The long embrace between Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera following the final strike of the ALCS said it all. It had been a long time. What seemed like a birthright for so many years had to be earned. Andy Pettitte joined the two as they embraced, before they ran to join the 4th member of the original 4 (Derek Jeter) and the rest of the team's celebration in the 5 spot on the field.
It has been six years since the Yankees have played in a World Series, nine years since the last title. For the beginning of Andy Pettitte's, Derek Jeter's, Mariano Rivera's, and Jorge Posada's careers October Baseball and Parades down the "Canyon of Heroes" was just part of the season. It became routine. Outside of a fluke loss in '97 to the Indians, Pettitte, Jeter, and Rivera would have won the championship the first five years of their careers. Instead they earned championship rings four out of five years. Posada won rings in his first three years from '98-'00. But another player on those teams also shared in on the embraces. Manager Joe Giradi.
Joe Giradi, a catcher who caught Dwight "Doc" Gooden's no hitter in '96, and David Cone's perfect game in '99, won championships in '96, '98, '99, with those Yankees. Now he has lead these Yankees to the big show for the first time since W.'s first term. After failing to reach the playoffs in his first year replacing Joe (Hall of Fame bound coach) Torre, Joe Giradi has righted a ship. Not an easy task with a locker room filled with All-Stars, future Hall-of-Famers, young prized talent, and a core group made up of players who Girardi once played with. One of which he mentored/competed with and eventually lost his job to in Jorge Posada, who is considered in many circles to be the fire of the team.
Granted he has a lot to work with, but interview after interview all year, every player speaks of buying into Joe's philosophy. Maybe most telling of all is the reaction of Alex Rodriguez, who time after time preaches how much the approach of the team is a reflection of Girardi's management. A World Series return, and the cohesiveness of the team, stems from three key factors.
The first key factor is the acceptance of the "core four." With out the approval of Jeter, Rivera, Posada or Pettitte, Girardi would not have been able to get a soul on board. These four were Joe (Torre's) boys for years. To adopt a new coach, let alone an ex-teammate, is a difficult task for a ball player. The four have accepted him as the skipper and trust him. And Girardi, for what it's worth, had no problem making tough decisions that were better for the team instead of an ex-teammate (e.g. starting Molina over Posada in Burnett playoff starts).
The second key factor came from a transfusion of new blood into the team. For years the Yankees were a corporate company racking up titles. Professional winners who didn't celebrate on the field until the World Series was won. Bernie Williams would have never pied Paul O'Neil in the face. Can you imagine? But somewhere along the line, that professionalism in the clubhouse became stale like cigarette smoke in the walls during the final years of the old stadium. Congested with high-contract players collecting checks, the locker room became quiet, and silent with players that didn't know how to win together. Now there are players who are excited to be Yankees, and to play for their first World Series appearance. Sure, they too got big checks in the off season, but they wanted to play for a team. With A.J. smacking people with pies, Swisher saluting, C.C. holding team dinners, and Teixeira playing the Tino card, the personality of the Yankees have changed. These guys like to have fun, and joke around, hell I've heard they even play music (loud) in the clubhouse.
All of this new positivity came from the top of the clubhouse -- there lies the third key factor. Joe Girardi looked at his club early in the season and saw he had an energy in the clubhouse that was different. He didn't instill the pinstripe way of old, but rather accepted it and nurtured it. Early in spring training, instead of practicing the team played hooky in favor of a billiards competition. Taking a little pressure off the top before the season began. Girardi has opened up to the club, the city, and the media more than he had before. And he let his players open up and be who they were. Would this have happened with George (Steinbrenner) healthy and on his game? Most likely not, but now Hal is running the fleet with Cashman, and the locker room helm belongs to a new Joe.