Was the 2019 Season a Failure?

Screenshot courtesy of MLB.com.

There have now been a few days to digest the sting of Saturday’s defeat, but I’m not yet ready to say I’m over it. Viewed within the context of the whole series, that is one of the most painful losses I’ve ever endured as a fan. For me, the enduring memories of the 2019 ALCS will be blown chances with men on base, not one but two hanging sliders, and a ball that bounced ever-so-perfectly to shortstop Carlos Correa. It feels like the Yankees should have, or at least could have, finally slain their personal dragon this time. That will have to wait at least another year.

After the series, de facto team captain Aaron Judge had this to say about the Yankees season: “It’s a failure. In spring training we talked about winning the division, putting ourselves in a good spot in the postseason and the World Series, and we came up short. So no matter how many games we won in the regular season or anything else we did, the season’s a failure.”

I have found myself thinking a lot about this quote since. I’m not really sure what to make of it. But, as I recover from the loss, I am asking myself if the Yankees 2019 season was a failure. Was it?

A few years ago, I would have argued that the “championship or bust” mentality, so often espoused by Derek Jeter, was a joyless and mechanical way to view baseball. I’ll be the first to admit it: I grew tired of hearing Jeter say this. It felt like that mentality made the Yankees unlikeable, rigid, and overly businesslike. After all, baseball is a 162-game slog with ups-and-downs and the playoffs are not an encapsulation of that season. Anything goes in the big dance, as they say. (But not everyone says this.)

But for some reason, when Judge said it on Saturday, it made me respect him even more. I know I saw others on Twitter and across the Yankee fandom saying the same, even many folks who shared my aversion to the Jeter-era platitudes.

So, what gives?

Personally, I think there is a natural divide here. It is cathartic to hear a player like Judge, the anchor of a team that has come so close but never taken that final step, say the obvious because in the most narrow of senses, he is correct. The Yankees are a championship-caliber team with championship aspirations. Before the season, the team–and we as fans–all believed they could win the World Series. They didn’t. Judge is right: that’s a failure.

That his statement comes on the back of a frustrating offseason (even if many of the moves worked out) and a frustrating lack of action at the trade deadline makes it even more refreshing to hear. But it also makes sense. For players, winning is a professional goal that they, to some degree, can control.

At the same time, though, I think the “win-or-its-a-failure” perspective is a hollow one for a fan. At the end of the day, sports are about entertainment and drama, and there’s no doubt that the 2019 Yankees team was entertaining and dramatic. I will remember them fondly despite the bitter ending. We have no control over the outcomes. We can only watch the story unfold. And what a story it was.

We saw Brett Gardner pummel a go-ahead, 8th-inning grand slam against the Red Sox for his 100th career home run in a career year. We saw a triumphant Didi grand slam against the Rays that all but clinched the division. We watched Gleyber Torres emerge as the next Yankee superstar. We saw the rise of Gio Urshela (.890 OPS!), were all proven wrong about DJ LeMahieu, and watched the Yankees win more than 100 games for the second consecutive year. There were many other moments, many other stories. Too many to detail here. And that is the point.

I am glad to hear Judge articulate the win-or-bust mentality. That’s a part of the fun of this team–they want to win, and they want it badly. That much is obvious; it’s endearing and that spirit was a huge part of the reason New York roared as one when DJ LeMahieu’s home run cleared the fence on Saturday. The Yankees were alive, and of course they were. They never quit. But they got beat anyway.

By outright dismissing the season as a failure because of this, fans risk forgetting, or devaluing at least, a season that was filled with nearly unrelenting joy up until the last five games. If you stuck with the 2019 Yankees for the entirety of the 162 game marathon, you know they could be called many things: persistent, tough, fun, talented, resilient, confident, savages. A failure they were not, no matter how their story ended.

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14 Comments

  1. Dani

    Was the season a failure?

    In terms of on-field performance: no. Considering all the injuries I think it’s a minor miracle that they won 100 games. The last think I’d do is blame the players, they did their job, they just lost to a better team in the ALCS. That’s baseball, Suzyn.

    I think it was a failure in terms of team construction. They knew they need another high end starter, they knew that for a long time and – no disrespect to James Paxton – didn’t do anything.

  2. NYYROC

    The Yankees mantra is win the World Series or the season is a failure. They have all the resources to build a great team. Yet they’ve won 1 World Series in the last 19 years. So how does Cashman still have a job?

    Tomorrow at noon on YES are the year end press conferences by Boone and Cashman. I expect Cashman to say a whole lot of nothing as usual.

  3. DJ LeMeddardhieu

    And you’re seeing the Nationals have no problem hitting Cole. It most certainly was a failure. These Astros pitchers are hittable for a good lineup that doesn’t strike out 50 times a game.

  4. Dan A

    Yes, it was a failure.

    I’ll say less of the blame goes to the players though than to ownership. Hal cheaped out on starting pitching, that harmed the Yanks immensely. It gassed their bullpen in the playoffs. It cost them wins in the regular season. Corbin compared to Happ literally could have been the deciding factor in home field advantage. Then maybe we’d be playing tonight.

    So, the season is a failure, because ownership failed.

  5. MaryAnn Slater

    AMEN

  6. Your a Looser Trader FotD

    I reject the framework. Binary where there’s a sea of gray. Disappointing? For sure. Failure? Ask the bottom half of the league if they’d take it. Also, ask the Bros. Stein about their bank accounts after the season they just had.

  7. RetroRob

    I understand Judge’s quote. Their goal was to win the World Series. They didn’t, so it was a failure. I agree with that, but doesn’t mean the season was a failure. We watched the team play for 162 games, win the ALDS, play tough against the Astros, but fall short. The enjoyment the team doesn’t go away. The loss at the end can’t invalidate all that was done along the way. I enjoyed the season, there were many, many great moments, it just didn’t land the team #28.

    The “championship or bust” mentality isn’t just the Yankees, btw. It’s now all teams that are in contention. The media creates that narrative for all of them. Once a team loses, they get buried with all the things that went “wrong” and what needs to be fixed. It’s become much worse in the 24/7/365 news coverage, social media, etc. That’s probably the least enjoyable aspect of the baseball season today compared to ten, 20 and more years back.

  8. dasit

    i had more fun and experienced more indelible moments this season than my padre and brewer fan friends have in their entire lives
    it’s absurd to call it a failure

  9. Costanza

    I’ve always hated the “championship or failure” mentality. No, you don’t want to hear the players saying, “Hey, we ran up some great numbers this season, so who cares if we didn’t take the World Series?” Of course you want them to care. And of course you _want_ them to win the championship. But if “championship or failure” is true, then 29 teams “fail” every season — and that’s nonsense. There were several great teams this year. Only one can take it all. The others don’t fail, they come up short. If you’re watching baseball solely to see your team win the World Series, you’re completely missing the point.

    Now, if you want to talk about smaller scale failures like a front office approach that appears de-prioritize starting pitching, or the inability of the strength and conditioning staff (and the players themselves) to prepare the players to avoid injury, or the manager/braintrust being maybe too rigid in their approach and not adjusting quickly enough to how the players were performing _now_, etc, sure, there were failures. But, really, without much of a rotation, and with so many players going down to injury, the season could have been dreadful. The fact that not only did this team win so much but that we were treated to so many incredible individual performances, team wins, and highlight reel moments — in spite of the various difficulties — made the Yankees incredibly fun to watch this year, making the season nothing like a failure at all.

    • DJ Lemeddardhieu

      No, Costanza. Not every club has the win a championship or bust mentality. The Yankees do because that’s the legacy that George left. The Twins loved what they did. The Orioles knew they’d be awful. Only a few teams this year had that championship or bust mentality – Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, Sox. And what I love about the Sox is they admitted their failure and fired the GM. Why haven’t we done that despite failing 18/19 years since 2000?

      The medical and training staffs have no clue what they’re doing. Telling Hicks to get life altering TJS and then a month later he’s fine. Boone is too dependent on the analytics like Girardi was dependent on his binder. He doesn’t look at Ottavino and see that he’s struggling. He doesn’t look at Green and see that he’s tired. He doesn’t look at Tanaka in Game 1 and see that he’s dominating. Watch the game. Feel the game. Can you imagine Joe Torre taking out Mariano Rivera because the analytics dept told him to put in Jeff Nelson?

  10. Live through the 1966 season then tell me about failure and feeling crushed.

  11. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    It was a colossal failure, Bobby. Judge is absolutely right. Baseball is not about having fun. If you want to have fun become an accountant. I used to take these losses as bad as you but when you grow older they don’t sting as much. Jeter always used to say championship or bust because the Yankees always won the championship back in the late 90’s and that was drilled into his head by George.

    It’s refreshing to hear a take like Judge’s because Hal could are less whether we win or lose as long as he’s making a buck. I wish Judge were running the team but when your owner is Mr. Burns and your doctor is Dr. Nick and your trainer is Homer Simpson you just aren’t going to get past the vaunted Astros.

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