The End of a Historic Era

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.

The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.

The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:

  • A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
  • A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
  • An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
  • A workhorse left-handed starter.
  • A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.

Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:

  • A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.

That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.

The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.

As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.

Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.

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Posada to serve as Spring Training instructor; no plans for comeback

According to the AP, Jorge Posada is expected to be with the Yankees in Spring Training as a guest instructor. “They haven’t asked me yet, but they said they are going to,” said Posada while also acknowledging he doesn’t have any plans to get into coaching full-time. “Not right now … Maybe later. I like coaching, I like helping out, but I don’t see myself doing it right now.”

Posada, 41, retired last offseason and said he won’t be attempting a comeback a la Andy Pettitte. “No comeback for me,” he said. “I’m good with what I’m doing and I was happy with the decision I made last year around this time. I’m enjoying the family … I miss certain things about the game. You’re always going to miss certain things. I, obviously, miss my teammates the most.” The Yankees lack a DH at the moment but I take Jorge at his word and don’t expect him to return as a player. He was always a no-nonsense guy. Besides, Pettitte retired when it was obvious he had gas left in the tank. Posada looked done in 2011. Either way, I look forward to seeing him in camp this year.

Posada set to make ceremonial stadium visit

When the Yankees return home on Friday to open the Bronx-based part of the 2012 season, they’ll bring with them a familiar face. The newly-retired Jorge Posada will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Posada, you may recall, was a part of five World Series teams, played in five All Star Games and has a strong case for a spot on a wall in Cooperstown. Depending upon how generous the Yanks are with uniform numbers, his could earn a spot in Monument Park as well.

The club also announced today that a star of the Broadway musical Newsies will sing the national anthem while a star of Jesus Christ Superstar will perform “God Bless America” in the seventh inning. I guess those Nederlander ties still run deep. The pre-game festivities will start at 12:40 so plan accordingly if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to attend Opening Day in the House that George Built.

Open Thread: Hip Hip

As I said earlier, Joe Posada’s retirement press conference was nothing but first class today. The Yankees really did a wonderful job. The video above if Jorge’s statement on his retirement, but that was just a small part of the day. You can see basically the entire event — albeit broken up into small clips — at the YES Network’s site. Here’s the video archive.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all playing tonight, but Time Warner customers like myself are still without MSG. Anyway, talk about whatever you want here. Except politics, that always gets messy.