Mo celebration serves as reminder of Yanks' greatness
All-time great closer part of truly special clubs during his career
NEW YORK -- To see so many of these great Yankees gathered at one time and in one place is to be reminded how special their time was. So a Sunday afternoon set aside to honor Mariano Rivera became way more than that.
"It was very nostalgic for me," former Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
He was back at Yankee Stadium with Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez, with David Cone and Bernie Williams, with Jorge Posada, Jeff Nelson and others who have a warm place in the hearts and minds of Yankees fans.
As they were introduced and stepped onto the field to honor Rivera, the ovation and the chants began, and suddenly it felt like 1999 all over again.
Or one of those years.
The Yankees did it up perfectly, hitting all the right notes before Rivera's final regular-season home game. Yet in honoring him, they reminded us how spectacularly successful his era was.
For more than a decade, the Yankees were represented by players who got it in every way. They produced on the field, going to the World Series six times in an eight-year stretch and winning it four times.
They were consummate professionals, and when the great Yankees eras are discussed and remembered, this group will always be part of the discussion. That's their legacy, and that's part of what a Sunday afternoon filled with emotion and nostalgia was about.
"When you get everybody together, it just conjures up all those memories," Torre said.
When Derek Jeter was asked when he realized he was part of a special group of players, he smiled.
"Now," he said.
He then remembered when he and Rivera were sent back to the Minor Leagues on the same day and how they tearfully vowed to work hard and show the organization they deserved another chance.
That's how the grind began for both of them, and one of the things that made them so successful is that they always felt challenged by the next championship or the next season.
Only now can they take a deep breath and appreciate those four Torre-led championship teams and all those hundreds of nights when they thrived in a franchise that measures seasons in terms of championships.
"Just to see all those guys and just to step on the field stirred some huge memories, things that I will never be able to forget," Williams said. "How proud I was to play for this organization and to be a Major League Baseball player for the time that I was. And to be a part of this team, this great group of guys that, like Joe said, were never satisfied."
Like Torre, Williams said his years away from the game have allowed him to gain some perspective.
"I definitely agree with what [Torre] said about being in the moment and not really taking the time to step back and look at the whole body of work," Williams said. "The last couple of years, I've been able to do that and the more proud I feel to be part of this organization."
Torre said he was always impressed that as his Yankees won one championship, they worked just as hard toward another.
"These guys were never satisfied," he 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 it like they'd never done it before. Because they were asked to do it, and they realize that they couldn't admire what they just accomplished. Those are the memories."
Before the game, current Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the day filled him with pride and with some sadness.
With Andy Pettitte joining Rivera in retirement and with Jeter nearing the end of the line, the Yankees are about to lose all their touchstones to the past.
Girardi probably knows that it's almost impossible to produce a core group of players capable of so much greatness and then keep them together playing at a high level for so long.
While that's the challenge for the Yankees next season and beyond, this day was about taking a moment to look back.
"Players come and go," Torre said, "but every time someone put on a Yankees uniform, somebody was going to go over and put their arm around this guy and make him understand we're all one team. I know we really glorify a lot of individual achievement nowadays, but the teams that I managed were so unselfish. No one cared who got the credit. They were doing something together, and it really made my job more meaningful."
Rivera was one of the faces of this generation of Yankees. He was the same whether he'd been part of a victory or a loss. He influenced every other player with his preparation and poise and his commitment to give back to his community.
For that, he'll be compared right alongside to every other Yankees great forever. He would be the first to say that he was surrounded by greatness. And that, too, is what made this day so special.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.