In 1964, the Yankees won 99 games.
In 1965, the Yankees went 77-85 to begin a five-year run in which their best record was 83-79.
Whole books have been written about the Yankees' collapse. After all, they'd essentially ruled the American League since 1936. So it was sort of a big story.
Which is my lead-in to this bit from Joel Sherman, who reminisces about discussing those '65 Yankees with now-retired columnist Steve Jacobson, who covered the Yankees that season. Sherman:
A few months into that season, Jacobson posed the "is-it-over" question to then-GM Ralph Houk, who responded tersely: "Do you really think [Mickey] Mantle won’t hit, that [Elston] Howard won’t hit, that [Roger] Maris won’t hit?" The answer was "no" as those older players faded in health and/or performance, and the Yanks went 77-85.
Now this is not the first time I have thought about that story. The recent-vintage Yankees have endured many halting starts raising the possibility that the party might be over. Yet every year, sans 2008, their talent and toughness carried them to the playoffs.
Still, there was something in Joe Girardi’s pre-game response yesterday that stirred the echoes of Houk when he all but asked: "Do you really think [Mark] Teixeira won’t hit, that [Alex] Rodriguez won’t hit?" He said of the veteran core, "These are the guys that have to get it done for us. ... We’re committed to them and they have to find a way to get it done."
Of course I enjoy the historical reference. But the funny thing about those 1965 Yankees ... they weren't all that old. Elston Howard was 36 and his performance fell off a cliff. Mantle was an old 33, and played well but not brilliantly. Maris was 30 -- just one year older than Robinson Cano is now -- but was hurt and played only 46 games.The only other 30-plus Yankee hitter of any importance, Hector Lopez, played exactly as well in 1965 as he had in '64.
The Yankees went from first place to sixth place because a bunch of their hitters got a little worse and most of their pitchers did, too. It's simply facile to explain their decline by saying they just got old ... or maybe they did just get old, but not in the way we think of players getting old. I do believe that aging patterns have changed in the last 50 years
This season, the Yankees' oldest regulars are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter's been fantastic, Rodriguez decent. Their next-oldest are Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher. Teixeira's been terrible, Granderson excellent, Swisher adequate.
The Yankee are fifth in the American League in scoring but third in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage; they've simply struggled in the clutch, which is usually a problem that takes care of itself.
The Yankees' real problem hasn't been their old lineup. The Yankees' real problem has been their crappy starting pitchers, who have combined for a 4.88 ERA that ranks 11th in the American League.