The Fall of Dynasties: A Joint Book Review
How do dynasties fall apart? At some point, dominant teams stop winning, and it can be for a variety of reasons. To get a handle on how this might happen, I want to look at two books that address the topic: October 1964 by David Halberstam and The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney.
Halberstam addressed the end of the Yankees greatest run of dominance. From 1947-1964 (18 seasons), the Yankees made 15 World Series and won 10. They follow this up, though, with 11 years of futility before getting swept in the 1976 World Series. Why did the Yankees fall apart? As Millsy of the blog Prince of Slides mentions in previous comments, the start of the draft is not a sufficient explanation. As Halberstam notes, the fluke is the Yankees making the 1964 World Series, not their collapse the next year. By 1964 the Yankees are a team that is either past their prime (Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford) or too young to know how they will turn out (Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Mel Stottlemyre, Joe Peppitone). Given this, the old players continued to get old, and the young players, except for Stottlemyre, did not pan out. This highlights the chief problem of the Yankees; they did not have a good baseball organization. They had not stocked up on young players, and the few young players they had grabbed were not good enough. The collapse of the Yankee dynasty, then, is a collapse of Yankee scouting, particularly a failure by the Yankees to move aggressively for young African-American players.
The story in 2001 has some similarities. The 2001 team had serious age problems, as Paul O’Neill, David Justice, and Scott Brosius were soon to retire; Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch were reaching the end of their effectiveness; and Orlando Hernandez was slightly older than Joe Torre. Again, the preceding years give some clues. The 2000 World Champions had only won 87 regular season games, only two more than the immortal 1987 Twins. The 2001 Yankees, it appears, were running on fumes. They had 5 players still in their primes (Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera), and the only young regular was Soriano at 25. Of those 5, they would lose two in short order. At the same time, as Olney chronicles, the “sleeping giants” of the AL East would awake, as the Red Sox finally began to deploy their vast resources wisely. The 2001 team cursed with mismanagement, though in a different form than its 2001 predecessor. George Steinbrenner was always prone to impulsive behavior, leading to things as crazy as trading for a finished Raul Mondesi in 2002. Finally, the Yankees in this era did not do a good job developing young talent. Their best first round pick from 1993 (Derek Jeter) to 2004 (Phil Hughes, who still might develop into greatness) was Eric Milton, who they traded to the Twins. With this in-house drafting, they were completely dependent on the vagaries of free agency. It took until 2009 to overcome these problems.
Will the 2009 develop into a dynasty, or will it go the way of 1964 and 2001? It is hard to know now. Failures of scouting and player development are not readily ascertainable until years later. One thing these two collapses teach us is to watch Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Melky Cabrera. Young Yankee players are the key to having a successful future. Jeter, Posada, and even Rivera will decline; age is inevitable. Will the young players be good enough to replace them? That is the great uncertainty.