This is the second part of my series of articles spotlighting on the end of Yankee Stadium, this one is about the teams in 1995-2001.
The Yankees in 1995 had Buck Showalter as their manager who seemed eager to win and take the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 1981. After the 1994 season Yankees fan were left to wonder what could've been because there was no World Series being played for the first time since 1902. In 1994 the Yankees were leading the AL East when the season was cut short, and Paul O'neil had won a batting title. Buck Showalter and the rest of the Yankees were developing players in the farm system, something that wasn't seen in the 1970's and 1980's. During that time period they had signed the likes of Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Jim "Catfish" Hunter. George Steinbrenner had also been obsessed with attempting to trade for Oakland starter Vida Blue.
Throughout the early 1990's the Yankees had developed Bernie Williams, a centerfielder who would stay on the team until 2006. He would become a core leader of this team during the championship years.
In 1989 the Yankees front office signed a slick fielding shortstop for a mere $2000 from the Dominican Republic. That was a very small price for the player who would eventually develop into the greatest closer of all time; Mariano Rivera. At the start of his pitching career he had trouble getting his fastball up above 90 mph, which is thought of to be insufficient velocity without developing other pitches. Mariano Rivera used one pitch in his career which broke bats left and right. This pitch was known as the cutter, or a cut fastball which came in on tough Left Handed hitters.
In the 1992 draft the Yankees drafted as shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan named Derek Jeter, who turned down a baseball scholarship at the University of Michigan to sign with the Yankees. Some scouts doubted his future success in the Major Leagues because the Michigan High School baseball season was short due to the cold and rainy springs. The Yankee scout, who found him said that Jeter was a player who "absolutely had it". Throughout the minor leagues Jeter struggled until he was called up for the post-season in 1995.
Game 5, 1995 ALDS against the Seattle Mariners was when this team learned how to take defeat and have a desire to get to the promise land. Don Mattingly had appeared in his first post-season ever in 1995 and he performed batting over .400 in the series despite the losing effort. The look on that team's face in the dugout was one of disappointment as Ken Griffey Jr. scored the winning run.
Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams learned what losing felt like, a feeling that they both hated. But with the start of the 1996 season changes were brought upon the organization, firstly with a new General Manager. Gene Michael was someone who had been with the organization as a player, scout, manager and lastly as a Manager. Prior to the 1996 season Bob Watson was hired, who had previously worked as a GM for the Astros. Gene Michael stayed within the organization as a scout.
The next move that was crucial to the Yankees winning World Series was the hiring of Joe Torre. The New York Post headline when he was hired read "Clueless Joe". He had been an all-star as a player, and also the 1971 NL MVP while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Joe had also played and managed the Cardinals, Braves and the cross-town Mets.
Torre was looking to finally have redemption and win a world series, something he never did as a player nor manager. Joe Torre was exactly what New York needed, a cool and collective manager who was able to talk to the brutal media in New York. The confidence from the George Steinbrenner was initially brought into question, because George Steinbrenner told Buck Showalter to get ready to possibly be named the manager in the middle of the year if the Yankees were off to a slow start.
The Yankees during this time period won championships with great pitching whether it be starting or out of the bullpen. In 1996 for example Andy Pettite won 21 games as a young grity starter for the Yankees. During any big game the Yankees could rely on their bullpen to get from starter to closer John Wettland. Mariano Rivera was setting him up and during any given game he was able to pitch the 7th and 8th innings to give the ball to Wettland.
Within 14 months of each other the Yankees had seen two perfect games at their stadium. Both of the opposing starting pitchers would actually end up playing for the Yankees, David Wells vs. Latroy Hawkins of the Twins and David Cone vs. Javier Vasquez of the Expos. David Wells also pitched this game while allegedly hung over from heavily binge drinking. This abuse of drugs and alcohol was present with two other players on the Yankees during their championship seasons; Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry.
George Steinbrenner had an affinity for anything New York Mets of the 1980's, as seen with acquiring David Cone in the 1995 season from the Toronto Blue Jays and giving Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry a second chance to make in New York. On May 14th 1996 Gooden no-hit the Seattle Mariners.
In addition to big game performances of pitchers these teams were mentally tough. After a crushing 1997 ALDS loss to the Cleveland Indians, the 1998 team was focused and ready to win another title for New York. Even after a slow start to the season this team put it in full gear by winning a record 125 games counting post-season play. That team was all about the concept of everyone having a responsibility and taking care of it.
Mentally tough players are what get it done in the clutch; this was aided by Orlando Hernandez who was a big game pitcher. Jim Leyritz in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series was a clutch player who shined when the game was on the line.
Overall, these teams put together times when they were able to play together and win as a team. These teams didn’t develop overnight, the key man to the success though was Joe Torre. It takes player development in the minor leagues, and also the GM and manager to make the right calls on player personal. The Yankees made the right moves by adding players like Tino Martinez, Paul O’neil and Roger Clemens to help be a part of championship teams. When impact players like Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee were able to make an impact and help the Yankees win it showed how much depth the organization had.
This team had its leadership from even the younger players such as Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams who would not let the concept of team be overshadowed by individual performances. Even in 2001 this team used the 9-11 attacks to be able to take the Arizona Diamondbacks to a Game 7 in the World Series in which they were winning the game heading into the bottom of the 9th.
Now as the 2008 season has closed without the Yankees playing in the post-season, it will be interesting to when the Yankees will get back to where they once were.