November 27, 2006

Winning With Character, Or Characters?

Much has been said of the 1996-2000 Yankees which won four World Series championships in that time span under Joe Torre. In failing to win since then, many believe the Yankees have lost an ingredient which key members of the core group of winners from those championship seasons had, and that is character. If only they had more players such as Jeter, O'Neill, Brosius, Martinez, Posada, Justice, etc, the Yankees could win every year. Such is the mindset of many Yankee fans and baseball writers.

When describing the Yankee's universe, baseball writers summon up a corporate culture, using IBM as a comparison to the clean cut, professional image the Yankees wish to project. It is as though the clean shaven and short haired Yankees with only milk mustaches had the winning spirit, can-do attitude, and the proper work ethic to achieve post season glory. Character, it is suggested by these opinions, is defined by proper behavior, it would seem. No one questioned Paul O'Neill's character when he would attack the Gatorade cooler after striking out. That was considered intensity. But, character is often defined with intangibles. We know that is the true meaning of character which Yankee fans, writers, and even their detractors refer to. It's a safe bet we won't be watching "Yankeeography: Raul Mondesi" any time soon. He had some very tangible issues which caused him to be traded in mid-season. If you want to see "intangibles" at work, watch Derek Jeter both on and off the field. That's character.

Back to the corporate clubhouse, it was feared that Jason Giambi, hailing from the "Animal House" atmosphere in Oakland, would react poorly to the straight-laced environment in the Bronx. Jason did well, except when other distractions came his way (ahem...BALCO). One could make a case that Giambi showed character when he apologized, without saying what he was apologizing for, when the scandal broke loose. But, it would have shown tremendous character if he really did admit to what he was accused of. Yet, he didn’t. He get’s no credit for character for that.

Then, there's Randy Johnson who arrived to New York and greeted his new city and fan base by angrily shoving a reporter on the eve of his introduction to The Big Apple's fans and media. It took no character at all to apologize during his opening comments at his press conference. It was a face saving gesture, and he had to do it in order to survive. Yes, he may have been sincere in his regret; yet, if this happened in the middle of the season, one doubts if he would have summoned the courage, or would have even been motivated to ask for forgiveness. He get's no points for character there.

As 2007 approaches, fans, writers, and even the Yankee haters, await another perfunctory regular season where the Yankees are destined to trot effortlessly into the playoffs to win another World Series title. A strong argument can be made that character is a necessary component of a winning team. Looking into the recent past, the Yankees better do some re-tooling this off season and bring in players with character, and don't bring in any more characters.