Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Curse of Donnie Baseball by Len Vlahos

The New York Yankees. The Neeeeeeeew Yoooooooork Yankees! The most vaunted, storied franchise in the history of sport.

Since acquiring Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox after the 1919 season—a key moment in baseball history—the Yankees have made 40 World Series appearances, winning a remarkable 27 times. Think about that. The Yankees have been in the World Series nearly 50 percent of the time. On average, they’re vying for a championship almost every other year.

I hate the Yankees.

Watching Tug McGraw lead the “You Gotta Believe” Mets into the playoffs, and watching skinny little Bud Harrelson duke it out with baseball’s most talented thug (Pete Rose) in the National League Championship Series in 1973, was enough to indelibly imprint orange and blue on my eight-year-old brain. I’ve been a Mets fan for my whole life.

As you might expect, the Mets live in the perpetual shadow of their cross-town, pinstriped rivals. They’ve made only four World Series appearances in their 43 year history, and Yankee fans are only too happy to remind Mets fans of this fact at every opportunity. By and large, it’s hell to be a Mets fan.

But there was one brief respite from that hell. The longest World Series drought for the Yankees was the 14-year stretch from 1982 to 1995. During that time the Yankees did not win a single division title, and the six years from 1987 to 1992 they didn’t finish better than fourth place.

So what happened to those magical Yankees? How could this unstoppable juggernaut be so easily stopped, especially when they had an owner who wasn’t afraid to spend money? What one common factor did each of those 14 seasons share? What was it the baseball gods saw and just didn’t like? The answer to all of these questions is summed up in two words: Don Mattingly.

Donnie Baseball, one of the all-time great Yankees, made his debut with the club on September 8, 1982, and played all the way through the 1995 season. He put up phenomenal numbers until chronic back problems slowed him down in the early ’90s. He was a great player, and a great Yankee, but for reasons only the baseball gods understand, Mattingly never made it to the World Series. The guy was a jinx. Deny it if you like, Yankee fans, but the numbers just don’t lie.

Some die-hards will point out that the Yanks won their division in 1994 and made it to the playoffs in 1995. But notice their twitchy, nervous smile as they tell you this. They know that 1994 was cut short by the strike, and that the Yankees only made the playoffs in 1995 as a result of the new Wild Card rule.

1995 in particular was bizarre. It was as if the baseball mortals found a loophole to sneak the legendary Yanks back into the post season, even allowing them to win the first two games of the division series. But when the baseball gods caught wind of this chicanery they propelled the Mariners through three straight wins in the most heart-breaking series loss in modern Yankee history. Don Mattingly shone those five games, but his jinx shone brighter.

Since Mattingly put down his bat, the Yankees have returned to the Yankee way: six World Series appearances and four World Series wins in eight years. They even beat my team for the championship in 2000. We Mets fans crawled back into the shadows.

But all that is about to change. Why? Because the Yankees will not be heading to the World Series this year.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “The Yankees acquired A-Rod, Sheffield and Vazquez in the off-season, Len. They’re the best freaking team in baseball.” They might be if not for one other off-season move: the acquisition of their new batting coach, Don Mattingly. He’s back in pinstripes, and so is his curse. (Hell, it already reached out and squeezed the life from Bernie Williams’ appendix.)

The Red Sox may have their Bambino, and the Cubs may have their goat, but the Yankees, yes, the Yankees, have a curse of their own. The curse of Donnie Baseball.

Thank you, baseball gods, thank you.
  • 13 years without a World Series appearance…longest in Yankee history since acquiring Babe Ruth.  1982 through 1995 (no World Series in 1994).
  • Didn’t win a division, other than strike shortened year, between 1982 and 1995.
  • Six consecutive years finishing fourth or worse, 1987 through 1992.
  • 40 World Series appearances since acquiring Ruth.
  • 27 World Series victories since acquiring Ruth.
After touring with his rock band Woofing Cookies, Len Vlahos settled down to the world of books. He's currently the director the independent bookstore online portal,  (And he now pines for those subdued days of rock-and-roll!) Len also co-owns and writes for

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