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October 8, 2008 at 7:00 am ET
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Fall From Glory, Part 1: Superstar Syndrome

Jason GiambiDuring the late 1990s it was well-accepted doctrine that New York Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner was jealous of the credit everyone else was getting for the team’s championship dynasty.

King George could do nothing while the Yankees were winning titles. But, when Luis Gonzalez single settled into the Arizona outfield grass and the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series, the opening was there. The Yankees scored just 14 runs in the seven games, first baseman Tino Martinez hit .190 in the Series and Jason Giambi was a free agent.

Steinbrenner pounced. He jettisoned a player who had been part of the Yankees’ championship heart, spending huge money for a player with big stats, big muscles, a big name and a big ego. It is not Giambi’s fault, but the Yankees have not been the same since.

Those Yankee championship teams were built on pitching and the everyday lineup was filled with good players who became great because of what they accomplished as Yankees. Not great players who came to the Yankees hoping to get something from wearing the uniform.

That was Giambi. In Oakland he couldn’t be compared to Mickey Mantle, couldn’t be the same type of superstar, probably couldn’t win a ring.

Hideki Matsui, the biggest superstar in Japanese baseball, showed up in 2003. That worked out well. Gary Sheffield in 2004. Despite his numbers, that didn’t work out so well. Alex Rodriguez in 2005. Johnny Damon in 2006. Superstars all, yes. Players who were able to put ego aside, work together and do the small things needed to win? The answer to that yes proven to be no.

We could spend days talking about A-Rod. Let’s keep it short, though. Is it A-Rod’s fault the Yankees haven’t won in his five seasons? Probably not. He is a great player, he has two MVPs and he’s had some brilliant moments. He has also had some embarrassing ones.

Problem is, A-Rod shouldn’t be in New York in the first place. He is only in New York because Steinbrenner wanted to twist the knife on the Red Sox, who desperately wanted A-Rod prior to the 2004 season but screwed it up.

He was a trophy for Steinbrenner, nothing more. He replaced the magic of Aaron ‘Bleepin’ Boone, and the Yankees became more traveling carnival show than they did baseball team.

What we are calling the ‘Superstar Syndrome’ is why I am against the signing of Mark Teixiera. The Yankees are finally out from under the Giambi contract and have an opportunity to begin re-structuring their every day lineup. I hope they choose wisely.

– Next: Part 2, It’s the Pitching Stupid

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18 Responses to “Fall From Glory, Part 1: Superstar Syndrome”
  1. Jeff says:

    This post pretty much covers it. Superstar syndrome + bad pitching = no WS.

    This could be a 2 Part series, I’m at a loss for what Part 3 will be.

  2. Jay says:

    The problem with Giambi, Sheffield, & Damon is that they were on the wrong side of their career (Giambi, because of steriods). In baseball, usually if a “superstar” is available, it means that he has hit free agency and its 28, 29 or older, and in the sans-steriods era, that usually means they are starting their decline phase.

    There are good reasons to be opposed to signing Mark Teixiera, but labeling him a superstar is not one of them. He’s a switch-hitting excellent defensive 1st baseman. That’s not who Giambi was when he came here: a one dimensional slugger (thanks to steriods).

    Another problem was targeting the wrong superstars. Replace Sheff with Vlad Guerrero, and Johnny Damon with Carlos Beltran, two guys who were younger and better and the Yankees teams were better as a result. Cashman was vehemently opposed to signing Sheff over Vlad.

    Does that mean the Yanks would have won another World Series? Maybe, maybe not. The late 90’s Yanks caught lightining in a bottle. They had a perfect cast of characters who became “winners” in everyone’s eyes. Is it because they didn’t have as many imported superstars, or despite the fact? I don’t know how having better players can make you a worse team.

    We all know it takes a lot of luck to win a World Series. Everyone likes to cite that fact when the Yanks get booted in the first round, but not when they win 4 out of 5 Championships. If Jeffrey Mayer doesn’t catch that ball, who knows if they would have won any…

  3. B.E. Earl says:

    I want to agree, but I don’t think it was Superstar Syndrome. Maybe just the wrong superstars.

    Look, the Yankees under Steinbrenner have always gone after the big names. Whether it was Wade Boggs in 93, David Cone, Tino Martinez and Cecil Fielder (the highest paid player in the AL at the time) in 96, Chuck Knoblauch (remember him?) in 98 or Roger Clemens in 99. They always have gone for the big names.

    Those guys worked out. And say what you will about Giambi, the guy has put up some numbers with the Yanks except for 2004, 2007 and parts of this past yea. He was everything they wanted in 2001 and 2002 right after they signed him.

    No…I think it has been the pitching and, honestly, some bad luck/managing that has kept them from the title since 2000.

  4. Jeff says:

    Yeah, I see both of your points. It’s not so much the fact that they always go out and get the big stars as it is the fact that they get the wrong ones. I couldn’t believe they took Sheff over Vlad, that was a huge mistake IMHO, but that’s what happens when the owner thinks he is the GM. Same thing with Damon over Beltran…that was purely “stick it to the SOX” mantra.

    I’m not against signing Teixeira, quite the opposite actually, but I am against signing him for 7 or 8 years. If they can get him to sign a 4 or 5 year deal, I think it would be a great deal. But with Boras, I don’t see that happening.

    First and foremost, the Yanks need to get pitching. There are a lot of good pitchers who will be looking for a home and I think the Yanks really need to land 2 of them to consider the off season a success. If they can do that and also land Teixeira I don’t see how anyone can be unhappy.

  5. Django says:

    The superstar syndrome exists in all sports among ego-driven owners eager for the quick fix and too impatient to invest the time and effort necessary to build a winning team. Sound familiar? It’s no accident that the foundations of the great Yankee teams of the 1970s and 1990s were built during periods when George Steinbrenner was suspended by MLB. Now that Hal is effectively runnng the team, we really don’t know what philosophy the front office will follow. Frankly, I would rather see then miss the playoffs for a year or two and work on rebuilding the foundation of the team than to trade away the future by signing superstars on the downside of their careers in a desperate – and probably futile – effort to win now.

  6. Ed Valentine says:

    Jeff,
    1. Superstar syndrome
    2. Pitching
    3. Farm system — It’s amazing to go back and look at who they took … and who they passed on.
    4. If I want to go this far, and I don’t know yet, is Improved Competition.

  7. coops2001 says:

    It’s funny that you mention the superstars. I think the signing of Arod, Matsui, and Shefield has hurt the Yankees in the post season tremendously. From 2002-2007 is really about the post season, as the Yankees did okay up to October. Do you want to know what their combined post season numbers look like from 2005 on? – .193 / 0.285 / 0.266 (BA/OPS/SLG)

    It’s attrocious. Of their 124 at bats, 28 resulted in strikeouts. And that does not include game 4-7 of the 2004 ALCS in where they really stunk. I won’t begruge the Yankees for signing Giambi over Tino. Tino became a medicore hitting 1B after ’01. Jason’s numebrs for 2002-2007 postseason are a respectible 0.279 / 0.390 / 0.510. But the superstars don’t seem to have the drive or desire, at least the ones the Yankees sign (vs. Manny and Ortiz). The Yankees from 1996-2001 did not have a lot of superstars, no one at least who would be considered for the HOF, besides Jeter and Rivera.

  8. FrankDiscussion says:

    I’m not opposed to signing free agents, but you have to choose intelligently in terms of contract length and options. The Yankees have a dismal record with free agent pitching, and it’s only slightly better when it comes to position players. You simply can’t sign free agents based on what they did with a previous team, you sign them to fulfill a role on your team. You can’t sign a player solely to keep him away from the Red Sox. You can’t sign players based on emotion (Clemens) rather then rational thought. So many decisions that originate in the Yankee front office seem to be motivated by ego and hubris. Time to move away from this flawed philosophy.

  9. Anarchist Accountant says:

    1. It is improved competition. The Yankees had a monopoly on top Caribbean talent for years and suddenly the Carib players realized they had choices.

    2. The Yankees were the Kings Of The Steroid Era. Then the piss cup came around. ‘Nuff Said.

    3. MLB realizes it no longer has to rely on two teams to bring it back from the edge of where it had let itself go, and scrutiny on the umpiring means it’s just not worth it for MLB to satisfy the lemmings. Meaning fewer Wells/Cone travesties…

    4. Why would Giambi want to be compared to the bane of livers everywhere?

  10. Jeff says:

    Ed,

    I like Parts 3 and 4, can’t believe I overlooked them. I wanna see some stats of the more recent AL East teams compared to the past. My gut tells me that most of the teams have gotten significantly better over, say, the past 10 years. That may be deceiving though because the Yanks were all but perfect in the late 90’s and we all know there is only one direction to go when you are standing on top of the world. I don’t know what’s better though, taking the Yanks’ route of a slow decline into mediocrity or taking the Marlins’ fire sale “first to worst” approach.

  11. Domed says:

    It’s not so much superstars, but aging stars that have cost the Yankees. Yankees have consistently signed players on the decline into mediocrity rather than try to get players peaking into their prime. The strategy of signing stars should work. It just requires the management to be smart and have a lot of money. Juggling egos is something that has to be considered, but it’s emphasized far more than is warranted.

  12. Jeff says:

    AA,

    1. The Yanks had a monopoly because no one else wanted to invest the time, effort or money. It isn’t their fault that the other owners were sitting in their cushy offices counting their money.

    2. You are an idiot of the highest order if you believe that the Mitchell report is the end all be all of the steroid era. You act like the Yanks are the only ones that turned a blind eye to the juicers. MLB and every team, player, owner, and GM in it decided to let it go because they didn’t want to take a little bite of the shit sandwich back when steroids first came on the scene. Well guess what, 10 years later they are all looking back with bad breath wishing they took the little bite instead of getting the entire sandwich forced down their collective throats.

    3. You are a fuckin idiot if you are implying that their perfect games were the result of the umpires. That would be like me saying that the only reason Lester threw a no hitter was because of all of the steroids he took to battle his cancer.

    4. I have no rebuttal because your humor is so witty that I have no clue what the hell you are talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the mentally challenged.

    By the way how is “teaching typewriter maintenance at the Rocco Globbo School for Women!”
    I think Kaffee was talking to you!!! “Should we or should we not listen to the advice of the galactically stupid!”

  13. Jeff says:

    Got it now, but just so we are on the same page…Micky Mantle was better drunk than any sober player in Rays history.

  14. Anarchist Accountant says:

    At least a three minute delay…damn, Jeff, you shouldn’t be talking about my stupidity now, should you???

    P.S. Once again, you’re too easy. I just love the Yanks on the golf course!!!!

  15. Jeff says:

    I’m just having fun, buddy. Don’t golf, I figure the way I drive the damn ball I’d be lucky to find it once let alone 18 times. I’d be a danger to golfers 3 fairways over.

  16. FrankDiscussion says:

    “4. Why would Giambi want to be compared to the bane of livers everywhere?”

    Somebody was comparing Giambi to a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 ?

  17. coops2001 says:

    Regarding steriods, if Clemens had not used steroids and his performance suffered, the Yankees would never have traded Wells for him. Remember that Wells had a much better record in 1999 and 2000 and was a much better post season player. If one reads the Mitchell report, it indicates that Pettitte first inquired about steriods after the Yankees had won their string of World Series.

  18. Doug TIM says:

    This is retarded. Was the fact that Giambi had “a big ego” somehow more important than the fa, ct that he hit 40 home runs and drew well over a 100 walks each year? He’s had five full seasons with the Yankees, and in those years he’s drawn 100+ walks three times, hit over 30 home runs all five years (hitting 41 his first two years), 100+ RBIs three times (and 96 this year), and typically been one of the best hitters in baseball. You say these guys ‘don’t know how to win’ because they’re not good teammates or have huge egos or whatever, but I’m pretty sure “being good at baseball” is more important to winning that “scrappiness” or whatnot.

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