NEW YORK — Each time the members of the 1998 Yankees reunite, it is difficult for them to believe that so much time has passed. The cultural touchstones state otherwise: a time capsule of Beanie Babies, dial-up Internet surfing and late-weekend treks returning VHS tapes to Blockbuster.
Yet one thing hasn’t changed in the 25 summers since their dominant march to a World Series championship: They are still the best team we’ll probably ever see. Their legacy was commemorated on Saturday afternoon as the Yankees celebrated the 75th Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium.
“We don’t get together as a group that often, but when we do, it feels like we’ve never left each other,” said Derek Jeter, who received the final introduction in his Old-Timers’ Day debut. “We played together since I was 18 years old. Even though we don’t see each other, it still feels like we’re together.”
The event eschewed the traditional game in favor of a new question-and-answer format, helmed by Suzyn Waldman and Joe Torre. Unfortunately, time seems to have caught up with too many would-be participants to put on a three-inning exhibition.
“I can’t; I’ve got a bad shoulder. I can’t even throw a ball to you,” Jorge Posada said. “I don’t think I could hit the ball. I didn’t want to embarrass myself out there.”
Instead, the members of the 1998 roster took turns at the microphone commenting on their favorite memories of that season. They recalled a club that seemingly elevated a different hero each night, charging to a then-record 114 regular-season victories before sweeping the Padres in the Fall Classic.
The 1998 squad boasted a complete lineup, a deep bench, stellar starting pitching and a lockdown bullpen. In a season when the rest of baseball was fascinated by the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase, Tino Martinez paced the club with 28 long balls, yet the Yankees paced the Majors with 965 runs scored.
“A day like this makes you realize what a special team it was,” Andy Pettitte said.
Twenty-eight members of the 1998 Yankees were on hand for Saturday’s festivities, in addition to representatives from other eras of franchise history, including Jesse Barfield, Bucky Dent, Ron Guidry, Hideki Matsui, Mickey Rivers and Roy White. But the focus settled on that memorable season, in which the Yankees were driven following an American League Division Series loss to Cleveland the previous October.
Torre’s club had stumbled to begin 1998, losing four of five games before a clubhouse meeting in Seattle corrected its course. Following Torre’s rebuke, the Yankees won 14 of 15 games, including a wild 17-13 victory over the Athletics in the home opener. New York claimed first place on April 30 and never let go.
“We all liked Joe Torre; we didn’t want him to get fired, so we went on a winning streak,” Paul O’Neill said.
David Wells’ May 17 perfect game highlighted a season with seven walk-off wins and 16 shutouts, as the Yankees only once lost more than three straight games, compiling five winning streaks of eight games or more.
“The hangover from ’97 left a bad taste in their mouth; that was talked about a lot,” Torre said. “The ’98 team was just relentless. We had a big lead, but it had nothing to do with our preparation and going out there to play the game as hard as we could. These guys really pulled together and pulled for each other, which I found just terrific to watch.”
Charging into the postseason, the Yankees swept the Rangers in three games in the ALDS, then rode a critical Game 4 start from Orlando Hernandez to avenge their season-ending defeat from an October earlier and advance past Cleveland in six games in the AL Championship Series.
The Padres won 98 regular-season games to claim the National League West by 9 1/2 games over the Giants, but the history-making Bombers outclassed them. Martinez electrified the Bronx with a grand slam off Mark Langston in Game 1, coming after a close 2-2 pitch.
“I don’t hit a whole lot of no-doubters, but that was a no-doubter,” Martinez said. “I got to enjoy my run to first base, watching the beer fly up there and the fans going crazy. It was probably one of my favorite trips around the bases.”
Hernandez pitched well in Game 2, sending the Series to Southern California. The Yankees rallied late in Game 3, with Scott Brosius slugging a three-run homer off Trevor Hoffman in the eighth. Pitching for a club rocked by Darryl Strawberry’s late-season colon cancer diagnosis, Pettitte fired a gem in the clincher, spinning 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
“That was a strange one for me; my dad had open-heart surgery the night of Game 2, so I wasn’t even with the team,” Pettitte said. “I flew in the night of Game 3 into San Diego and pitched Game 4. We were able to wrap the World Series up, and it was just a party after that.”
Mariano Rivera induced the final out, a ground ball by Mark Sweeney to Brosius at third base. Brosius leaped into the air, hands high above his head, and raced to the mound to participate in a dog pile that he called “truly a dream come true.”
“When you get that final out,” Posada said, “it’s just complete joy.”