause some measure of relief to be part of the emotions we feel when the club comes out on top. There is nothing we can do about it, and I would definitely rather have the frequent winning rather than that emotion in the long run. But I look with a bit of jealousy at my 12-year old self and wish there was some way I could recapture that joy I felt in 1996.

Report: Winning bid for Darvish is larger than Dice-K's
Report: Yankees are "not getting" Yu Darvish
  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    Reminds me of how sad I was when the Giants lost to the Pats in the Super Bowl, allowing the Pats to complete an historic 19-0 season. It would’ve been so sweet had the men in blue overcome all odds, complete lack of expectation, and turned the sports world on its head by upsetting the overwhelming favorite Pats. Man oh man. Imagine what that would’ve been like? Yeah. Damn. Would’ve felt a ton like the 1996 Yanks. Damn.

  • Peter R

    Well you were also 12, possibly the greatest age anyone can ever be. It is the top of the top, all downhill from there.

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

      That’s so sad man. You peaked too soon.

    • Plank

      That is sad. 28 was the best for me, a steady increase from 17-28, now experiencing a slow decline.

  • CMP

    You have a great point about the expectations of winning. It’s very true that when a team is dominant like the Yankees were in the late 90s, winning a championship can make you feel more a sense of relief from not losing rather than a true sense of exhilaration from winning and that’s kind of unfortunate though given the 2 choices, I’d sign up for the Yankees side of the coin every time.

    I also think the Knicks have a good chance this year if they get even decent play from their back court. Baron Davis hopefully is on the way tomorrow.

  • TomH

    When I was 12–truly, a great age–the Yankees were in process of winning their 5th AL pennant in a row and on their way to their 5th Series win in a row. Thus 1954 was a great shock: can such things be? that the imperial Yankees might lose?

    Yep, worse was coming: 1965, Year of Catastrophic Memory. It’s better not to have the pleasantness of 1976 (return to glory, etc.). The pleasantness of 1953, in the middle of a stream of success, is much better.

    • Plank

      Do you think there is a 1965 coming in the next decade? I say 2015. Tex still on he books, Arod still on the books, CC will be on the books, the farm could stop the flow of talent because of the new CBA.

      • TomH

        You ask, “Do you think there is a 1965 coming in the next decade?? Hell, yes! However, I’m perhaps a crank on this subject, like people who lived through the Depression (my father’s generation) and kept warning people of my generation that another one would come one day. (But wait a minute!) I don’t know if it’ll be in or around 2015, but your points are well taken. My impression is that the Yankee owners should have (should) learned a lesson from 1965 (assuming they think historically–but who, today, does?). Attendance was nothing to write home about in those dreary years. At a certain point the networks gave up on the team for “Game of the Week” telecasts.

        I find it hard to believe they could endure declining attendance, declining YES ratings (yes rewritten in lower case).

        I also suspect MLB might discover that a return of 1965 and all that is not to its liking. After all, the Yankees are a team Americans LOVE to hate (and a team many Americans love). Let’s see how they’ll like a long era of second-rate post-season ratings.

        The odd thing about 1965 was that it followed an expectation of continued glory resulting from the CBS purchase. What a bust that was. You know, where the real action of baseball analysis is is not in WAR’s and OBP’s and all the other stuff. The real analytic action is–or, to be precise, SHOULD be–in the analysis of the business of baseball. Health of franchises, acumen of management, interest of ownership in or indifference of ownership towards team success, etc. But we never see this analysis because the data is far harder to obtain than the mere statistical stuff.

        I’m still not convinced that the Steinbrenner sons are interested in the team in anything like the manner their old man was (for all his well known faults). I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say they are NOT interested. I’m just, as I say, a bit skeptical.

  • Mike HC

    The Yanks did miss the playoffs in 2008 though, so winning in 2009 did have a slight “nothing is guaranteed, gotta enjoy the moment” type of feel.

    But agreed with your point in general. It is just human nature.

  • Rich in NJ

    Pure joy from my point of view, to the extent that it’s possible as one ages and added responsibilities constrict the impact that being a sports fan can have on one’s life, is largely a function of watching homegrown players develop from the time they are drafted/signed until they blossom into productive MLers that contribute to winning.

    I think the foundation of the Yankees’ recent (1994 and beyond) success has been built on their ability to surround a homegrown core with complimentary players. As that original group declines/retires, the key to similar future success (which will likely be mitigated by the parity spawned by subsequent CBA) will, in least in part, be dependent on their ability to form another homegrown core.

    To that end, a new core built around Cano, Robertson, Montero, and one or two of their young starting pitchers (supplemented by CC and Granderson) will likely enable me to really enjoy watching this team over the next five to ten years.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      Congratulations on your post Rich. I feel the same as you do. I would not trade my youngsters for passe ballplayers. If you remember the run of the 90s, it was done with very good ballplayers, no superstars. The core of Williams, Jeter, Posada, Pettite and Mariano led the way with the assistance of Cone, Key,El Duque and others. That team’s payroll was low and compared to the other teams of the era.

      • Plank

        Williams, Jeter, Boggs, Clemens, Cone, Knoblauch, Martinez, Wells, and more were stars not just solid players.

        Expecting any team other than one in 100 years to have players at key positions like Posada, Jeter, Pettitte, Williams, and Rivera to come up and perform like they did at approximately the same time on one team isn’t something any team should ever count on.

        Saying they should replicate the teams of the 90s is similar to saying just replicate the 27 team. It’s easier said than done.

        • Jose M. Vazquez..

          I am not saying that we should replicate the 90s team. I am merely saying or trying to say that we should build a new core of youngsters and not give them away just for the sake of making a trade. This especially if it is for run of the mill talent.

          • Plank


            I just think the idea of building a solid core of young ballplayers isn’t something that happens just by wanting it to. Every team wants to do that. The Orioles have been trying for over a decade and it hasn’t been able to.

            If the Yankees do that with the players they have in the farm now, that’s a great recipe for a perpetual 85 win team in the near future. Maybe 90 wins if they’re lucky.

        • Rich in NJ

          Saying they should replicate the teams of the 90s is similar to saying just replicate the 27 team. It’s easier said than done.

          That’s absurd. The idea is to replicate the process because it’s the basis of sound baseball decision-making. Suggesting that it means that they can replicate the result is ridiculous, especially in light of the subsequent CBA, as I mentioned above.

          • Plank

            Yeah, they just need to get another Mariano, Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Williams to come up within a few years of each other and have HOF or close to it careers for a decade and a half again. It worked in the 90s, why wouldn’t it work now?

            Of course they should replicate the process. Every team does and has since the beginning of the farm system. I’m just saying, expecting that amount of contribution from the farm is beyond any reasonable expectation.

            • Rich in NJ

              Suggesting that anyone is expecting similar success is to invoke a strawman argument.

              As for your point that “[e]very team does and has since the beginning of the farm system,” if you remember George’s modus operandi in the ’80s, it was the polar opposite of that (e.g., McGriff for Dale Murray, Drabek for Rhoden, McGee for Frazier, Buhner for Phelps, etc.)

              • Plank

                You quoted when I said the team expecting the farm to be as fruitful as the 90s easier said then done, then called that statement absurd.

                I’m not saying they shouldn’t try. I never said or thought that. They should try. I’m not making the strawman.

                I’m saying the notion of counting on developing a young core is easier said than done. Especially with the new CBA.

                • Rich in NJ

                  My point is that your assertion is obvious.

                  No one is counting on anything.

                  Some of us just want a commitment to a smart drafting and developing program, and the patience to see it through.

                  Everything else is a distraction.

                  • Plank

                    By everything else you mean signing free agents and making trades? That seems…extreme.

  • flamingo

    Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the team stopped winning. It seems improbable to me at this point, but it can happen, and a lot of people seem to take perverse pleasure in pointing out the many ways in which it can occur.

    But I was talking to a casual Yankees fan yesterday, who told me that the Yankees are the best team in baseball because they can afford the best players, and instead of laughing or muttering “Cliff Lee” and “CBA” under my breath, we talked about 2009.

    I don’t think winning ever gets old. Second-guessing everything does, though. I’d rather sit back on a lazy summer day and live in the moment.

  • Esteban

    HA @ “Much like DJ Khaled and Tim Tebow, all the Yankees do is win.”


  • Pat D

    You certainly can’t expect to win if you root for the New York Giants.

  • Tom in Georgia

    Very nice article.

  • RetroRob

    Twelve is an age that can never be recaptured.

    • Plank

      That’s the title to Jerry Sandusky’s next book.