NEW YORK - The New York Yankees' season has gone so badly, the wife of team president Randy Levine taped bubble wrap around the TV remotes to keep the furniture from getting damaged.
Hard to believe, given its $200 million payroll, but baseball's most glamorous team will be missing the playoffs after a run of 13 consecutive postseason appearances. That's just one shy of the record set by the Atlanta Braves from 1991-2005.
The Yankees haven't been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention since Sept. 27, 1993, when Bill Clinton was a first-year president and gasoline averaged about $1.13 per gallon. New York's regulars then included Mike Stanley and Pat Kelly along with a young Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Paul O'Neill and Wade Boggs.
Derek Jeter was a 19-year-old playing at Greensboro in the Class A South Atlantic League, teammate of a 22-year-old starting pitcher named Mariano Rivera. Andy Pettitte was 21 and spent most of the year at Prince William of the Class A Carolina League, where he pitched to Jorge Posada, a 22-year-old catcher.
Those four went on to form the core of baseball's final dynasty of the 20th century. But this year, New York's fortunes have crumbled like a Wall Street bank, leaving Yankee Stadium set to close Sunday with no October games in its final season.
"Our everyday position players did not perform up to their typical ability," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "Not everyone. But I would say mostly as a unit we've struggled there from injuries and underperformance."
Ever since winning the 2000 World Series for their third straight title, and fourth in five years, the Yankees have regressed.
They lost in the Series in 2001 and 2003, were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in 2004 and didn't get past the first round in 2002 or the last three seasons. In 2007, their streak of nine straight AL East titles came to an end.
This year's team never jelled. Starting a critical road trip on Aug. 3, the Yankees were 5½ games out in the AL East and 2½ back in the wild-card race. New York then went 3-7 visiting Texas, the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota, and dropped nine games behind in the division and six in the wild card. When Boston won the first two games of its final series at Yankee Stadium in late August, the Yankees' fate was sealed.
This was not what New York expected in Joe Girardi's first year as manager.
He replaced Joe Torre, who left after 12 seasons, insulted by the team's offer of just a one-year contract. Torre signed on as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and now appears headed to the playoffs again.
Standing outside his office in a subterranean corridor of the stadium this week, Girardi said he didn't let the losing eat him up away from the ballpark, and he doesn't second-guess his decisions too much when he gets home after games to watch "Seinfeld" reruns or more baseball.
"I'm able to leave it here. That doesn't mean I won't think about it when I'm laying in bed," he said. "I'll watch a little TV maybe and fall asleep. My wife can sleep with the TV on, so it doesn't matter. I fall asleep and then I get up with the kids and we play. I had to learn that."
What about the players? How could such a talented team fall so far?
The Yankees themselves blame injuries.
Chien-Ming Wang, a 19-game winner in each of the past two years, was off to an 8-2 start when he hurt a foot running the bases at Houston in June, ending his season.
Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, counted on as the fourth and fifth starters behind Wang, Mike Mussina and Pettitte, were sidelined for much of the year and entered the final two weeks of the season with no wins at all.
Joba Chamberlain was out from Aug. 4 to Sept. 2 because of rotator cuff tendinitis, leaving the team still uncertain whether he'll be a starter or reliever next year. And Pettitte, perhaps battling an aching shoulder, is 1-7 in 10 starts since July 26.
Posada talks already of adding two pitchers from the elite three free agent starters — CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and A.J. Burnett.
O'Neill, now an analyst for the Yankees' YES Network, doesn't think the pitching can be blamed for the collapse. "On paper this team with mediocre pitching should have been able to score enough runs," he said. "They didn't score runs, and I think they got away from the atmosphere of winning."
Here's how much New York's production has dropped. Last year, the Yankees scored a major league-leading 5.98 runs per game. This year, they've scored 4.80. The last time the Yankees had such a big one-season drop, the year was 1922 and their home was the Polo Grounds, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
New York has a .260 batting average with runners in scoring position, 17th among the 30 major league teams entering Wednesday. Cashman says that statistic is cyclical, so he doesn't focus on it.
"The rotation is the biggest issue," he said, "but you've got to keep your eye on the offense, too, because now guys have gotten older, and are they going to be less productive? Is this year an aberration or is this more reality?"
Posada had just 22 RBIs and 168 at-bats before season-ending shoulder surgery on June 30. Hideki Matsui has just 45 RBIs in 334 at-bats and will need knee surgery.
Melky Cabrera lost his job as the starting center fielder and was banished to the minors from Aug. 15 to Sept. 5. Robinson Cano struggled for much of the season and was benched by Girardi for not playing hard.
Alex Rodriguez's RBIs have dropped from 156 to 101, and he's driven in just eight runs after the seventh inning.
Even Jeter struggled. After he was hit on a hand by a pitch from Baltimore's Daniel Cabrera in May, the Yankee captain went through a 4-for-40 slide that included just one extra-base hit. Could a bone have broken?
"It's possible because he really stopped driving the ball in the middle of the year for a pretty significant stretch," said former New York star pitcher David Cone, also a YES analyst.
Jeter always insists he's fine and able to play. Cashman and Girardi say X-rays failed to show any breaks but say he probably was hurt more significantly than he told the team.
"He's never going to tell you. That's the way he's wired," Cashman said. "He wouldn't tell anybody. He would just play through it. That's what makes him who he is. He plays."
Girardi said that reading the health of players is one of the things he'll be better at next year, saying it was a curve to discern "who's honest with you when they say they're hurt and they're not."
A former catcher known for his preparation and work ethic, Girardi thinks he'll have far greater knowledge of his team heading into his second season. The Steinbrenner brothers now in charge of the team — Hal and Hank — have indicated Girardi's job is safe.
Cashman's attempt to rebuild the team and lower its age while still competing for titles failed. Next year's roster figures to have a huge turnover, with Pettitte, Mussina, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu all potentially eligible for free agency.
"I've been here since '86, so I've been part of losing, I've been part of rebuilding and I've been part of championships," Cashman said. "I've seen every aspect of it, and there's an ebb and flow to the game. Balance of powers change over time."
This year, the balance shifted away from the Yankees.