Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera reflect on Derek Jeter and the Core Four legacy
NEW YORK - Derek Jeter is synonymous with the Core Four, and on Sunday, The Captain was the last member of that quartet to have his number retired in Monument Park.
Of course, the rest of the Core Four was there to celebrate, and the two pitchers of the group sat down together just prior to the ceremony to reflect on the official Yankees end of their era.
"It was an honor and a privilege to play with Derek for so many years," Mariano Rivera said just prior to the ceremony. "He was all about winning, and it was something special to see how he conducted himself on and off the field. He can teach a lot of youngsters, by example, about how to play the game."
"For me, as a starter, I only had to get prepared once every fifth day, but he had to do it every single day, and he did," Andy Pettitte added. "The way he went about his business every single day is extremely remarkable, and I was very blessed to have him playing shortstop behind me when I was on the mound."
When asked if he thought Jeter would get emotional at the ceremony, Rivera - who himself cried when the Core Four came to the mound to get him in his final appearance - said it didn't matter, he just wanted Jeter to enjoy the moment. It was to be another in a laundry list of career-defining moments, all of which at least two of the other three Core Four members were there for, but there isn't one necessarily that stands out above the rest.
"What I remember most is just the desire and will to win," Rivera said. "That was the pinnacle for us; it didn't matter how we won, as long as we won. It was about 25 players, not just one; Derek became the Captain, but we as teammates and brothers had to protect him and help him as much as we could."
Added Pettitte: "Yeah, I probably didn't appreciate it during the run, but when you look at the World Series appearances we made, it's pretty remarkable to look back and see how many we made and how many we won. Now that I'm retired, though, I can look back, and it's pretty special."
To Pettitte and Rivera, Jeter was the "total package." Nothing in particular, they noted, stood out about Derek, as he simply brought everything you could ask for, tangible and intangible, to the table both on and off the field, and did so without a lot of flash or focus on himself.
So, it's not necessarily about the moments Jeter provided to them, but more about how he did it.
"The one thing that stands out on the field with Derek is that that if you ever needed a big hit, especially in the postseason, it was him," Pettitte said. "Those are hard at-bats where you're under pressure, and Derek was the absolute best at handling those at-bats and time and time again coming up with big hits. For me, he's the greatest clutch hitter that I've ever played with."
And that fit in with the narrative of Jeter: that the only thing that mattered was winning.
"When we came to Spring Training, we came with a mission: to win," Rivera said. "We weren't happy to just get to the playoffs, or to finish second. We wanted to win it all. That was always our vision."
"We had a really good nucleus built, and the Yankees would always surround us with the guys we needed, who had the drive and desire to win like we did," Pettitte added. "That has to happen, because the seasons and the years get so long, but we knew they were pushing as an organization behind us. All of us were pulling in the same direction, and the whole package together was the perfect mix."
The end result was five World Championships and 71 combined years in pinstripes for the quartet, and from now on, when anyone visits Monument Park, or looks up at the wall beyond the left field bleachers with all the retired numbers painted on it, they will see the entire Core Four, as well as Bernie Williams and manager Joe Torre, next to legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra.
"We were blessed; to be able to play with the type of players we did, you don't see that too often," Rivera said. "You talk about guys like those...we have the privilege and blessing to be there, and that says a lot about this group of guys."
A blessing for sure, even if one of them still can't believe it.
"It's weird for me to even fathom thinking about it, because I can't believe my number is there with those guys," Pettitte said. "Maybe 40 years from now, I'll feel like one of those guys, but I'm still in awe of the guys up there that I was able to run shoulders with when I first came up. These guys, though, they're just my buddies who I played with, so it's extremely weird for me to think about being up there."
That said, though, there is one thing Jeter and Core Four-related Pettitte can appreciate.
"Because we came up together, and these guys are who I played with my whole career, so it wasn't really a big deal until I got out of baseball, looked at the numbers and saw what he did," the lefty said. "And, it's incredibly special now to reflect back over 20 years and see the drive that he had."