It’s been a couple hours now since we all witnessed the end of the Dynasty: A team that won 4 World Series between 1996 and 2000 and played in two others in
2001 and 2003. Paul O’Neill stands out in my mind as ‘the guy’ from that
era. He played hard every day, practiced his swing non-stop in the outfield
and threw his helmet after every at-bat, even if he hit a home run. He was
pure heart and he is responsible for the single most incredible sports
moment I have ever been a live witness to. In game 5 of the 2001 World
Series, the Yankees were down 2-0 to the Diamondbacks in the top of the 9th
inning. Yankee fans, rather than sulking in their seats got up and starting
chanting Paul O’Neill, eliciting what my friends who were watching on
television claim was tears from number 21. Of course, the Yankees ended up scoring two
runs in the bottom of the 9th with what must have been the longest home run
Scott Brosius ever hit (he was another heart guy). The Yankees ended up winning
the game in the bottom of the 12th as homegrown talent, Alfonso Soriano,
singled in the winning run.
Soriano is now a Ranger, gone in the trade for the ‘best player in
baseball,’ Alex Rodriguez. The same guy who tried to slap the ball out of
Bronson Arroyo’s glove on the way to first base in game 6 of the ALCS after he couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield.
Rodriguez is one of many new members of the 2004 Yankees without half the
heart that those guys like O’Neill, Brosius and Tino Martinez had. Today’s
Yankees have 4 homegrown guys left from that Dynasty run, Jorge Posada and
Bernie Williams along with Jeter (the heart) and Mariano (the soul). Those
guys know what it’s like to win, and more importantly to win right. They
were a classy bunch of hard-working guys. They were a group from whom Jeter
learned everything he knows about being a leader.
For all his faults, both at shortstop and at the plate, Derek Jeter
represents everything that a baseball player should be. Although he often appears to
have a non-chalant attitude, he is always the first guy at the top of the
steps to congratulate someone on a home run. He always runs hard, plays hard
and cheers on his team. He was a kid in 1996 and through that run we got to
see him become a man. Now, unfortunately, he’s surrounded by a bunch of guys
who, while great players, hardly have that workhorse swagger that went along
with those Dynasty players.
Call it nostalgia, but I miss those guys. I realized just how much this afternoon when it dawned on me that I wouldn’t give the following trade a second thought: Sheffield and Rodriguez for O’Neill and Brosius. I asked some friends and everyone agreed, they all said they’d much rather see those guys on the team. What does it say when you’re willing to trade two guys who hit 36 home runs each for two guys who in 2001 combined for 34 (21 by O’Neill and 13 for Brosius). Those guys knew what it was all about to wear the pinstripes. So much so that one person I asked responded, “I’d trade Sheff and A-Rod for just O’Neill.” Of course, with the size of contracts today, these guys aren’t going anywhere, but neither are the Yankees anytime soon.