Nov 10, 2009

The way I see it: A new dynasty is born

by Jake Petersen

The way I see it, the final out of the 1996 World Series marked the biggest catch of little-known Charlie Hayes’ career and it also marked the beginning of the current Yankee dynasty.

Yankee closer John Wetteland stood on the mound, with the Yankees one out away from securing its first World Series title since 1978, and pesky Mark Lemke at the plate standing in the way with the tying run on second. The ever-so-impatient New York crowd was going nuts, waiting to erupt into pandemonium, and all eyes were on Wetteland. The Yankee closer had been perfect thus far in the Series, notching three saves in three attempts, but the Braves had been able to push across a run on Wetteland during this game, and one more hit could mean a tie game.

Lemke battled Wetteland throughout the at-bat, fouling back pitch after pitch, and living up to his reputation as being one of the peskiest hitters on the 1996 Atlanta squad. Wetteland, sweat-stained Yankee hat and all, kept firing fastball after fastball to no avail as Lemke kept fouling them off. Finally, Lemke sent another foul ball towards the Atlanta dugout. This one stayed in play, and as the stadium watched the ball fall slowly from the sky towards Hayes’ glove, FOX broadcaster Joe Buck was shouting, “Another chance to the left side, Hayes waits…the Yankees are champions of baseball!”

In order to explain the significance of the victory and the beginning of the current New York dynasty, a little background on the 1996 Series is needed.

The Braves had established themselves as the cream of the crop in the National League behind the three-headed pitching monster of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine after winning the 1995 World Series over the Cleveland Indians. It was no surprise that the Braves embarrassed the Yankees in game one of the ’96 World Series 12-1 in front of a jam-packed Yankee Stadium itching to see their Bronx Bombers in action.

The Bronx Bombers, however, turned into the Bronx Bummers in that first game, as Smoltz pitched six dominant innings and allowed just two hits as the Braves cruised to victory. After losing game two in New York 4-0, the Yankees were in a deep hole against the best team in the Majors — and it did not seem to be getting any shallower as they traveled to then Fulton County Stadium for three more games down 2-0.

It was in Atlanta where the Yankees sprung to life. Game three was won 2-0 behind a remarkable gem from David Cone, who had undergone surgery in May to repair an aneurysm in his pitching arm. Game four was won in extra innings due to a huge three-run home run by Jim Leyritz off of untouchable Braves closer Mark Wholers, and the Yankees improbably won game five as Andy Pettitte outdueled Smoltz by pitching 8 1/3 solid innings of shutout baseball.

The Yankees, who were down 2-0 going into game three, had staged one of the most remarkable feats in postseason history, marching onto the Braves home turf and stealing three straight games against a team that was highly touted as baseball’s best after winning the World Series in 1995.

And so began the New York Yankee dynasty of 1996 to 2000. Hayes will forever be etched in the memories of Yankee fans watching that game (despite the fact he hit just .188 for the Series). His catch symbolized the beginning of what had been missing from Yankee nation up until that point: dominance.

A true Yankee fan will tell you that it was the gritty, put-on-your-hardhat-it-is-time-for-work type players who were at the forefront of the Yankee dominance from 1996-2000. Paul O’Neill. Tino Martinez. Bernie Williams. Scott Brosius. Derek Jeter. David Cone.

Compare them to the overpaid, prima donna, I-want-my-own-suite-on-every-road-trip players the Yankees have brought in during the last few seasons (example Gary Sheffield) and I would take any of the 1996-2000 Yankee teams over them — hands down.

So if the 1996 Yankees were the beginning of a dynasty in which the Yankees rose to the level they’re at right now by winning four World Series titles from 1996-2000, is the 2009 squad mark beginning of a “new” dynasty after beating the Phillies in this year’s World Series?

This year’s team is comparable to the ’96 squad. Some of the same faces are still there (Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Pettitte) but the 2009 Yankees feature a star-studded lineup that more resembles the 1927 “Murderer’s Row” team featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri and Earle Combs. Mark Teixeira has replaced Tino Martinez at first place. Alex Rodriguez, arguably the best player in baseball, mans the third base position that Wade Boggs (and Hayes) manned for the ’96 team.

Teixeira will be at first base for a long time. Jeter will be there for five more years, tops. Posada? Give him two or three more years. And Rivera? Judging by the way he pitched this postseason, it seems as if he could pitch into his mid-forties barring any major injuries. The same goes for Rodriguez as well.

Factor in young talent such as Brett Gardner (26), Melky Cabrera (25), Robinson Cano (27), Joba Chamberlain (29), Phil Hughes (23), David Robertson (24), Nick Swisher (28) and a boatload of prospects (Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero) coming up from the minor leagues and the easy answer would be the Yankees certainly have the tools in the making for another dynasty.

Only time will tell, however, if they follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest Yankee teams in the history of baseball from 1996-2000, which was started by the best: that 1996 team, in my opinion. That’s just the way I see it.

Contact Jake Petersen at jtpetersen@liberty.edu..


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