Some great Yankees teams of the past have held onto that thought as they traveled the road to greatness.
Members of the 1996 Yankees still talk about the awful plane ride home from Seattle after the disappointment of losing an epic five-game Division Series the year before. They didn’t want that feeling again.
The 1998 Yankees attributed much of their drive for perfection to losing to what they felt was an inferior Cleveland team in the 1997 Division Series. They didn’t want that feeling again.
Even the 1961 Yankees used to speak about how painful their loss to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates was in 1960, bringing Mickey Mantle to tears in the clubhouse. They turned 1961 into one of the greatest seasons in franchise history.
Moments after losing to the Astros in Game 6 of last year’s American League Championship Series, Aaron Judge planted the seeds for what he hopes is a similar story about the 2019/2020 Yankees.
On Tuesday, two days before the 2020 season opener, Judge detailed for the first time his statement to the team moments after that heartbreaking loss in Houston. After manager Aaron Boone addressed his team, Judge took his turn.
“You really don’t know what to say at that moment, because it happened so fast,” Judge said on Tuesday. “DJ (LeMahieu) hit a (game-tying) homer and I’m sitting there on deck thinking we’re going to win the whole World Series now…the following inning Altuve takes it deep and all of a sudden we’re in the dugout. It kind of happens all quick.”
“You don’t know what to say,” Judge recalled. “All I could really say to the guys was, ‘Remember this feeling, this silence, this emptiness and just use it as fuel. Don’t use it to mope about it, linger about it. Use it as fuel going into this next season to, you know, just take care of business.’”
“I do remember Judgey in his way, in a strong way saying that to us,” Boone said Tuesday. “And I think that just added to the sting, to how real that moment was.”
Boone believes his team accepted the mission statement, even as they deal with all the extra baggage of the pandemic.
“I always feel like falling down does add another log to the fire,” Boone said. “I feel like in spring training and now in summer camp, I’m witnessing that fire burning strongly with these guys. It’s a hungry group. I felt that way a year ago. I continue to see signs of it…signs that mentally, this team is where it needs to be heading into the regular season.”
If this season is played to completion and the Yankees are holding a trophy at the end, the path to the championship will be entirely unique thanks to 2020. But the roots of that championship will have come from a place of disappointment that has been familiar to some great Yankees teams of the past.