Jayson Stark wrote about this last week, including all of the relevant information: in the '00s, the Yankees have the most regular season wins, the most postseason wins, the most postseason series wins, most World Series appearances, and now, they have tied the Red Sox for the most World Series wins.
So are the Yankees the team of the '00s? They really should be, yet I'm hesitant to fully commit.
When I think back to this decade when I'm older, I think I'll mostly think of the Red Sox.
The 2004 comeback against the Yankees, which suddenly transformed the most annoying fanbase in baseball to the most annoying fanbase in sports, is, love it or hate it, the sports story of the decade.
I never really cared for the faux-poetic angle to Red Sox Nation, but the overall presence of the story in American culture is undeniable. Coming on the heels of the 2003 classic ALCS, it was unbelievable sports drama. We're all tired of it now, but by the early '00s the Red Sox "pink hat nation" was born, Fenway became the toughest ticket in sports, Red Sox fans started invading visiting parks, the whole bit. 1918. The Curse of the Bambino. Bucky Dent. Intense passion became trendy, which in turn invited more passion. The Red Sox made being a diehard fan cool.
Then there was the front office. The Red Sox went from being baseball's versions of the Redskins or Knicks to being Oakland East, they combined big market dollars with sabermetric smarts. We take this stuff for granted now, but try to remember what it was like watching ESPN, reading baseball message boards, or listening to the radio in 2003. I can't tell you how many stupid arguments I got in on the old ESPN boards. Right now, there are mainstream columnists and reporters who are more sabermetrically advanced than Rob Neyer was back in the day.
And there was Theo. Today, everyone, in every sport, is following the Theo Epstein model, but hiring a low-thirtysomething with no real jock experience was pretty crazy ten years ago. We've even seen this idea extend to the coaching ranks, especially in football. We take it for granted now, but the idea of a Darryl Morey or a Josh McDaniels would have been seen as absolutely insane in the 1990s. Maybe you hire that guy as a consultant, but you don't make the guy from Harvard the actual GM. Not only that, but they actually hired Bill James!
So when I think about all that, this was the Red Sox decade. The world we live in, in many respects, they built. The site you are reading, was partially built by the Red Sox. Despite what so many inside the game said about our destroyed national innocence, the '00s were an incredible decade for baseball. Incredible. Being a baseball nerd became cool and the Red Sox story romanticized it to the extent that it became a reality. They weren't the only cause, but they were a major factor. The rise of Red Sox Nation found a perfect pairing with the technological changes of the decade, as it became possible to watch and listen to every game, no matter where you lived. The fact that this would be commercially viable is stunning when you look back and look at attendance figures from the 1980s or 1990s. Even at places like Wrigley or Fenway which we can't imagine would ever not be full were frequently just that, and it was normal.
Ideas and attitudes change. Its akin to the current outrage over the lack of a college football playoff. In the 1980s, there was just bowls and polls, and that was good enough. If the number one team played the number seven team in their bowl game and won, that was good enough. Then an idea formed that #1-#2 should play each other, if we could just get that, it would be awesome. And now, the new obvious commonsense is that this idea is laughably insufficient. No one knows who #1 or #2 should even be. Now, it must be settled on the field. We must have a playoff. And in ten years, we will demand a larger playoff. The point is this, although people have always loved baseball, they loved it in a different way before. I was there and in 1995 you didn't have to know the score of every game, as it happened, no matter where you were. If you were male, the expectation was that your interest in sports would have to be tolerated by your girlfriend, not that you would meet her at the game, hanging out in the bar area of the publicly funded stadium in your town. And on and on.
At the same time, the Red Sox demonstrated that the ideas that so many were now voicing online, on both sabermetric sites and saber-friendly blogs (as almost all were to some extent) could not only work, they could work with frightening efficacy. The Red Sox from 2002-7 featured some of the most relentless offenses of all-time and on the whole, showed that there's no answer for a lineup where everybody gets on base. (Of course, the Yankees had been doing that for years, but that message got obscured by people talking about the wrong things, like Joe Torre's professionalism and class.) In my mind there's some generic memory of Red Sox game on ESPN, a packed Fenway, with the home team up 5-2 in the third, men on for Ortiz, and the starting pitcher already at 70 pitches.
Finally, there was the Simmons corollary, as we might call it. The Red Sox went from being a team associated with choking to one that was glorified for being clutch. A tremendous amount of time was spent by the baseball media glorying in this fact and in the middle part of the decade we all began to obsess over the failings of Alex Rodriguez, the unclutch Goofus to the Gallant St. Big Papi. This was an absolutely inescapable story for at least three years and it colored everything. (As with so much above, you can see how this aspect overlapped with the coverage and mythology of another Boston team, the Patriots. Maybe it was just the Boston Decade.)
Not surprisingly, we didn't really see this coming. That's how history tends to work. The Yankees won the World Series in 2000 and through 2003, the standout moment of the decade was not the 0-3 comeback of the Red Sox, but the 2001 Series, a seven game classic which ended with a ninth inning rally by the home underdog and was played in the days following 9/11. The Yankees lost, but in many respects they were still the main story. The dynasty was defeated, but thanks to three insanely dramatic victories, the dynasty never looked better in the process. And of course, it was New York in 2001. I don't need to remind those of us over the age of sixteen how incredibly scary that time was. Serious people suggested that we take September 11th off the calendar altogether. Normal life seemed at once inappropriate and incredible. For the Yankees to be doing all this, with the Mayor in the front row reading a FDNY cap, was some combination of surreal and sublime.
Then the Angels beat the Yankees in 2002 (which spawned the counter-revolutionary decade, which was the Angels//Marlins/White Sox/Twins small ball loving but actually win with pitching trend), followed by the weird 2003 World Series, which at the time seemed like a gigantic upset by the Marlins. In 2009, it looks like just another random title by a random team, there's been a lot of that this decade. It also just looks like another Yankees postseason loss, which we learned to expect.
And so, we bookend what most would consider this decade with Yankees titles. For me, making the playoffs nine out of ten years is a clincher. Nevertheless, so much of the baseball culture that the '00s brought was tied up with the Red Sox, who dominated the middle years of the decade, who made fanaticism seem both poetic and hip, who helped vaunt stats into the mainstream, who launched a thousand blogs, who made MLB start making baseball gear for women, who changed the front office model for sports teams and on and on.
Now about those Royals in the 2000s...