One more sleep until baseball…

I’ve been contemplative all day really. When you write a daily blog that revolves around a single thing, your life is pretty much built around that. Like when you grow up, your entire world is built around the school schedule. You know when your vacation days are, you known when exams will be so you know when you will need to pull all-nighters, you structure your days, your life around one stable thing. And it works.

That’s me and baseball. The season technically starts tomorrow with the first Spring Training game against the Tigers (more on that in a moment). And the last baseball game was November 1, Game 7 of the World Series when the Astros defeated the Dodgers to become champions last year. For the average fan, they catch a random game some time between March and September, maybe use a mobile app a few times a week to see where their team currently sits in the standings. But my life pretty much revolves around the baseball season, which means from the first pitch of Spring Training to the final out of the World Series, I’m locked in. I take my blog with me on vacations (even to Europe a few years ago), I write after weddings and birthday parties (sometimes late into the night or early the next morning), I’m pretty much always on my phone (thanks to Twitter and my own mobile apps).

I know it’s sometimes confusing to my friends and family that I’m not always present or available during the season. I’m not quite a journalist, though because I went to school for journalism, my approach is often more sports writer than your average blogger. But I’ve found something that works. I get to appreciate the game from the fan’s perspective, recap it for those who don’t watch every game, and then talk about the state of the game and the team how I see it. My approach, my perspective, my appreciation, even my opinions have evolved over this blog, as they should, as we should grow in ourselves and expand our worldview.

I started this blog five years ago on a whim, just to see if I could do it for a season, and honestly, hoping I could follow one team through to winning the World Series. In the last five seasons, I’ve seen big retirements, big signings, and thousands of little moments that matter even more. I’ve made memories at stadiums all over the country, friends from all over the world, and discovered that the sport we love is so much more than the game we see on the field.

Now, on the eve of my sixth (!) season following the Yankees, I’ve never been more hopeful for this team. The roster is different, younger, and catching the eye of the talking heads (and actually in a good way). The fans in general are cautiously optimistic after last year, and I don’t blame them. And while the real season starts in about a month, baseball’s warm-up season begins tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t think I really understood the value of Spring Training until I started this blog. But now, I think I look forward to it more than any other time of year. I’ve been watching the likes of Aaron Judge and many prospects now on other organizations’ 40-man rosters. As much as everyone wanted to see Judge so much earlier, watching Spring Training proved both his potential but also that he needed another season or two working out the quirks. Now, he’s the reigning Home Run Derby champion, All-Star, Silver Slugger, and Rookie of the Year. Had they brought him up before he was ready, awards would not be there, and he would have had to work out all the quirks on a much bigger stage. How the “talking heads” would have loved discussing that!

But the value of Spring Training was understanding why the minor league system works. That very same system that brought all of the Core Four into the last dynasty, and the same system that is filled with prospects like Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Miguel Andujar, all of which have a very real chance to see the big leagues this year (maybe even the starting roster). The beauty of Spring Training is being able to see the random players in the organization that might be the next something special.

Or maybe they’re the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson. Wilson was acquired in a trade earlier this month from the Rangers and will be assigned to AA Trenton during the season. Wilson, who grew up playing baseball and football, was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 and spends his NFL off-season (which is now, of course) playing minor league ball, now with the Yankees this season. He posted on his social media today that he’s on his way to spend time in camp in Tampa, though as he’s not on the roster or not an official non-roster invitee, he won’t be playing any games at Steinbrenner Field. He’ll instead spend his time at minor league camp joined progressively by all those non-roster invitees and players on the roster that won’t be on the Opening Day roster.

So, it’s one more sleep until baseball…

And it’s all just beginning… once again…

Go Yankees!

Game 44: TEX vs. NYY — Bernie Williams Day and a sweep

I honestly didn’t expect to hear the words “Texas sweeps” this weekend. I don’t think any Texas fans did either. But that’s the way it ended up.

Chris Capuano got the start in tonight’s game, the final game in the 3-game series against the Rangers. He struggled some, like he’s still getting back into the groove of being a starter. He threw 84 pitches over his 4.1 innings, gave up 8 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), and no walks, striking out 4 Texas batters. The 1st inning started rather dramatically. The first batter hit a little grounder and ran to 1st base as the infielders attempted a put-out, but the umpire instantly called it “out”. The Yankees challenged, they underwent a review, and it was clearly overturned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a challenge on the first play of the game, but okay. It was that kind of game.

The next batter reached on a fielding error, a bit of a bobble of the ball delayed an actual play and set up that runner to score on the next batter’s double. Then in the 2nd inning, after 2 quick outs, a batter singled and then scored on a 2-run home run. After two more singles, Capuano finally got that elusive 3rd out of that inning without any further damage.

And then there was the scary 3rd inning, the inning that damaged the Yankees for the past 2 games. But it was over almost before it began and everyone breathed normally.

Capuano found himself in a spot of trouble again in the 5th, so the Yankees called on Shreve to shut it down. And he did — 20 pitches to close out the 5th and work into the 6th, even getting a strikeout. And then it was time for Justin Wilson. Now, recently, Wilson’s been sharp and a real asset to the Yankees bullpen, but not tonight. After successfully getting out of the 6th inning, Wilson’s struggles just imploded in the 7th — a lead-of triple, an RBI double, a wild pitch moved the runner to 3rd, and an RBI single. And there was still no outs on the board.

So it was time for Dellin Betances to shut it down. And even though there was nothing to set-up, Betances hadn’t pitched in a while. So it was time to dust off the cobwebs, throw 9 pitches, get a quick 3 outs, and send it into the 7th inning stretch. David Carpenter’s 8th inning went better than some of his recent outings, keep the Rangers to those 5 runs, and Andrew Miller’s 9th continued that pattern and gave him some time on the mound again (like Betances).

And unfortunately, the Yankees’ offense didn’t really spark. In the 1st inning, Gardner led-off by reaching 1st on a fielding error and then he got thrown out on Headley’s single as Gardner slid into 3rd. Rodriguez singled, and then he and Headley moved up on Teixeira’s ground out before both scoring on Brian McCann’s single. Beyond that, the Yankees collected only 6 total hits (to the Rangers’ 13, by the way) and couldn’t really do much in the clutch to add to their score.

Final score from the Bronx: 5-2 Rangers, Rangers sweep the Yankees 3-0.

Next up: Royals come for a 3-game mid-week series before they head to the West Coast (read: late nights for us East Coasters).

5 All-Star appearances, 4 Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, 4 World Series rings, 1996 ALCS MVP, and 16 years in pinstripes, it was Bernie Williams Day at Yankee Stadium. Before tonight’s game, Williams was honored by family, friends, former teammates, coaches, and mentors as they officially retired his #51 and placed a plaque in Monument Park where the legacy of the former center fielder will remain forever. Williams gave a small speech thanking family, friends, the Yankees, and the fans.

#51 is now the 18th number retired for the Yankees, to be joined later this summer by #20 and #46 to honor Williams’ former teammates and special guests today Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. To fill out the Core Four at the pre-game ceremony were Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter (his first Yankee Stadium appearance since his retirement last September). Joining them were former teammates David Cone, Tino Martinez, and Paul O’Neil and former dugout staff Gene Michaels, Roy White, Willie Randolph, and (of course) Joe Torre.

(The entire pre-game ceremony can be viewed here.)

Williams was a clubhouse and fan favorite, known for his calm, steady personality and his penchant for naps just as much as he was known for his competitive tenacity. Another former teammate summed it up best:

Roster moves: The Yankees optioned pitcher Branden Pinder back to AAA Scranton, moved injured infielder Brendan Ryan from the 15-day to the 60-day DL, and selected the contract of pitcher Jacob Lindgren from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Go Yankees!

(And we miss you, Bernie!)

Game 7: BAL vs. NYY — Home opening win for some chilly memories

A chill in the air, under cloudy skies that threaten rain, people pouring out of the subway station at 161st and River Avenue, more people clad in navy or pinstripes all bundled up milled about Babe Ruth Plaza, vendors open for business selling Yankee tchotchkes, New York’s finest carefully surveying the scene. It was Opening Day, and New Yorkers braved the cold (and some rain) to witness what will hopefully be the first of some great moments in the Bronx this year. That and it was a chance for New York to begin its season-long goodbye to their hero — Derek Jeter.

He didn’t disappoint, but really neither did the Yankees. And like so many year before them, the Yankees, perhaps roused by the highly energetic crowd, pushed forward to a win today against the Orioles.

But first, the sold-out crowd was treated to a pretty great anthem by Broadway star (and a personal favorite actress of mine) Kelli O’Hara, as West Point cadets unfurled a huge Stars-and-Stripes in the outfield. On either side of the bases, the entire Orioles and Yankees’ teams stretched from home plate down to 3rd and 1st bases, having been introduced prior to the anthem. You know, standard Opening Day stuff, with a definite New York flair.

The Core Four reunited for First Pitch at Opener — Posada, Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte (photo via MLB.com)

And then, as a special treat to the fans, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, donning team jackets over their jeans, jogged out to the mound once again. Then Jorge Posada (also in a Yankees jacket over his jeans) and Derek Jeter (in the proper uniform of an active player, of course) walked out to the plate. Jeter and Posada got down to catch Rivera and Pettitte (respectively) for one last Core Four reunion, a historic and memorable first pitch. Stopping to pose one last time to recreate that famous Core Four picture, Jeter jogged off for his warm-ups, while the “Core Three” (or rather the “Retired Ones”) savored the moment and sauntered off the field, pausing for a moment to wave to the fans.

Then the Yankees took the field and Hiroki Kuroda took the mound. Even when he struggled some, the team certainly helped lift him out of the hole. The best part of watching the Yankees is when they click and work together, it’s like magic. And today was magic. Actually, Kuroda had a pretty good outing, up until his last inning. 92 pitches over 6.1 inning, he allowed 8 hits, 2 runs, and 4 strikeouts. Those 2 runs came in the 4th and the 7th, both as RBI singles. In other words, the Orioles might be able to grab some hits, but they couldn’t collectively put them together to do much damage.

Which was great for the Yankees, as they seemed ready and willing to show off a bit for the crowd in the Bronx. In the 3rd, Yangervis Solarte walked, moved to 3rd on Gardner’s single, and scored when Jeter grounded into a double play at his second at-bat. (By the way, the Orioles pitchers didn’t really allow Jeter to acknowledge the roaring, cheering crowd that seemed to crave some kind of recognition; Jeter would respond later in the game in the best way possible.) In the 4th, Alfonso Soriano, coming off a hitting drought, broke through with a single; Kelly Johnson walked; and Solarte’s single scored Soriano and put the Yankees up 2-1.

In the 5th inning, Jeter started an offensive break-through leading off with a long double that was just a foot shy of being a home run. He would then score on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. Ellsbury was caught stealing at 2nd, and though replays showed he might have been safe, Girardi opted not to challenge the play. Beltran and Soriano each singled, and Roberts walked to load the bases. So the Orioles seemed to think the only logical thing to do was walk Johnson and walk in the fourth Yankee run by Beltran. The 5th inning was also the inning that the clouds above started sprinkling little tiny shard-like droplets of rain, that stuck around for a couple of innings.

After Kuroda’s 2nd run scored with 1 out recorded, the Yankees turned to Thornton for an out and Phelps for the other to finish out the 7th. Another Broadway veteran took his turn with “God Bless America” as the fans who stayed despite the continued threat of rain, settled in to watch the Yankees win their Home Opener. Adam Warren’s 8th inning was pretty great, with his fastball reaching 95mph and striking out the Orioles’ best batters. Then it was Shawn Kelley in for the save, throwing an 8 pitch 1-2-3 9th inning.

Of course, this meant questions went out all over as to where David Robertson was after his Opening Introduction with the team. Apparently, after yesterday’s save in Toronto, he suffered a groin strain, something that was confirmed by an MRI today. He will be out for 15 days, something I’m guessing is more than slightly disappointing as he is just starting to get used to his role as closer. Wishing him (and Teixeira) health and a speedy, thorough recovery.

The Yankees, all smiles and celebrating with their on-field fist bump line, are on their way to their annual Homecoming Dinner, where they will honor Pettitte and Rivera with their “Pride of the Yankees” award. (Posada claimed that honor in 2012.) The dive into this week-long home stand above average with a 4-3 record now, in preparation for facing the Red Sox this weekend. But when the Yankees are on a roll and clicking like a team, it doesn’t seem to matter if their opponents are the Red Sox or the Marlins’ Short-A team. I’m hoping today’s game gives both the Yankees and their fans something to look forward to this year, the beginning of some memorable games, the hope and potential for something special this year. And that’s always something to cheer about.

Go Yankees! (Happy Opening Day!)

(Post-script: The Bleacher Creatures were without their fearless leader “Bald Vinny” today due to his “real world job”, but they did him proud with their loud and energetic roll call, game-long cheering, and staved off the wave. Missed? Yes, but still very much present in the people and tee-shirts all around the stadium. If you’re wondering, he will be back in Section 203 this Friday during the Boston series.)

Drafted excellence & River Avenue

They will be naming part of River Avenue after Mariano Rivera. The city council voted today that the section of River that runs on the east side of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx will be renamed in honor of the great Yankee legend. There has been a bit of talk regarding the issue since Rivera announced his retirement in March, and he already has a street partially named after him near the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan. But there was nothing official that was specifically tied to the Yankees in that regard. This is yet another honor for the Yankee great this year; he is certainly racking up the accolades.

Today was the day of the Rule 5 draft, something that takes place the last day of the Winter Meetings. This draft was instituted to prevent teams from “stacking the deck”, so to speak, in their minor league systems. There are a whole bunch of restrictions and guidelines that prevented the Yankees from picking up anyone and allowed them to lose 5 young prospects to other teams, mainly due to their current 40-man roster being full. (The first link of this paragraph is a Wikipedia article that attempts to explain the details of those restrictions and how finances plays into those selections.) The players other teams pick up in the draft included a reliever and an outfielder at the major league level (meaning there is compensation involved), and three more pitchers for the AAA level. Several notable players selected in a Rule 5 draft have gone on to do great things in baseball, like Roberto Clemente, RA Dickey, Josh Hamilton, and Yankees Jeff Nelson and Ivan Nova.

But I guess that’s part of the gamble the GMs and other executives make on every trade, draft, and signing. You just never know if you’re signing the next Clemente or Rivera, or if the team will regret having agreed to a high contract to a player that doesn’t end up living up to his potential. Almost every fan can name a handful of players that fall in the latter category, but rarely do they recall those that do well.

I think every player is aware that a single injury, a single moment in time could very easily end the career they’ve been working toward their entire life. But then what 20-something doesn’t hope to be somewhat invincible, somewhat short-sighted about living for the now? There is a common phrase trend “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) that is popular among those young 20-somethings, and I think it really reflects that common attitude, that feeling of invincibility, that hope for great things right now, something that certainly isn’t specific to just this current generation of 20-somethings.

It’s that attitude that can produce some diva-ness in young players, but it also can produce a drive to excel when they’re most physically capable. The easiest example of the latter was the greatness achieved when the Core Four was in the 20’s — the 1990’s dynasty and 4 World Series wins (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000). And that foundation of either diva or drive in the 20’s will carry players into their 30’s and create potential for either greatness in their own eyes or greatness in Cooperstown. Of course, some players may switch their focus at some point due to an injury or other humbling experience. And that decision defines their ultimate legacy.

It reminds me of a line from the recent Thor movie, where the hero would rather be “a good man than a great king”. And I think that’s why everyone respects Rivera. He made a point of making personal integrity more important than professional greatness. Because at the end of a career, even an exceptionally excellent one like Rivera’s, he still has another 40-ish years (God-willing) to live as a husband, father, and man of faith. The world may remember him as a great player, but he would rather the legacy be a great man.

Fortunately, we get both from Rivera, and (fortunately for my example) from the entire Core Four. And that makes me very proud to be a Yankees fan.

Go Yankees!

Torre & the Core Four… the legend continues

This week is the “winter meetings”, currently taking place at a Walt Disney World resort. Last month’s winter meetings were merely a pre-cursor to those happening this week. This week, we can expect quite a few announcements on trades, contracts, signings, and more.

But the meetings kicked off with a big announcement about the Class of 2014 to Cooperstown. The Veterans’ Ballot came back with a special presentation about its newly elected members of the Hall of Fame. Featured this year are managers Bobby Cox (the Braves), Tony La Russa (the Cardinals), and the Yankees’ own Joe Torre. All three have World Series rings as managers, all three have ridiculously amazing team records under their leadership (well over .500 for their win-loss ratio), all three have moved on to other occupations (Torre now works for MLB commissioner’s office as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations), and all three were unanimously elected into the legendary Hall of Fame.

Prominent Yankee players and personnel came out in support of Torre. Mariano Rivera said, “What made him special was that he was always there to support his players, to offer encouragement… Joe let us enjoy the game. When you have a manager like that, you play with love and good things happen. As a player, that’s all you can ever ask for.”

Of the 12 names on the list for the Veterans’ Ballot, only those three made the cut. The rest failed to meet the required 12 votes to be elected. While it would have been nice to have Billy Martin or George Steinbrenner, I understand why the current committee didn’t elect them with the controversy that followed the two of them in the late 70’s “Bronx is Burning” era.

What most people don’t understand is why Marvin Miller failed to be elected. Miller is considered by many people to be one of the main people who revolutionized the players’ union, helping to create free agency and bring better work conditions for the players. My thoughts on why certain selections were made (or not made, as the case may be) may lie in who composes the Veterans’ Committee, people who may recognize statistics and achievements in the most traditional sense, but may not understand the full extent to which men like Miller made a difference for current players.

In other regions of the Yankee Universe, the Yankees signed center fielder Carlos Beltran to a 3-year, $45 million deal. Beltran most recently played with the Cardinals, though he also spent part of his 16 year career with the Royals and Mets. The signing will be official when Beltran passes his physical. This will certainly change the looks of the outfield next season, with several other “experienced” players already on their roster in the outfield.

And the Jacoby Ellsbury signing will be made official on Friday at the special press conference. Ellsbury wore #46 and #2 for his years with the Red Sox. Seeing as Jeter won’t be giving up his number and fans would be horribly distressed if he wore Pettitte’s old number, it will be interesting to see which of the remaining numbers will be on Ellsbury’s pinstripes. My guess, like McCann’s, it will be a number that means something personal to him, like a favorite player or in honor of some number he wore in high school.

Yankee legends were in New York tonight for a Core Four meet-and-greet with some lucky fans tonight. All four made the trek to the City on this cold December night. Pettitte, Posada, Jeter, and Rivera were all on-hand for autographs, photos, Q-&-A session, and a memorabilia auction, all co-sponsored by Steiner Sports and Delta. It’s a great way to continue the fan base in the off-season and gear up for whatever’s to come in 2014.

Go Yankees!

This day in Yankee history (The World Series Edition)

First, two Yankee legends are celebrating their birthdays today…

Whitey Ford is 85 today. Ford was a great pitcher of the “Golden Era”; teammates with other legends like Berra, Mantle, DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Howard, Larsen, and Maris; part of the legendary 1961 team; 10-time All-Star, 6-time World Series champion, Cy Young Award winner (1961), World Series MVP (1961), and inducted into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame; served in Korea at the beginning of his career, taking 2 full years off from baseball to serve his country, and returned better than ever; and has #16 retired in his honor in Monument Park.

And John Flaherty turns 46 today. Flaherty is probably most known to Yankee fans today as one of the regular sports broadcasters and a frequent analyst on many of the regular programming on the Yankees’ YES Network channel. But Flaherty also played for the Yankees at the tail end of his career through the contentious year against his former team, the Red Sox (2003-2005), serving as the back-up catcher for Posada.

A happy birthday to both Yankees!

Now, this day in Yankee history, being so late in the year means we have a special “World Series Edition” for today’s history lesson.

1998yankees
1998 World Series
Win #24 for the Yankees
via Google Images

In the postseason, they swept the Rangers in the ALDS, took the ALCS from the Indians (4-2), and then swept the Padres on this day 15 years ago. It was their 24th World Series title, their second in three years, and their first of three consecutive titles. It was a sign that this dynasty wasn’t a fluke. Torre’s team was here to stay, and they weren’t opposed to making a huge splash. Including the postseason, the ’98 team won 125 games (just 50 losses), setting an MLB record, passing the previous record of 118 set by the 1906 Cubs or 116 set by the 1986 Mets (depending on your sources).

I think it’s only fitting that Game 4 of the 1998 Series (today’s memory) found recently retired Pettitte and Rivera on the mound in a shut-out game of the Padres. (Pettitte threw 7.1 innings, Nelson threw to 1 batter in the 8th to split up the outs, and Rivera got a 4-out save.)

I was having probably a little too much fun researching, reviewing, reading, and remembering the 1998 team. They were virtually unstoppable. That team is often compared to the 1927 team, which I understand based on knowing all sorts of basic information like the greatest sports teams ever in all of history. But seeing as I wasn’t alive to watch the 1927 team personally (or the 1961 team, which is of course another highly regarded team in Yankee history), for me, it was the 1998 team. Everything just lined up for them, and it was an honor to watch this team in action. And then, of course, repeat similar seasons over the next two years.

1998 doesn’t seem like that long ago, but 15 years certainly does. Maybe all of us alive (and conscious of Yankee greatness) in 1998 are still looking to somehow magically create that same team once again. But maybe the team that will be the next “great team” were just children then or even (in worse case scenario) just children now, but they are out there. The same club that created Murders’ Row in the 20’s, the M&M boys in the 60’s, and the Core Four in the 90’s is going to churn out the next great generation of baseball players at some point. We are just anxiously awaiting that honor of watching them succeed at the highest level once again. History always repeats itself, and it will again. It’s never an “if” with the Yankees, but always a “when”.

Go Yankees!

The Core Four becomes the Last Man Standing

CC Sabathia will be out for the rest of the season due to a Grade 2 hamstring strain. Compared to a Grade 1 which plagued both Jeter and Rodriguez recently, a Grade 2 strain is considered a “partial tear” and could take up to 8 weeks to recover, even before any rehab toward baseball activities. This seems like a sad ending to what was a less than stellar year for Sabathia. Though his balls and strikes average was about the same as previous years, his ERA was higher due to how many home runs he gave up this year. Maybe a longer off-season will be good news for Sabathia as he now has more time to prepare for 2014.

It seems many of the regulars have an extended off-season due to their injuries — Teixeira, Gardner, Jeter, Logan, Romine, Nix, Hafner, and Youkilis. But two won’t be returning due to their permanently extended off-season — Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. We’ve had all year to prepare for Rivera’s departure, but speculation about Pettitte never ceased to amuse analysts who pondered the end of his career.

Then on Friday, he clarified the rumors — 2013 was his last year in pinstripes and Sunday (yesterday) was his last start at home. Hearing the call of his family and church back in Texas and feeling the strain of elite level baseball on his 41-year-old body, Pettitte decided to hang up his cleats following the Yankees season. There is additional speculation that this may be another faux retirement, like 2011, when he decided to retire and then came out of retirement following his stint as a Spring Training guest instructor in 2012. A broken injury just a few weeks after he returned to the Bronx set back his hopes of making 2012 a great comeback year. So overall, 2013 came off as a better year, despite what will end up as a below average win-loss ratio.

Pettitte retires as the Yankees All-Time Strikeouts Leader with 1,958, two seasons with over 20 wins (21 in both 1996 and 2003), a 3-time All-Star (1996, 2001, 2010), and a clear leader in postseason pitching with 19 wins in 44 starts. He has 218 wins in regular season games with the Yankees, 3rd on the Yankees All-Time Leaders list (behind Ford and Ruffing).

CoreFour
Posada, Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte
after the last game at the old stadium (2008)
via sportsillustrated.com

Part of the Core Four, Pettitte helped shape the dynasty that earned five World Series titles and helped revitalize the Yankees in today’s baseball again. But it wasn’t all roses to get there.

After years of titles and stars like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Ford, and Berra, the Yankees just stopped being the best as the stars aged and retired and the younger players were traded away for cash to fill in the gap between expenses and profits that was ever-increasing. Many of the anti-Yankee-ness has to do with the diva image founded in the early Steinbrenner years, when Steinbrenner bought the Yankees from CBS and was “forced” to pay big money for big players and not take the time to develop through the farm system. They wanted to get people in the seats first so they could use the profits of an (up until then) unprofitable team to build a minor league system that was more than just trading grounds for less than stellar big league players. Titles in the late 70’s helped, but the attitudes of the “star players” and the constant row between the manager Billy Martin and Steinbrenner brought nothing but negative attention to the club.

By the early 90’s with a team on the downhill again, the attention turned away from the current roster and money was instead poured into the farm system. Scouting became a priority and finding not just fillers in the roster but those who could actually be developed into a long-term. And thus the Core Four was born — Jorge Posada of Puerto Rico, the son of a Cuban refugee; Derek Jeter of Michigan, the bi-racial son of a substance abuse counselor; Mariano Rivera of Panama, a poor son of a fishing captain; and Andy Pettitte of Texas, the son of a working class family. All four overcame different hardships and challenges that shaped them into the competitive athletes they would become. That drive they all possessed would push them further and spark a friendship that developed during their times in the Yankees’ minor league system.

CoreFourSICover
The Core Four on SI Cover in 2010
(l to r) Jeter, Posada, Rivera, and Pettitte
via sportsillustrated.com

Being in the most physically demanding position of the Four, Posada retired in 2011. Having the youngest children of the group I’m sure also played into that role, including a son born with craniosynostosis, an infantile skull-brain syndrome that can be fatal without quick medical and surgical intervention. He and his wife Laura began a foundation to help other families with children in similar situations but without the resources available.

And now, Rivera and Pettitte are also choosing family over baseball. And I guess, now that the shock has worn off, it really seems like the right thing. Both are men of strong faith, who are open about their desire to be more involved in their respective churches. And both are not wanting to miss one more moment of their families who are of similar ages — their oldest newly in college and the youngest are still in elementary school. And as someone who cherishes both faith and family personally, I have to say that I fully understand and support their decision. It’s sad, it is what it is, but it’s the right one at the right time. And unlike before, I don’t think either will have many regrets about it, at least in the long-run.

And then there was one, and alone on a lot of the fronts I’ve mentioned. Jeter also has youth in his favor compared to his former (and soon to be former) teammates, though I doubt many people would talk about “youth” and “Jeter” in the same sentence these days. He is the youngest of the Four, still single, and though currently injured, the only one still with an ongoing contract with the Yankees. There is nothing keeping him off the field (short of an involuntary stint on the DL), so I doubt we’ll see the words “Jeter” and “retiring” solidly confirmed in the same sentence any time soon.

Best wishes to all the Four in their 2014 endeavors! Thanks for the memories, the passion for the sport and team, and the foundations of what I hope will be another great generation of Yankee ball players.

Go Yankees!