Members of '96 team on hand to honor Boss
Cone, Fielder, Hayes, Kelly among those at Old-Timers' Day
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' 1996 World Series champion team was well-represented Saturday in Yankee Stadium during both the Old-Timers' Day festivities and in the Bombers' game against the Rays -- a fitting way to celebrate the team that helped start George Steinbrenner's Yankees dynasty.
David Cone, Cecil Fielder, Charlie Hayes and Pat Kelly were back on the diamond in the Bronx with other former Yankees legends for a special Old-Timers' Day, with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera later taking the field for the Yankees, and Joe Girardi -- who was also recognized before the Old-Timers' game -- managing from the dugout. Whether retired or still playing, every Yankee's thoughts centered around the recent passing of Bob Sheppard, their beloved public-address announcer, and Steinbrenner, who is credited with once again making the Yankees the most dominant team in baseball.
"I've known him since I was 18 years old," said Jeter, whose first full Major League season was for the 1996 championship club. "Obviously there's a respect factor because he's the owner, and I work for him, but we were more friends than anything. ... It's tough, because he's more than just an owner to me. He's a friend of mine. He will be deeply missed."
Steinbrenner will be forever linked to the 1996 team, as it gave New York its first World Series title since 1978 and began a period of consistently competitive teams. After a 13-year playoff drought from 1982-94, the Yankees fell short by losing in the American League Division Series in 1995 before rebounding with a 4-2 World Series victory over the Braves in 1996. The Yanks went 92-70 that year, and the franchise has seldom shown signs of slowing down since then.
The Yankees followed up their 1996 title by winning it all in 1998, '99 and 2000. They also made World Series appearances in 2001 and '03 before suffering four straight early exits from 2004-07, then missing the playoffs altogether in '08 for the first time since 1994 -- an impressive 13-year run.
Cone, Fielder and Hayes shared their favorite memories of the '96 season on the JumboTron during the Old-Timers' game, and they primarily focused around the one thing their former boss loved: winning. Hayes discussed catching the last out of the Series -- a flyout in foul territory by Atlanta's Mark Lemke -- and Fielder said the most memorable part was running onto the field to celebrate with his teammates right after they clinched the victory.
But the World Series championship -- and the incredible run of success that followed for the Yankees -- wouldn't have been possible without Steinbrenner at the helm, and all the Old-Timers in Yankee Stadium on Saturday made note of their owner's willingness to do whatever it took to win, something that is also certainly not lost on those still wearing pinstripes every day.
"The character that he has and the willing heart that he has, that always made him special," Rivera said. "[I'm] definitely missing him. For the first time, you know for sure he ain't gonna be here, period."
While the Old-Timers' Day brought back plenty of the Yankees' former legends and stirred up a number of memorable moments in the club's storied history, it also served as a touching tribute to Steinbrenner and Sheppard, two men who helped shape many of those moments.
"Obviously, there are two great Yankees who are missing," Girardi said.
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.