"The Gang of Four," "The Four Amigos," "The Core Four."
When the Yankees' hoisted their 27th World Series Championship trophy the focus was on the four Yankee stalwarts; Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. There were numerous other storylines, from Matsui's historically prolific performance to Girardi's return to the World Series joining Billy Martin and Ralph Houk as the only Yankees in history to win a championship with the team as both a player and manager.
But at the core of the 2009 championship team — in both an emotional and a tangible sense — were those four players. These men, all of whom have been the stabilizing mechanism that has held the recently volatile organization together throughout the many recent disappointments, have now served as the inspiration behind the World Series triumph of 2009. While players like Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Rondell White, Kenny Lofton, and Raul Mondesi came and went those four "true" Yankees (with the exception of Pettitte's short hiatus) have been the stalwarts, the pillars, the keepers of the Yankee legacy. And their commitment, loyalty, and devotion to a baseball institution greater than themselves gave Brian Cashman the consistent base he needed to finally get the formula correct once again, and bring home the long awaited 27th world championship in the franchise's 106-year history.
The last time around when the "Core Four" won a championship together (2000) things were different in the Bronx. Derek Jeter was 26, had just finished his third straight 200-hit season and was emerging as one of the greatest players in the game, with four World Series championships in his first five full seasons in the show.
28-year-old Jorge Posada finally escaped the shadow (and platoon) of his now manager Joe Girardi, officially becoming the Yankees regular starting catcher. That season Posada showed the first evidence that he would continue a proud Yankee lineage of catchers that spans from Wally Schang in the 20s to Thurman Munson in the 70s, ripping out 28 home runs and 86 RBIs — both career highs — and establishing himself as one of the premier offensive catchers in the game.
Andy Pettitte — also 28 — put in another solid season in the Yankees' rotation, winning 19 games and turning in one of the best postseason performances of his career.
And Mariano Rivera — the eldest of the four at 30 — was in the midst of his utter dominance of the American League and establishment as the greatest closer of all-time, once again tearing through the regular season and turning it up to astronomical levels in the postseason.
All arriving in the big leagues together in 1995, this foursome of homegrown youth was a huge factor in four World Series Championship teams. But through 2001, they were surrounded consistently with established veterans. Regulars like Paul O'Neil, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, and Chuck Knoblauch along with a rotation of role players like Cecil Fielder, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, and David Justice melded with the youth of the Yankees to create the dynasties of the 1990s.
But by 2001 O'Neil, Martinez, Brosius and the rest of the veterans from Torre's 90s dynasty, saw their careers winding down as the Yankees' front office began to replace them with bad investments like Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and Ruben Sierra, frantically plugging holes, but never quite stopping the sinking ship (although seven playoff appearances in eight years in hardly considered sinking anywhere else). Big-game pitchers like David Cone, David Wells, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, and eventually even Pettitte were replaced by soulless facsimiles like Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Denny Neagle. And for nine years after the 2001 heart-wrenching loss to the Diamondbacks, the "Core-Four" that remained through year after year of disappointing results by players wearing the pinstripes in disparagement, like whores dressed for the corner, looking for excessive amounts of money and an end of career championship to seal their own legacies and stroke their own egos.
Through those nine years when even the loyalist of Yankee fans cringed as they begrudgingly cheered for players that so obviously had no respect or reverence for the insignia on their chest and the place their actions held in baseball history, evident, in its most gruesome form by the great collapse of 2004. But throughout every heartless Randy Johnson start, every frustrating Alfonso Soriano playoff at bat, and every embarrassment from players fighting with the press (Johnson again) to allegations and confirmations of PED use (especially centered on the New York teams due to the proximity of the teams to the main information supplier for the infamous Mitchell Report). But no matter what humiliation was splashed across the headlines of the New York media, the core-Yankees held together the tradition and integrity of the franchise.
Now Jeter is 35 (and the AL MVP this season if Joe Mauer didn't exist). Posada is 37 (and arguably the second best offensive catcher in the game). Pettitte is 37 (and yet still won the clinching games in all three rounds of the playoffs in 2009). And Rivera is 39 and yet posted 44 saves with a 1.76 ERA on the season. He was stellar in the playoffs while putting in muti-inning outings several times and collecting two saves in the World Series and five saves total in the playoffs. While it was Pettitte who started every series clinching game in the 2009 playoffs it was Rivera finishing things off at the end.
They are the Yankees' greatest accumulation of homegrown talent since Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, and Bobby Richardson played in seven World Series' together from 1957 to 1964, winning three Championships at the tail-end of the Mantle helmed dynasties of the 50s and 60s. Now Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera have placed their names in Yankee lore with their fifth Championship in seven World Series appearances. And with all playing near, if not at, the levels of their primes, there is a chance that this group will make a run at the all time record of eight WS appearances by Mantle, Ford, Howard, and Yogi Berra (from 1955 to 1964, winning four). Either way, the fact that 2009 is their fifth championship together — topping both other sets of foursomes — already establishes them as one of, if not the greatest, consistent foundation of Yankees' talent ever.
And while Pettitte's diminished effectiveness from all the miles on his arm (could this have finally been his last hurrah?) may prevent it, the "core four" seem to have ample opportunity to only add to their already gaudy numbers together. Jeter isn't stopping his amazing production any time soon, Posada and Rivera have a few good seasons left. And the Yankees could do a lot worse than an aging Andy Pettitte as a fourth or fifth starter for another season or two. And with a team built of a mix of quality home grown talent (Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, etc) and excellent, fundamentally sound veterans, all with their egos in check (Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, CC Sabathia, and apparently Alex Rodriguez now), the group that is the final connection to the Torre dynasties (besides Cashman and Girardi) finds themselves surrounded by a team that highly resembles the previous dynasty and may actually be an improvement when considered from a top to bottom talent evaluation.
A few years back Cashman discovered the religion of modern sabermetrics. The 2009 Yankees' squad shows, now that the GM has finally learned how to apply his new belief structure appropriately to his roster, surrounding his "pillars" with quality (as apposed to merely expensive) support, another dynasty has become a realistic possibility.
2009 Regular Season and Post Season Stats of the "Core Four":
Jeter: .334/18/66 (30 steals, .496 OBP): Hit and .400 with a .538 OBP in ALDS and .407 with a .429 OBP in the WS)
Posada: .285/22/81 (.363 OBP and 130 OPS+): Contributed 5 RBIs in the World Series
Pettitte: 14-8, 4.16 ERA, 1.382 WHIP (not bad for a possible 5th starter: Won all three clinching games at every level of the playoffs.
Rivera: 1.76 ERA, 44 Saves, 0.905 WHIP: Absolutely dominated every level of the playoffs, surrendering one run in 16 innings with 14 ks to five walks and saving every single clinching game in the playoffs.
Not exactly the numbers of a bunch of old guys making one last run at the end of their careers.
Without a doubt, the first four championships won by Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera were memorable and important to the franchise, to them personally and to their legacy from a big picture standpoint. But when the old dynasty melted away, and they were unable to get the Yankees back to that ultimate plateau for so many years (in a relative sense), it was obvious that something important was missing from their collective legacy.
But now there is still no Tino, no Paulie, and no David Wells. David Cone is announcing Yankee games for YES rather than pitching in them for the club and Bernie Williams has traded playing centerfield at Yankee stadium for playing his music at Carnegie Hall as an accomplished jazz guitarist. But despite amazing performances by the Yankees' youth and big free agent signings in the offseason, throughout the year and the playoffs it was Jeter, Posada, Rivera, and ultimately Pettitte and his playoff mastery, that led the Yankees' to championship glory once again. While the win was consistently dedicated to the ailing Boss George Steinbrenner — coming in the first season of the new baseball palace he constructed as his last definitive act as Yankees' owner — the victory truly belonged to those four Yankees greats who will someday join the elite in monument park, and will always be remembered as the epicenter of one of the most prosperous times in the history of the most successful franchise in professional sports.