In 1998, the New York Yankees finished the season with 114 wins. The win total set a franchise record, an American League record and propelled the team to a Kilimanjaro-esque 22-game lead in their division. That team went on to win the World Series and is regarded as one of the best teams in professional baseball history.
Flash forward to present day and the Texas Longhorns just completed their own record-breaking season. In the wake of destruction that was Texas’ march to the regular season title, the Longhorns established a record for consecutive Big 12 wins, set a new high for regular season league wins, and annihilated the mark for conference winning percentage. The Horns swept a devastating six Big 12 series en route to running away with the regular season championship.
As a casual observer, is it safe to draw any parallels between the 1998 Yankees and the 2010 Longhorns?
While Aggies across Texas scoff at the notion, there is one strong similarity between the teams that is summarized by former Yankee pitcher David Cone, "What we accomplished during the season would all go away if we lost."
Cone is talking, of course, about postseason ball. All those regular season wins and the divisional championship are meaningless without a World Series title.
And that is exactly what is running through the minds of Texas baseball fans, players and coaches. Make no mistake, not many are satisfied with the 2010 season – yet.
There is an obvious downside to shattering Big 12 records during the regular season – the pressure to win in the postseason is tremendous.
The Longhorns are no strangers to the mantle of expectations. The 2009 team finished second in the College World Series. Returning a core nucleus of players prompted the league coaches to unanimously vote Texas as the preseason choice to win the Big 12 crown. All four major baseball polling entities tabbed the Longhorns as the preseason choice for the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
And thus far, Texas has delivered.
The only people that are surprised are the ones that have not been paying attention. The Longhorns have a veritable legend guiding the team in Augie Garrido. The Longhorns’ Head Coach is a uniquely winning mixture of Aristotle and John Wooden.
Asked about the pressure of expectations, Garrido said, "We’re going to have fun and play with energy. The fun comes out when you develop expectations."
Added Garrido,"We have the same right to fail as any other team."
Not the stuff you will find in the Athenian Constitution or The Pyramid of Success, but Garrido has demonstrated a masterful touch for tapping into the mental side of his dugout. Despite tremendous pressure during the season, Texas was the best team in the Big 12…by a margin wide enough that BP execs shook their head in disgust.
But for a ridiculously entitled fanbase, being the best team in the conference is not enough. And do not doubt, the players and coaches in the Longhorn locker room are not satisfied either.
"The national championship is the goal for this program." – Augie Garrido
While fans get lost in details like whether or not to start Taylor Jungmann in the Horns’ opening game, Garrido would likely prefer to engage in a discussion of circular logic:
Unselfish play wins baseball games…winning creates team chemistry…positive chemistry lends to a more relaxed dugout…relaxed players don’t feel as much pressure and are more apt to have confidence in their teammates to produce…relying on teammates breeds an unselfish brand of baseball…unselfish play wins baseball games...
Padawan Learner: "Wait. You already said that?"
Me: "I know, man. That’s, like, the point."
Learn it. Love it. Live it.
Breathe deeply and light another stick of Nag Champa. Let’s delve further, bro.
- A relaxed player confident in his teammates is more likely to take a base on balls, believing the batters behind him have seen more pitches and are thus more capable of getting a hit.
- Removing a created need to produce big plays allows players to trust their natural abilities, thereby increasing the likelihood of producing a big play.
- Taking walks drives up the pitch count of the opposing pitcher and creates a perceived need for the other team to make a play, while simultaneously affording an opportunity for your teammate.
The 1998 New York Yankees? They led the American League in walks.
Call it karma. Call it chi. Call it bullshit. The results are real.
Not everyone can succeed in the approach. If it was as simple as writing a column about it, then I would be managing a team.
About his 1998 team, Manager Joe Torre said, "That group felt a responsibility. You have to live up to yourself. There was a great deal inside those guys."
How much is inside the 2010 Texas Longhorn team is about to be validated.
(Source credit: Verducci, Tom - The Yankee Years)
(Photo Credit: bridgepix)