Feb
09

As the Old Guard bows out…

By

Andy Pettitte went out on top. He still had the itch when he called it a career last week, and he knew he could still pitch well, still get Major Leaguers out, still win games. It wasn’t time to say good bye, but we had no other choice.

Something about Pettitte’s retirement struck a heartstring for many Yankee fans. It’s not just the fact that the team badly needed his arm in the rotation or his calming demeanor on the mound. That’s almost too altruistic. Rather, his retirement, at least for me, resonated on a more personal level. If Andy Pettitte is facing down baseball mortality, aren’t the rest of getting older?

I don’t remember the first time I witnessed an Andy Pettitte appearance in person. By the time baseball resumed in 1995 after a crushingly disappointing end to the 1994 season, Pettitte’s name had become a fixture around the Yanks. He was featured in the team’s “Down on the Farm” section in the annual yearbook, and while not widely regarded as a youngster, the Yanks thought they had something.

I was 12 when Pettitte made his Yankee debut just like I was 12 when Derek Jeter burst onto the scene, 12 when Mariano Rivera arrived and 12 when Jorge Posada showed up. That was the year Bernie Williams cemented himself as a big-time New York star both during the regular season and epic ALDS against the Mariners. I was eight the year Bernie made his big league debut.

Throughout high school, these guys were the stars I watched mature into a cohesive team. Once or twice, I would head from school to the stadium for a student special on Tuesday or Wednesday nights. A valid ID would net a $10 Tier Reserve seat, and in those days, we could move up at will. On a good night, the old stadium will host 30,000 fans as the Yanks went about their winning ways year after year after year.

As the years wore on, those five players would be the stand-outs. They had a pretty damn good supporting cast too. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius played their roles while Chuck Knoblauch had his moments, for better or worse. Paul O’Neill too, the Yankees’ own warrior, deserves a big tip of the cap too. I watched David Wells throw a perfect game while working on a science project at home, and I heard the end of David Cone’s perfect day on a blisteringly hot afternoon in Western Massachusetts. I remember the anticipation of El Duque’s debut, and the overhyped and perhaps slightly underappreciated nature of Hideki Irabu’s tenure in the Bronx.

Through it all, though, Andy, Derek, Jorge, Bernie and Mariano served as icons of a farm system. This was the true core of a championship team developed from within and allowed to grow. Bernie didn’t fit into the Mel Hall-dominated clubhouse as a shy young kid, and George Steinbrenner always wanted to trade Andy Pettitte for something worse. But they stuck around — and won — for years.

Bernie, the oldest, was the first to go. Felled by a knee injury, he didn’t retire after 2006, but the Yanks weren’t interested in guaranteeing him dollars. It was a bitter divorce smoothed over by time, and after arriving late at Andy Pettitte’s press conference, Williams announced that he too is about to officially retire. Of course, he’s the last one to know that he’s retired, but that’s how it is for many of these guys. “I think one of these days I’m going to make it official,” Williams said. “It’s redundant, but after five years, I think I’m pretty much done.”

Bernie’s last appearance was a strike out against Kenny Rogers in the 2006 ALDS. Andy Pettitte’s last appearance ended with a Bengie Molina groundout. He left it all on the field during Game 3 of the ALCS, but much like in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, the other team’s pitcher was just better.

Next up in the march toward the new era will likely to be Jorge Posada. The one-time catcher will serve as the DH this year, and even if he has a decent season, it’s tough to see the Yanks re-upping with him once he hits free agency. He’s been with the club since they drafted him in 1990. Would Posada call it quits or sign with another franchise?

Once he goes, Derek and Mariano will be the aging duo that survived my trip through high school, through college, through law school. Time might be nipping at Jeter’s heels, and it will one day come a-knockin’ on Mariano’s door too. For now, though, I’ll sit back and appreciate what these Yankees have done and what they still have left to do. For five guys who were Yankees since they were kids, the past two decades have been as close to baseball perfection as it comes these days.

Categories : Musings
  • Urban

    …and it is a perfection that you will not likely see for a long time. Even when the Yankee farm system produces another crop of players, it’s very unlikely we’ll see five players come up in such a short period of time, including four in the same season, producing two HOFers, and three borderline HOFers. Well done to whomever was overseeing the Yankee farm system those days.

  • Urban

    One item I forgot to add. I agree that even if Posada puts up a good year with the bat, it’s unlikely the Yankees will bring him back. As much as I’ve enjoyed all five of these Yankees only playing for the Yankees, probably more than any of them, it would be to Posada’s benefit to go DH for another team or two for a couple of years.

    By a number of metrics, he may rank somewhere on the all-time catcher list just off the top ten in the 11-15 range. If he can up his counting stats (even if the last few years are as a DH) and get, for example, 300 career HRs, he has the best chance of the borderline HOF Yankees to actually make the HOF, and that’s worth quite a bit prestige wise and financially.

    He should continue on, even if the Yankees don’t want him.

    • Urban

      Since Pettitte did play for the Astros, I meant more to say “retire as Yankees.”

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        he could always do the baldelli (i only say that because he is the most recent and therefore only one i remember but it happens all the time) by signing a one day deal or an invite to ST and retiring as a yankee after he goes and dhs for the mariners

  • Levi

    Thanks for this, Ben. While I was only 7 when the core showed up, I still remember the late 90′s vividly. It really is baseball perfection when you think about it; I’ve (we’ve) been spoiled growing up rooting for this team. While it’s sad to see them go it’s equally interesting to see who the next core will be.

  • Jonathan

    I’d really like to see Jorge come back on a 1 year 4-5MM deal if he puts up the usual Jorge #’s and I think just DHing will do him a lot of help. The only variable is Montero.

  • Anthony Murillo

    Posada is an interesting case. I think if he has a good season and feels he can still contribute, he’ll want to play and I don’t see the Yankees wanting to bring him back as strange as that may sound. I think he would go to another team but I hope he doesn’t. I’m a huge Posada fan and I want him to finish his career with the Yankees

    • Urban

      Would you rather Posada end his career as a Yankee and not make the HOF, or would you rather him go play for another team or two and make the HOF?

      He’ll always be a Yankee and he’ll go into the HOF as a Yankee.

      Just curious. I’m usually surprised by people’s responses on this question.

      • Anthony Murillo

        What guarantee is there that Posada goes to another team and actually makes the case for his HOF induction better? What if his last year or two playing for another team were awful; he had a chance to go out after a good season and retire as a New York Yankee.

        • ahinds

          why does it matter that he retires as a yankee? why do you care?

          • johnny

            Because he’s one of our heroes.Duh.
            Emotions don’t have to be rational, that’s why cold gms run teams and we sit in the stands.

            • jsbrendog (returns)

              players in the old days only got to retire as a yankee if they didnt get traded. they had no say til curt flood came along. this narrative is flawed.

  • Mike HC

    That was great. I am about the same age, so those thoughts are very similar to mine. Well done.

    • 585 Fan

      Am I the only one feeling sad after reading this? I feel old!

  • dkidd

    everything about that mariano card is awesome

  • VandyYankee

    I’ve got that bernie williams card somewhere in my house

  • Pete C.

    That’s kind of how I felt when Lou Piniella retired.
    Getting old sucks but all the other alternatives suck worse. My dad used to say that, he and he started exploring the alternatives about 15 years ago, haven’t heard anything to change that thought from him or anyone else yet.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Ben’s article strikes a cord with me. I would love to be a fly on the wall to listen to the discussions among the FO people, scouts and directors of whatever in the Yankee organization. I would hope that these discussions were leaning toward the farm system playing a large roll in supplying the big club with talent. Who among the decisions makers was for the quick fix and who wanted development from within.

    I would love to see the patience. I would love to see another run with a core bunch that was homegrown but if it took 25 pitchers to come and go before the team developed Andy after Ron Guidry then I can see the the other side of the coin.

  • jsbrendog (returns)

    thank you gene michael. thank you so much. can we get a stick appreciation open thread one of these nights? cause without him what would the yankees have been in the mid-late 90s?

    • DCBX

      Seconded. This blog needs more love for the Stick.

      /waits for sophomoric play on words :)

  • Dawn

    Imagine how I feel, I watched Andy pitch his first game with my baby, she is entering college this fall. Its sad to see the core four winding down..Its going to be quite devastating when its THe Captain.

    • RL

      While I am a huge Jeter fan, I think Andy hurts worse. I remember it bothered me when Bernie didn’t come back, especially under the circumstances, but like Bernie, when Jeter goes, I’m pretty sure we’ll all see that it’s time (as it was with Bernie). I think the same will be true with Posada. I really don’t know what to expect with Mo. I expect he’ll retire after this contract, but he’ll probably still be effective, if not down right dominating, as he is today. That’ll hurt too.

      As a long time fan, I can truely appreciate the longevity of this core group and success. I suffered through many horrible seasons as a Yankee fan, even having to endure my Met fan friends laughing at how horrible they were (can you immagine that?). It’s sad as each of them now approaches retirement.

  • CBean

    Thank you for this post Ben.

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for

    You younguns are very lucky to have come of age as fans with this core. I had the good fortune to do so with the teams of the late 70s, then had to suffer through the 80s before Stick turned the franchise around. I suppose the 00′s are “your” purgatory, but the team was obviously waaaaaay better in the 00′s than it was in the 80′s!

    Anyway, Andy’s retirement definitely struck a nerve for me, not only because I loved him and those teams, but because he’s so intricately wound into my fandom and everything else…the march of time, reflection, rose colored glasses, love of the game, and somehow, gulp, America. Like big time mom apple pie shit.

    I know I know boo fucking hoo. But you know what? I brought my kids to their first ever game this past season and it was one of the most awesome booyah experiences ever.

    Sniff. I think I need a weekend of Field of Dreams, Major League, Bull Durham, Stealing Home, The Natural, and A League of Their Own.

    /ramble

  • Steve Balboni

    Great article, reminds us why its important for the Yankees to continue to build the farm system.

  • Brian

    Great article Ben. I’m a few years younger than you but had the same feelings when Andy retired.

  • Max Cohen

    That was one of the best articles I’ve ever read on this site. Thank you.