The Yankees’ 6-4 walk-off loss to the Astros in Saturday's Game 6 of the American League Championship Series sealed a fate that was looming for years: The pinstripes finish this decade without a single World Series trip.
A pennant-less decade hasn't been seen by nearly any Yankees fan over the age of 9. In fact, one has to slide their finger all the way down to the 1910s to find the last decade in which the Bronx Bombers didn’t reach the World Series.
The Yankees, who last won it all in 2009, have gone through longer pennant droughts overall. The franchise played 18 seasons before capturing its first AL pennant in 1921, and went dry for another 14 seasons from 1982-95. The waning years of Mickey Mantle’s career, and the subsequent beginnings of Yanks stars like Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer and Sparky Lyle, saw the club go 11 seasons without a pennant from 1965-75.
Such “droughts” will never incur sympathy from fan bases in Boston, Washington D.C., Cleveland or Chicago's North Side. But in a symbolic sense, the Yankees’ latest postseason defeat does end one of the more remarkable runs in North American professional sports. The Los Angeles Lakers are the only basketball franchise with an NBA Finals appearance in every decade of its league’s existence, but the NBA was founded in 1946, when the Yanks already owned 14 AL pennants. The NHL's Montreal Canadiens, who played their first season in 1910, appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first nine decades as a franchise, but they haven’t claimed the Eastern Conference title since ‘93. And no NFL team has won conference titles in each of the first five full decades of the Super Bowl era (the Broncos are closest, missing out during the 2000s).
Even in an era that’s featured more parity than any other in baseball history (the 1998-2000 Yankees remain the most recent repeat World Series champions), the pinstripes have certainly put themselves in strong positions to contend throughout the decade. The Yanks finished with the most wins (921) and highest run differential (+1,088) of any MLB team during the 2010s, meaning this will be the first decade in history in which the club with either of those distinctions failed to win a single pennant. They also tied the Dodgers for the most postseason appearances, with seven. The Wild Card Game means there are more competitors to deal with in October, but New York has only lost that winner-take-all gauntlet once (2015, to the Astros) this decade. The Bronx Bombers finished this decade with a 24-27 record (.471) in postseason games, just the third decade (joining the 1960s and ‘80s) in which the club posted a losing record in October.
New York hasn’t exactly been short on star power this decade, but it’s been a drier period than usual by the Yankees’ standards. Two of the AL’s top 10 position players (Robinson Canó, Brett Gardner) and one of the league’s top pitchers (CC Sabathia) this decade, by Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, suited up in pinstripes, and that’s one of the Yanks’ lowest combined totals of any decade over the past century. General manager Brian Cashman has been relatively restrained with free-agent spending in recent years, but pressure could be rising to change that strategy with stars like Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon on the market this offseason.
This decade probably wasn’t as bleak for Yankees fans as the 1980s (two postseason appearances, and none after '81, but they still finished with the most regular-season wins that decade). It certainly wasn’t as bleak as the 1910s, when the Yankees/Highlanders compiled just three winning seasons and finished at least 25 games out of first place on six different occasions. Indeed, if you had told a Yanks fan in '19 (the year before Babe Ruth arrived in the Bronx, four years before Yankee Stadium opened and 10 years before the club donned uniform numbers) that seven postseason appearances in 10 years would qualify as a disappointment ... they would have a real hard time believing you.
Still, expectations are higher in the Bronx than anywhere else in baseball, and 10 years without a World Series appearance spells doom and gloom for many in Gotham. Whether or not you believe that qualifies as a “drought” probably depends on your fandom, but it could put even more pressure on Cashman in the coming months.