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Sanson: The 11 Icons of the Yankee Dynasty, Part I

By TED SANSON
Pinstriped Freak Since 1989

With New York’s Giants and Jets being a bigger embarassment than a pregnant, naked Kardashian and Derek Jeter’s magnificent playing career in the rearview, what better time to reflect on one of the most legendary dynasties in the history of American sport?

You know exactly who I’m talking about….

The late 90s Yankees were a juggernaut, a never-say-die ball club that exemplified the word “team.” They had it all – highly paid established stars like David Cone, underpaid role players like Scott Brosius, young homegrown studs like Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the best finisher in the history of the game in Mariano Rivera (no disrespect to Peter North, they play a different game), a seasoned baseball man by the name of Joe Torre to push all the right buttons, and a charismatic shot caller at the top in George Steinbrenner who held everyone in the organization accountable and possessed an insatiable thirst for winning.

All these ingredients synthesized to form one of the greatest collections of talent ever assembled, culminating in an incredible run of four titles (96, 98-00), six appearances in the Fall Classic (01,03), and literally hundreds of unforgettable moments for spoiled Yankee fans like myself. So while I could get “Off Trax” and wax poetically for daaays about my fond childhood Yankee memories like a little dork, I’ll get to the meat of it (get ’em wet in the first 90 and dick ’em down in the last 10, that’s how I write). Without further ado I present to the Trax Pack “The 11 Icons of the Last Yankee Dynasty.”

11. Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez

El Duque shows off his patented high leg kick.
El Duque shows off his patented high leg kick.

El Duque famously defected from Cuba in 1998, braving 90 miles of shark infested Caribbean waters to come to the United States and pitch for the most storied franchise in professional sports – the Yankees, silly. As a 32-year-old rookie, Duque wowed the American League with a ridiculously high leg kick even the most talented strippers couldn’t emulate, a vast repertoire of pitches, and a bulldog demeanor on the mound. In his freshman campaign, Hernandez went 12-4 with a 3.13 as a mid-season callup at the height of the “Steroid Era” in the American League East (MLB’s smallest parks and best hitters) with the Yanks acheiving a mind-blowing 114-48 record.

While Duque’s regular season was pretty dope, his postseason success is what truly cements his legacy. In the ’98 American League Championship Series the Yankees were down to the star-studded Cleveland Indians 2-1 in game 4 – the only adversity they had faced all season. In his first postseason start, Hernandez was more unflappable than Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl when Janet Jackson’s titty popped out at half time (#CoolMove). Duque tossed seven scoreless frames against an Indians lineup with the likes of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, and Brian Giles (WOW, what a fucking team that was). The Yanks would win the game 4-0 and wouldn’t lose another game in the series or the entire postseason on their way to their 24th title.

Hernandez would continue his big-game dominance, starting out his playoff career 8-0. Duque tore shit up again in 1999 against the Atlanta Braves, with the Yanks winning their second title in the midst of a three peat (you ain’t so special, LeBron). Duque finished his Yankee career 61-40 with a 3.96 ERA but his postseason mark of 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA is one of the best in baseball history. Duque would later add some more bling to his jewelry drawer as a member of the World Series Champion White Sox in 2005, not allowing a run in four postseason innings.
Video clip: David Cone tries to do the “Duque.”

10. John Sterling

"Pa Pinstripe" sits atop his throne in the Yankee press box.
“Pa Pinstripe” sits atop his throne in the Yankee press box.

2014 John Sterling may be old, senile, weird as fuck, and incapable of looking at the monitor and calling a basebll game at the same time (I feel ya John, I can’t multitask for shit either), but nobody can capture a moment quite like “Pa Pinstripe” (the moniker given to him by NY Daily News media critic Bob Raissman). Sterling’s theatrics, quirky home run calls, and unparalleled excitement in the booth framed the Yankee dynasty in a way that Hollywood movie producers wish they could emulate.

Sterling’s famed home run calls like “Bern babyyyy Bern!” (T’s personal fave), “Jorgie Juiced One,” and “Alexander the Great Conquers Again! An A-Bomb from Aaaaa-Rod,” will not soon be forgotten. As long as I inhabit this shitty planet, I’ll fondly remember listening to Sterling and Michael Kay and the most dominant ball club of all-time on summer road trips. There’s nothing quite as beautiful and romantic as a warm summer evening with fireflies dotting the landscape like stars in outer space and America’s pastime over the air waves (I’m a weirdo, sure. But baseball is beautiful and romantic and I’m sure there’s weird bitches out there that feel the exact same way, hopefully they read this friggen blog).

If baseball is as beautiful, timeless and romantic as I claim it to be, then John Sterling is the Barry White (or Trigga Trey Songz for you millenials with no appreciation of the past) of narrating the alluring story of “our game.”

Video clip: Sterling calls Raul Ibanez’s memorable blasts in the 2012 ALDS.

9. Tino Martinez

Tino Martinez goes deep against the D-Backs in the 2001 World Series.
Tino Martinez goes deep against the D-Backs in the 2001 World Series.

Tino Martinez was put in the unenviable position of being the replacement for one of the most popular Yanks of all-time, Don Mattingly (for you pop culture freaks, think Michael Strahan replacing Regis, or Sammy Hagar replacing DLR in Van Halen). Tino initially struggled and wasn’t well-received by fans, but quickly won the fickle New Yorkers over with his passion and intensity on the diamond (if Sterling is Barry White, then Tino is Enrique Iglesias. I can be your heroooo baby). From 1996-2001, Tino played a hell of a defensive first base (and was screwed out of a Gold Glove by Rafael Palmeiro, when he was primarily a DH) and averaged 29 homers and 115 RBI batting in the 5-hole behind Bernie Williams.

Tino’s signature moment in pinstripes was his upper-deck Grand Slam off Mark Langston in Game 1 of the ’98 Series with the score tied at 5 in the bottom of the 7th (Tino should’ve struck out earlier in the AB on a 2-2 pitch that was right down the dick). Kay’s call here is truly legendary, and this is probably the most ear splitting moment in the history of the “real” Yankee Stadium (man, that place could really rock. It’s a shame the Steinbrenners are money hungry scumbags like the rest of the world, and have taken the heart and soul out of the greatest franchise in all of professional sports. But that is another blog for another day).

I’d also be remiss not to mention Tino’s game-tying blast off Byung-Hyun Kim with two outs in the bottom of the 9th Game 4 of the super epic 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Video clip: Tino’s stadium shaking Grand Slam against the Padres in 1998.

8. The Boss.

"The Boss," rocking his trademark aviator shades.
“The Boss,” rocking his trademark aviator shades.

George M. Steinbrenner III remains one of the greatest owners in the history of professional sports and it is a crime of epic proportions (not on some Michael Brown shit, though) that he’s not enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Steinbrenner’s place on this list is an interesting one, and is mostly due to his uncanny  ability to make the outlandish combination of aviators and turtlenecks cool (LOL how is that even possible? Turtlenecks might be the worst piece of fashion ever created, this is coming from someone who’s personal style has been called into question by certain sadly misinformed females).

To get back “On Trax” and beyond the Boss’ highly unusual but iconic style, his fiery competitive spirit, unrivaled commitment to winning and delivering the best possible product to Yankee fans were the driving catalysts behind the Yankee dynasty. George’s boisterous demeanor created a productive tenseness around the Yankee clubhouse where players, coaches, and executives all felt immense pressure to perform to their maximum capabilities to acheive one common goal – winning.

While George’s persona, will to win, and commanding presence were essential in winning four titles between 1996 and 2001, it was his absense that may have had more of a positive impact on the franchise. From 1990 to 1993, then-Commisioner Fay Vincent suspended Steinbrenner from baseball for paying a rebuted gambler to “dig up dirt” on Dave Winfield (George did some shady shit back in the day and was highly critical of Winfield, calling him Mr. May for his production being more pronounced early in the season than during the playoff chase).

During George’s “vacation”, the front office rebuilt the farm system from the ground up (we’ll get to that later) because the Boss wasn’t around to demand up-and-coming prospects (we’ll get to them later, too) be traded for aging veterans or blocked by high priced, aging, big-name free agents (a trademark Steinbrenner move).

Video clip: The Boss criticizes Jeter for too much partying.

7. Paul O’Neill

"The Warrior" says farewell to Bronx faithful in his final game at Yankee Stadium.
“The Warrior” says farewell to Bronx faithful in his final game at Yankee Stadium.

The water cooler kicking, smooth swinging, fiery right fielder – and T’s all-time favorite Yankee – came to New York via trade with the Cincinatti Reds for All-Star outfielder Roberto Kelly prior to the 1993 season. O’Neill came to the Yanks with a bad rep – he was thought of as a hothead, an underacheiver, and a difficult guy to coach (think Demarcus Cousins, RG III, etc.). Reds manager – and former Yankee player and skipper – Lou Piniella tried to change O’Neill into a power hitter, which proved to be about as futile as 50 Cent’s forays into acting.

In New York, O’Neill was immediately inserted into the 3-hole in the lineup and was told by Yanks exec Gene “Stick” Michael (it’s not a sexual nickname weirdos, but we’ll get to Stick later) to just be himself, and the home runs would come as a result of playing 81 home games with Yankee Stadium’s “short porch” in right. O’Neill heeded Michael’s advice and saw his average skyrocket (like a middle-aged man on Cialis) 65 points, from .246 in his last season in Cincy to .311 in the BX.

O’Neill received instant adulation from Yankee faithful for his clutch hitting, willingness to play hurt, his ability to grind out at-bats, and the passion, fire, and intensity that were hallmarks of his game. O’Neill was largely responsible for changing the losing culture of the Yankee clubhouse in the early 90s and setting the stage for the winning atmosphere and unmistakable chemistry for the dynasty that would come later in the decade.

During O’Neill’s run with the Bombers from 93-01 he had 1,426 hits at a .303 clip wtih seasonal averages of 21 homers and 95 RBI, winning four rings and became one of the most iconic Yankees of the modern era. O’Neill’s signature moment in the Bronx came in the Game 1 of the Subway Series in 2000 when he worked a 10-pitch walk off infamous Mets closer Armando Benitez.

Lemme set the stage for ya: Yankees down 3-2 in the 9th with one man out. O’Neill got down 1-2 against the flamethrower, and fouled off four tough pitches to work the count full and eventually work a walk. O’Neill scored the tying run later that inning and the Yankees would win the game in extras, and go on to beat the Mets for their third consecutive championship (Hot damn).

This gritty AB was a microcasm of O’Neill as a player – a tough as nails dude who never gave up and would do anything to win. O’Neill will forever be remembered by Yankee fans as a “Warrior” and the clip below of O’Neill’s final game in the stadium shows just how special (not Eli Manning special) he is to New York fans.

Well that does it for Pt. I of the list, Trax Pack! Be sure to stay tuned for Pt. II for even more Yankee lore…especially if you’re a fan of the “Core 4.”

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