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Some truly great moments in baseball history:

To mark the occasion of the Detroit Tigers' recent upset playoff victory over the Yankees, ESPN.com has compiled this list of great Yankees playoff collapses.

I realize, of course, that a key reason why the Yankees have had so many playoff collapses is that they get to the postseason so often (roughly once every two years since pilfering the Babe from the Red Sox back in 1920). The rate at which the Yankees experience catastrophic failure in the playoffs is probably no greater than one would expect based on random chance variation. But that doesn't prevent me from enjoying moments like this! Moreover, 4 of the 10 collapses on the ESPN list have happened in the last six years. Maybe it's just a random blip, but perhaps the incidence of Yankees' collapses is going up.

UPDATE: The ESPN list, while pretty thorough, omits several good candidates, including the Big Red Machine sweep of the Yankees in the 1976 World Series, and the Kansas CIty Royals' sweep of a heavily favored Yankees team in the 1980 ALCS, a fitting revenge for three straight close defeats in the ALCS in 1976-78. Most importantly it fails to include the 1926 World Series, my personal favorite Yankees postseason defeat(with the exception of the 2004 "Reversal of the Curse," of course). In that series, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander came in an put down a bases loaded Yankees rally in Game 7, despite being hungover from celebrating his complete-game victory the night before in Game 6. Then, in the ninth inning, Babe Ruth "clinched" the Cardinals victory by getting caught stealing to make the last out of the series. Anyone who has ever seen a picture of the lumbering Babe knows that a Ruth steal attempt (especially with slugger Bob Meusel at the plate) is not exactly good strategy in a crucial situation!

This entire series of events was immortalized in the 1952 movie The Winning Team, starring Ronald Reagan as Alexander. It's definitely my favorite Reagan movie, for reasons having little to do with cinematic quality:).

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  2. Some truly great moments in baseball history:
  3. A Moneyball Victory:
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
It's not a random blip. It's the inevitable result of Joe Torre's management style. He waits for his team to score runs in big bunches with long hits, while his opponents can manufacture runs by playing "small ball." The Yankees can't catch up by playing "small ball" because they haven't practiced it all season long.

Torre's style has been successful in the regular season because the Yankees then face many weak pitching staffs. Torre's style fails in postseason play because the Yankees then face pitchers who are less likely to give up bunches of runs.
10.8.2006 4:31pm
Speaking the Obvious:
"4 of the 10 collapses on the ESPN list have happened in the last six years. Maybe it's just a random blip, but perhaps the incidence of Yankees' collapses is going up."


More evidence of global warming...
10.8.2006 4:49pm
jvarisco (www):
200 million dollars and you are starting Wright...what do you expect?

Though it is true that the Yanks got about zero breaks, from the blown call and then pickoff and Bernie missing a homer by about a foot in game 2 to the Tigers getting about 5 ground ball singles in a row. Oh, and Arod is being paid how much to suck horribly in the postseason?

You can laud the Tigers pitching. But then you realize that it consists of a rookie and a washed up old guy, both of who got smacked around in the regular season by this same lineup. The series was the Yanks' to lose, and they lost it - had they played well, what the Tigers did would not have mattered.
10.8.2006 6:40pm
Cenrand:
Why do you guys always neglect blogging about hockey?
10.8.2006 6:42pm
DRJ (mail):
If this pattern keeps up, someone might have to create a name for it. Yankee Collapse Syndrome (YCS)? Of course, every new disease also needs a cure. I suggest Viagra.
10.8.2006 6:48pm
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
Maybe it's a curse. And clearly the person who started it is Osama; 9/11 happens and then the Yankees lose six years in a row. We can call it the Curse of the Caliphate, or something. Hey, it's no more ridiculous than blaming it on Joe Torre.
10.8.2006 7:21pm
Brian Garst (www):
I don't really see how a team that finished only 2 games behind another in a 162 game season and then defeats that team really qualifies as an "upset". Maybe to the elitist ESPN eggheads who think the world revolves around New York it does, but not in the real world.

When your gameplan year after year seems to be little more than overpaying for over the hill talent, you're going to run into situations where your old guys don't perform. And given the rigors of a long season, it's most often going to happen at the end of the year (i.e. during the playoffs). Live by the fire, die by the fire.
10.8.2006 7:23pm
Automatic Caution Door:
Why do you guys always neglect blogging about hockey?

Because hockey is essentially a glorified minor-league sport, and relatively few people care about it?
10.8.2006 7:27pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Ruth was actually a very good base runner -- especially in 1926 when he was in his prime. The lumbering overweight Ruth is what we remember from the end of his career in the 1930's.
10.8.2006 10:21pm
woowoo:
The Diamondbacks win in 2001 wasn't really a Yankees collapse, just a great series that the Yankees lost in a stunning game 7. Might as well say that any time the Yankees lose, it's a collapse.
10.8.2006 10:24pm
John (mail):
The "Reversal of the Curse" was no such thing. Instead, by beating the Yankees, the Red Sox TRANSFERRED the Curse to the Yankees.

Plus, Torre is the most useless on-field manager in the game (and I'm a huge Yankee fan), however good he may be in the clubhouse (where frankly I have doubts as well).

I finally realized this when he wouldn't bunt to the mound agains the injured Schilling in 2004. That's when you knew he was clueless.
10.9.2006 12:17am
Ilya Somin:
Ruth was actually a very good base runner -- especially in 1926 when he was in his prime. The lumbering overweight Ruth is what we remember from the end of his career in the 1930's.

Ruth was never a good baserunner, certainly never good enough to be a good basestealer. In 1926, he stole 11 bases, but was caught stealing 9 times (see stats here), an awful percentage that indicates that his base stealing efforts were a net loss to the Yankees.

Moreover, in 1926 Ruth was 31, which especially at that time was past most players' baserunning prime.
10.9.2006 1:26am
S.A. Miller (mail) (www):
I don't really see how a team that finished only 2 games behind another in a 162 game season and then defeats that team really qualifies as an "upset". Maybe to the elitist ESPN eggheads who think the world revolves around New York it does, but not in the real world.

Exactly! Anyone watching the AL Central this year knew how good the Tigers were. I keep hearing how shocking it was for the Tigers to beat the Yankees in the ALDS... Not to me...

But how many times did we hear the 2006 New York Yankees get called "greatest offensive lineup" on ESPN this year?

Eastern Seaboard Propaganda Network...
10.9.2006 4:10am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Every player in the Yankee line-up had been an all star within the last two years. The number three hitter in the American League this year was batting ninth. There was a good reason why they were getting called the "greatest offensive lineup," and it was not just ESPN's bias.

Whenever TV shows do surveys of "all-time" greats, the recent greats tend to get overrated. Its partly because people remember recent events better. But part of this is also because the footage for the recent greats is typically both more available and cheaper to get. ESPN already has the clips for the recent Yankee collapses. It would have to pay one of the networks to show clips of the Big Red Machine stamrolling the 76 Yankees and Pete Rose getting so far inside of Mickey River's head that Rivers never played as well again after (much like Pujols destroyed Brad Lidge's career last year with one swing).
10.9.2006 8:40am
WJ (mail):
Detroit went 19-31 their last fifty games. They were the underdog.

The Yankees did not just lose, they were blown out. This was not a matter of luck either as an earlier blog attempted to explain post-season success. Detroit had far better pitching than the Yankees.

Interestingly, the Yankees had a lot of elements of the Moneyball type player. Their hitters, in the regular season anyway, generally drew a lot of walks and had high on-base percentages. When a team quickly falls behind because of bad pitching they are usually not as patient though.

Another reason why most of the collapses have come in the past six years is because when there are now more post-season series each year in which a team can collapse. Also, there were no collapses during the DiMaggio years because the Yankees won championships those years.
10.9.2006 9:40am
JosephSlater (mail):
WJ is right. The Tigers were dominant for much of the season, but they were floundering in the last 50 games, including choking away the division crown in their last couple of games. The other reason they were underdogs was that they were (mostly) young and didn't have anything like the playoff experience the Yankees had. After the way they finished the regular season, and after they lost game 1, few if any people in the Detroit area gave them much of a chance.

But, being a long time Tigers fan (I actually have vague memories of the 1968 championship), it was quite a thrill. Now, if we could just do something about the Lions ....
10.9.2006 11:20am
Alan P (mail):

Ruth was actually a very good base runner -- especially in 1926 when he was in his prime. The lumbering overweight Ruth is what we remember from the end of his career in the 1930's.

Ruth was never a good baserunner, certainly never good enough to be a good basestealer. In 1926, he stole 11 bases, but was caught stealing 9 times (see stats here), an awful percentage that indicates that his base stealing efforts were a net loss to the Yankees.

Moreover, in 1926 Ruth was 31, which especially at that time was past most players' baserunning prime.



The steal attempt of Ruth was actually a subject of an article by Bill James some years ago. The thrust of his article was that even though the game had changed to a power game, Ruth was still playing small ball in his mind. His quote after the game was that he was doing no good on first base.

This is a testament to the all to human tendency to play by the old rules well after the rules have changed.
10.9.2006 2:45pm
Ex parte McCardle:
Hey, thanks for the cap-tip to the performance of Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander in the '26 Series, one of the truly great moments in the history of baseball. And that it came at the expense of the Highlanders just makes it extra-sweet.
10.9.2006 3:03pm