Paul O'Neill, Mariano Rivera and Tino MartinezPhoto: Neil Miller
Celebrations are good for the baseball soul.
They are a gentle reminder that eras come and go. And when they are gone, they are gone forever.
The Yankees celebrated Paul O’Neill on Saturday, letting the world know what he meant to the organization and unveiling his Monument Park plaque.
Afterward, O’Neill let the world know what this organization meant to him, and the hard truth is, the Yankees probably never again will see the success they had from 1996-2000 — winning four World Series in five years.
The new business model throughout baseball is to just get to the playoff dance. The Yankees are trying to cobble together such a team.
“Looking back you kind of take that for granted when you are going through it, but you know how hard it is to win four championships in five years? It’s almost unheard of,’’ O’Neill said after the ceremony. “It was just an unbelievable special time in New York.’’
Those Yankees dominated. And they learned from their crushing 1997 October ouster by the Indians to be stronger. These Yankees are doing the best they can just to survive day-to-day.
On Saturday the bats were completely shut down by Cleveland’s dynamic Corey Kluber and the Indians’ bullpen in a 3-0 loss at Yankee Stadium before a capacity crowd of 47,376 fans who came to relive the glory days.
“I think the fans, the players, the media are starting to figure out that you just can’t hang onto those times, they don’t happen all the time,’’ O’Neill said. “Twenty years from now the generation of baseball fans that grew up during that era are still going to be talking about those late-90s teams.’’
O’Neill was gracious in every way.
“You can’t say enough about Mr. Steinbrenner, about keeping those teams together and you see in this day and age in sports, teams win and you don’t see the same players out there,’’ O’Neill said. “Mr. Steinbrenner brought those teams back and added to them and continually made them better because you’ve got to be better to continually win because everybody is out to get you.’’
Warriors just don’t come along every day.
“I think it is an end of a time, but it is a time that people remember, and that’s what’s neat about it,’’ O’Neill said. “Without world championships, without the teams that were here in the late ’90s, none of this would have happened.’’
The biggest ingredient to such success is talented players, of course.
“It takes talent, you might get away with it for a while, but it catches up with you,’’ O’Neill said. “This is starting to look like this was an era that you are not going to replicate soon. It was just the perfect people together and obviously the perfect manager, everything came into play at once.’’
Joe Torre was there to celebrate along with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, David Cone, Tino Martinez, and, of course, Derek Jeter, who moved past Honus Wagner into sixth place on the all-time hit list with an infield single in the sixth, hit No. 3,431.
Torre will get his number retired later this month. Martinez got his plaque in June.
O’Neill was about perfection, Jeter said.
“He expected a lot of himself,’’ the Captain said. “He was intense and expected perfection. He was a guy who really couldn’t understand the fact if you hit a ball hard how it could not be a hit. He was going to battle and have good, quality at-bats.’’
Torre said he knows how good he had it with those players and Don Zimmer as his bench coach.
“Paul was part of the glue that kept this thing together,’’ Torre said. “He was just relentless. He took everything very seriously. I remember one time saying in a meeting, ‘We’ve got to have a little fun guys, we’re not having any fun.’
“So he waited and got me alone and said, ‘Skip, it’s not fun unless you win.’ ”
This day was just another reminder how long ago those fun times were for the Yankees and their fans.