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Yankees Old Band Back Together for One Final Rodeo

Flickr | Keith Allison

Legend of the 'Core Four' lives on

In November of 2007, the Yankees signed 36 year-old Jorge Posada to a four-year, $52 million pact. At the time, they knew that it would probably be the final contract handed out to their longtime backstop, but what the Yankees didn’t predict is that his fellow core four buddies would still be marching on together in the year 2013.

It stands almost mathematically impossible for four players of their caliber to break into the league together during the same summer, especially in the same clubhouse. Even more remarkable is the fact that all these years later, three of them are still wearing pinstripes and chasing championships after winning their first together back in the fall of 1996, the same fall that Bill Clinton was re-elected President.    

To further put it in perspective, that year gas was $1.20 a gallon, the best movie in theatres was Independence Day, and Tupac Shakur was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. 

Since the core four all first hit the Bronx in 1995, the Yankees have been a staple of winning and made the postseason seventeen of eighteen seasons. Along the way, the longtime teammates won five World Championships together and established a winning culture second to none.

Once upon a time, they helped direct the Bombers to four championships in five years, and six World Series appearances during an eight year stretch between 1996 and 2003. However, slowly but surely the dynastic years have become a thing of the past, as they’ve only celebrated one parade down the Canyon of Heroes during the past twelve years.

They no longer play in the House that Ruth built, rather in the one they helped build across the street. ‘The Boss’, George Steinbrenner, and longtime PA announcer Bob Sheppard passed away in July 2010.  Joe Torre is currently the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, and Joe Girardi, his catcher on three of those championship teams is now the man in charge. Tino Martinez was recently named Marlins hitting coach, and Roger Clemens is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot.

A lot has changed since then, however the glory years will fortunately live on in 2013 through the remaining trio. On Tuesday, the 40 year-old Pettitte re-upped with the club and will earn a base salary of $12 million, plus potential awards bonuses.

After retiring at the end of the 2010 season, he announced this past March that he would return. He made his first start back on May 13, working into the seventh inning of a 6-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

He started eight more games before getting struck by a line drive off the bat of the Cleveland Indians' Casey Kotchman and breaking his foot. Working vigorously to return, he made it back for a few crucial starts down the stretch.

The warhorse went on to pitch well in the playoffs, going 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in two starts, one each against the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS.

He proved to be as good as ever in the abbreviated season, going 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA. While some are saying that the Yankees paid a steep price in retaining his services, the pedigree of Pettitte alone is plenty reason to break the bank.  

His 208 wins in pinstripes are good for third in the team’s storied history behind only legends Red Ruffing and Whitey Ford. His 408 starts trail only Ford’s 438, and his 1,892 punch-outs are 64 behind Ford’s top mark. His 2,611 innings rank fourth, and his 417 appearances are seventh-best.

Those numbers, though, are overshadowed by his play in October. The southpaw from Baton Rouge is the winningest pitcher in postseason history with a 19-11 record and 3.81 ERA in 44 career playoff starts.

He is known as old reliable around these parts, and the same can also be said for the ageless Rivera. The birthday boy, who turned 43 Thursday, was rewarded with a one-year, $10 million deal, plus incentives as a gift.

While most teams in baseball go through new closers every season, the Yankees have had the luxury of not worrying about the ninth inning since 1997 thanks to Rivera. He will be a lab-rat of sorts next season, as there is no history on a 43-year old closer coming back, especially one coming off major surgery. History will be against him, as only Dennis Eckersley has recorded a save after his 43rd birthday (just one, as a member of the Red Sox in 1998).

It’s hard to doubt Rivera, who has been nearly flawless during his eighteen seasons in the Bronx. The all-time saves leader (608) will get a chance to pad those stats some more before Cooperstown calls, and add yet another unprecedented accomplishment to his resume.

Last spring it was widely assumed that he would ride into the sunset following the season, but in May he crumpled to the warning track of Kaufman Stadium tearing his ACL and altering any retirement plan. Soon after, he declared that he would be coming back, as he didn’t want the last image of himself on a baseball diamond to be riding in the back of a groundskeeper’s four-wheeler. Ironically, there is a similar twist of fate to why his longtime pal Andy Pettitte is back in the fold.

"It seems like things don't work out like you envision them in life," Pettitte said in August. "I figured coming in here that I would pitch this year and I would fully exhaust myself of whatever I had left in me as far as for baseball or whatever. And as of this moment right now, I want to pitch more right now than I did when I first came to the big leagues.”

This is what makes Pettitte and his Hall of Fame buddies Rivera and Jeter so special. They aren’t still playing at a high level in their advanced age by chance. These guys are among the most dedicated players in sports, and their passion to win burns stronger than most.

The three living Yankee icons continue to play not for the numbers or the money, rather because they love the game and love to win. "The main reason why I'm coming back is we got another chance to maybe have an opportunity to get to a World Series, and hopefully win another World Series with this group of guys,” Pettitte said yesterday while talking on WFAN 660 AM.

Their facial hair may be a bit gray, but their sky-high expectations remain the same, and always seem to be met. While it sounds rather unfair, the Yankees expect Jeter, at 39, to continue to be the straw that stirs the drink. They expect Mo to be Mo, and they expect Andy to still be dandy - just how it was during the good old days.

If indeed the Mayans were wrong, the trio will once again enter another spring training together and continue to make things feel right in the world. Even if it’s for just a season. Nothing lasts forever, and the band will eventually have to break up.

They’re already pushing their luck with the indestructible forces of Father Time, as the legendary group will be a combined 123 years-old come next season. These guys don’t have retirement on their minds just yet, though; instead they already have their eyes set on World Series number six.