On Nov. 4, 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees on a walk-off hit by Luis Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks' unlikely victory is widely regarded as the moment when the storied Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s came to an end. Most casual fans forget that the stunning loss also coincided with the birth of a new philosophy that would jeopardize the team in future years: abandoning young talent in favor of acquiring a team of superstars.
The turnover began immediately, when free-agent first baseman Jason Giambi was signed to a seven-year, $120 million contract. The signing marked the end of the road for dynasty kingpin Tino Martinez, to the dismay of the Bronx faithful. Following a loss in the divisional round the following season, general manager Brian Cashman continued to abuse his seemingly unlimited funds, signing Cuban starting pitcher Jose Contreras to a lucrative deal and trading away a fellow Cuban pitcher - and clutch playoff performer - Orlando Hernandez. Finishing the 2003 season with a World Series berth didn't help to dissuade Cashman from his flawed philosophy.
Talent is widespread in the major leagues. To win championships, a team needs to possess a rarer trait than fame: chemistry. The great teams of the 1990s weren't winning with overpaid superstars like Giambi, they were winning with the humble likes of Scott Brosius, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. The only time during the World Series years that Cashman "gambled" by signing a superstar to a lucrative deal, Roger Clemens joined the team. Needless to say, the constant turnover and "out with the old, in with the new" mentality has led to zero World Series titles in the past six years - unheard of for a team whose payroll hovers around $200 million annually.
The 2007 Yankees, however, are a different breed. Perhaps having seen the error of his ways, Cashman has stood pat with a slew of minor league prospects for the past two years, refusing to deal the franchise's future for a quick fix. The return to rationalism is working brilliantly so far. The Yankees are 30-11 since the All-Star break, and appear to be stampeding towards the playoffs with an army of youngsters.
The most hyped of the new Yankees is Joba Chamberlain, a flame-throwing 21-year-old who has yet to give up a run since his call-up on Aug. 7. Chamberlain joins other homegrown young pinstriped talent: two-time All-Star Robinson Cano; 2006 Cy Young runner-up Chien-Ming Wang; everyday center fielder Melky Cabrera; highly-touted pitcher Phil Hughes; and, most recently, 22-year-old pitcher Ian Kennedy.
This infusion of youthful exuberance into what was an almost dispassionate veteran roster has given the 2007 Yankees something that they haven't had since their glory years: fantastic team chemistry. The youngsters are pushing the veterans to perform better, and the veterans are teaching the youngsters the tricks of the trade. It's reminiscent of 1996, when a young rookie by the name of Derek Jeter burst onto the scene and energized the Yankees to their first World Series title since 1978. If these current Yankees keep playing with the tremendous energy and enthusiasm they have been, a 27th championship is more than achievable for 2007.