Triumph over tragedy
Champion Yankees show heart despite recurring heartache
Posted: Thursday October 28, 1999 03:08 AM
Sweet sorrow: Even among the champagne celebration, the Yankees' clubhouse had a somber feeling. AP
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated NEW YORK -- Paul O'Neill may have best captured the feeling in the world champion Yankees' clubhouse on Wednesday night.
"Back-to-back championships are hard," said O'Neill. "Lots of things have to go well to win once. Everything went well last year. Not everything went well this year, but we ended up standing in the same spot: sweeping the World Series."
O'Neill's day was a perfect microcosm of the Yankees' bittersweet 1999 season: triumph mixed with tragedy, world championship joy with real-life sadness.
On Wednesday morning O'Neill's father passed away; on Wednesday night the Yankees' right fielder dashed off the Yankee Stadium field in tears moments after his team captured its 25th World Series title. It was as fitting that tragedy should strike the Yankee family on this triumphant day as it was heart-wrenching.
The Yankees faced one crushing emotional blow after another this season, beginning with Joe Torre's being diagnosed with prostate cancer in spring training and continuing with the deaths of the fathers of Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo and the illness of Andy Pettitte's father.
Those off-the-field obstacles, combined with the pressure of trying to live up to the nearly unattainable standard the team 1998, created a season-log emotional wave that crested with their World Series sweep of the Braves. "It's bittersweet, no question," said Scott Brosius. "You feel tremendous, but at the same time you realize you put a lot of things in the back of your mind. Now that this is over there are a lot of issues you have to face head on."
That feeling was reflected in the Yankees' clubhouse celebration, which was more thoughtful than raucous. Nearly every champagne-drenched player reflected on the close-knittedness of their team, speaking of how they guided each other through a season's worth of obstacles on and off the field.
"You won't see a team like this again," said first baseman Tino Martinez, "with guys as close as they are that really want to play here."
"We've got a lot of close friends here," added O'Neill. "We've been together for years, and that really makes a difference."
That closeness emanated all year from the office of Joe Torre, who was saluted by his players for his calming influence in a turbulent season.
"His putting my name in the lead-off spot every day," joked second baseman Chuck Knoblauch when asked to name his favorite Torre moment of the Series, no small feat considering Knoblauch's throwing and fielding woes this season. "I have a love and respect for that guy. He's not only a manager, but he's also almost a father figure."
With their clubhouse overrun with media and family, most players retreated for a short time to a back room to douse each with champagne and light victory cigars in private. While Yankee legends Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra compared this team with the great Pinstripers of yesteryear, the current champions stole a few moments for themselves to let their latest championship sink in.
"People don't understand how hard it is to win now," owner George Steinbrenner said. "With the extra rounds of playoffs, it's five times as hard to win as it used to be. This team has as much heart as any team I've had."
And after a Series billed as a battle for team-of-the-decade supremacy, Knoblauch tacked on this thought. "I can't think of a better way to end the century."