- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

It may be discouraging for Washington fans to hear about big deals for the likes of Randy Johnson, while the Nationals are begging for the slim chance to sign any starter who can at least throw 200 innings, let alone throw them effectively.

But fans can take heart in this reality: You will have a better year than Yankees fans.

You will have more fun. It will be more satisfying. The game will bring you more joy.

Not so for Yankees fans. They are nearly back to where they were in the 1980s, when they rooted for mercenary squads of talented players instead of a team, and expectations would be so high and demanding that they would go through the season with only one victory that would bring them any measure of relief — the World Series clincher.

Nationals fans will savor every win and some of the losses as well, just because it is baseball in Washington, and, at least for the first season of the return of the game, fans will not likely take it for granted.

In New York, they take for granted that anything less than a World Series championship is a failure.

It’s a shame, really, because even if you are a Yankees-hater, you had to at least admire the team that won four of five World Series from 1996 to 2000. It was a remarkable unit of players because they played the game with such respect and class, it made it difficult to despise the franchise.

But that’s when the personality of the Yankees was that of its manager, Joe Torre, an intelligent, compassionate baseball man who treated not just players but everyone with class and respect.

The team was an extension of the manager, and it was that group — led by the core of homegrown prospects Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, along with key players like Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius — that won those championships, and not high-priced hired guns who had little connection with the chemistry that had been established in the Yankees clubhouse.

To Torre’s credit, he tried to get the annual arrival of mercenaries to buy into what they had built in New York, and he had some success. Roger Clemens managed to fit in and be an integral part of the 1999 and 2000 Series championship teams.

But since then, the team has brought in one high-priced free agent after another — Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and the deal that brought Alex Rodriguez — and the Yankees have not won a World Series. If the deal for Randy Johnson goes through, he will be one more talented hired gun who will only raise expectations even further. If you can’t win a World Series championship with the Yankees lineup and Randy Johnson added to the pitching rotation, then what is the point of rooting for this team?

That’s the way Boss George thinks — what’s the point of owning the Yankees if they aren’t winning the World Series year after year?

And now that is the way Yankees fans have to think as well because the team has taken on the personality of its owner again. It was a good fight that Torre fought, but it is over. Like Jeter said over and over again after the Yankees’ historic choke against Boston in the American League Championship Series, dropping four straight after being up 3-0 in the series, “It’s not the same team. It’s not the same team.”

No, it is not. And 20 wins and 300 strikeouts from Randy Johnson won’t make it the same team either. It’ll get the Yankees in the postseason. Over 162 games, the talent of that team is just too strong not to win the division or gain a wild-card spot. (It’s hard to believe the Orioles used to compete with the Yankees not long ago, isn’t it?). But as we have seen in a short series, talent is not always the deciding factor. Sometimes it is a spare part like Dave Roberts, whose stolen base turned the ALCS around for Boston, who makes the difference. Most often, it is a squad of players whose sum total is greater than the individual parts.

Meanwhile, for Washington baseball fans, the World Series begins April4 in Philadelphia and continues for 161 more games.

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