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The great Yankees dilemma

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Arguably South Park’s most famous running joke is the regular episodic murder of a rather inauspicious character named Kenny, a nearly silent young lad who really has no business dying but eventually succumbs to the trope after his involvement with the precarious titular crew. The amusement doesn’t necessarily endure because people are inherently cruel and enjoy watching an elementary school boy suffer, but because the whole ordeal successfully explores absurdism in a way that remains perpetually entertaining. No matter how positive or safe Kenny’s situation may be, the other shoe will always drop and end his life, even if the process of getting to that point is the most ludicrous, convoluted route possible – in fact, the crazier, the better. The humor doesn’t reside in the result, but the anticipation and process of getting to it, no matter how outlandish. 

If you’re wondering why I’m prefacing a sports column with surface-level analysis of a Comedy Central program, it’s because I couldn’t help but laugh in a similar context when the Minnesota Twins imploded in the ninth inning to once again lose to the New York Yankees. Despite an optimistic start to the season following a playoff appearance, the Twins had once again been swept in four games against the Yankees on their way to a nine-game losing streak, derailing any enthusiasm among the fandom in early April.

It’s not because I hate the Twins and enjoy seeing them lose that I laugh – far from it, I’ve been a fan my whole life – but because, at this point, their relationship with the Yankees has reached a level of absurdism reminiscent of Kenny’s relationship with the contingent world in which he inhabits. In short, the Twins are the Kenny of Major League Baseball, and the Yankees are their South Park. No matter how close Minnesota comes to victory against their east coast demons, New York always, always seems to dash those hopes when it matter most, a bizarre case study in absurdism that sports writer Joe Posnanski has taken to calling “witchcraft” for genuine lack of a better explanation.

Let’s explore some statistics in the Twins-Yankees “rivalry” that have evolved since the turn of the century. During the past 15 years, Minnesota’s record against the Bronx Bombers is 31-83, roughly equating to a pitiful .272 winning percentage. If you were to translate that success rate across a full season, the team’s record would amount to 44-118. In other words, if the Yankees and Twins were to meet in every regular season game over the course of a full 162-contest schedule, the latter would theoretically become the seventh-worst team in modern baseball history. Consequently, the Yankees’ 118 victory mark would make them the best regular season club of all time. 

In those 15 seasons, the Twins have failed to win a single game at Yankee Stadium seven times. Minnesota has reached the playoffs six times since 2002, only to get convincingly eliminated by New York in five of those appearances (the other loss coming in a sweep against Oakland in 2006). Throughout this entire timespan, the Twins haven’t posted a winning record against the Yankees in a single season, a span of futility that looks to be continuing in 2018. You might as well call it a tradition at this point. 

If these were statistics taken by one particular set of players versus another, it would be easier to comprehend, with one simply being more talented than the other during a specific block of time. But the baffling component behind this study is that multiple generations of players have come and gone during this timespan – the Twins have even touted clubs equal to New York in winning percentage on several occasions, including 2006 and 2010 – yet the result remains absolute. It seems that no matter how talented you may be or from what baseball era you come from, if you find yourself in a Twins uniform you will lose to somebody wearing Yankee pinstripes. It seems as if this remarkable phase of futility has evolved into a collective sense of inferiority, creating an intangible losing culture in Minnesota whenever the Twins have to face the Yankees. 

When I say that watching the Minnesota-New York matchup honestly feels like watching Kenny subplots in South Park, I’m not being facetious. No matter how positive the trajectory, spectators are just waiting for it all to come crashing down on the Twins, and the only reaction to the absurdism at this point is laughter. 

The Twins have gradually improved to reach the status of playoff contender, but they must overcome this 15-year inferiority complex if they hope to take the next step. The Yankees have festered in Minnesota’s consciousness for far too long, and New York is only improving. Until the Twins can reverse this trend, their battle is going to be indefinitely uphill. 

seidel1@stolaf.edu