By Sweeny Murti
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The Yankees will, in all likelihood, be officially eliminated from postseason contention in another day or two. And that’s only the second time in the last two decades that was an accurate statement.
Maybe that’s why Sunday’s ceremony to honor Mariano Rivera felt more like one last hurrah for the last Yankee dynasty. Instead of all celebration, there was a tinge of sadness knowing the end is so very near. Is this what it felt like to watch The Beatles on the rooftop in January 1969?
Derek Jeter intends to come back next year, but now his longest tenured teammate will be — gulp — Alex Rodriguez. Yes, they did win a World Series together in 2009. But the future of both players is in question for reasons both medical and legal. And on Sunday it had to hit all Yankees fans in their 20s and 30s the same way: their fondest childhood memories are now just that — memories.
“It’s very nostalgic for me,” Joe Torre said after Sunday’s ceremony. “Baseball, while you’re doing it, you think it’s going to last forever. When you get everyone together it conjures up all those memories. It wasn’t easy. We won a lot but we always seemed to find a different way to do it.”
They made it look easy, didn’t they? How did it happen? It was a combination of talent, leadership and luck coming together at the right time.
“I think it was just a perfect storm of circumstances that brought us together,” said Bernie Williams, who is somewhat akin to the Fifth Beatle when people talk about The Core Four of Jeter, Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. “I do give the Yankees a lot of credit to be able to see that formula and just keep it going, do whatever they needed to do to keep us together for all those years. In this day and age that rarely happens.”
“We were taught the right way, we really were,” Posada said. “The minor league instructors and a lot of people in the minor leagues really deserve a lot of credit. We were here because of them.”
The good fortune was that the Yankees found a group of players with the same competitive fire of their bombastic owner, George Steinbrenner, and the right temperament and mentality to accept his impossibly high standards as their own.
“There was a combination,” Posada said. “We mingled real well. It was a marriage from the get go. We all led—Andy taking care of the starting rotation, me and Derek taking care of the regular guys, and Mariano in the bullpen. You put Bernie in there too. It was kind of like everybody needed to do their part to pull the boat the right way.”
“These guys were never satisfied,” Torre said. “I couldn’t have been more proud of a ballclub. Every spring we’d do boring things like cutoffs and relays. And every single one of them went through them like they’d never done it before, because they were asked to do it. And they realized they couldn’t admire what they just accomplished. They had to continue to do it.”
Talent and leadership. The Yankees once produced it by the barrel. And now there’s only Jeter, who stepped back on Sunday to realize that he has never lived a day as a Yankee without some combination of Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte in the same room with him. And one year from now we might be bidding Jeter farewell too. He has said many times how much of a nightmare this season has been and his buddy Posada knows it.
“He just needs to get ready for next season,” Posada said of Jeter. “He needs to realize he has a next year like Mariano (after his injury in 2012). Go out on your own terms.” Posada then added, almost as if to make sure he wasn’t giving anything away, “If this is going to be it next year.”
And even though the Yankees will be looking to reduce payroll next year, and will still have a slew of aging players, they will need to maintain some level of Yankee idealism moving forward. The well that produced and acquired all the great players that stood on the field before the game Sunday appears to have dried up. Will Robinson Cano help lead the next generation? Will CC Sabathia? Will David Robertson?
Joe Girardi has benefited from the talent and leadership of Yankee greats as both player and manager, and even he doesn’t seem to know exactly how the Yankees will be the Yankees again, except to simply believe it will be so.
“It will come from within that clubhouse,” Girardi said. “Guys will step up. That’s what happens, life changes and people move on and other people step up. I think we’re too far away from that right now to determine who’s going to do that. (But) I don’t have any doubt that somebody will step up.”
Funny thing, though. The Beatles never got back together. And nobody else ever really took their place, did they? The Yankees will be the Yankees again one day. But they won’t ever be the same as the group you saw assembled one last time on Sunday.
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