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Beginning in February 1990, the Yankees signed Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter within 28 months of one another. All four made their big league debuts in 1995, and except for the three seasons when Pettitte played for his hometown Astros (2004--06), they have been together ever since, sharing championships and life's milestones, big and small, like brothers.
The Core Four—Rivera is 40; Posada, 38; Pettitte, 37; and Jeter, 35—have combined for 27 All-Star selections, 11 division titles, seven American League pennants, five world championships and $562 million in career earnings. In accomplishment and longevity, the sports world has seen nothing quite like this quartet. This year Rivera, Posada and Jeter became the first trio of teammates in any North American sport to stay together for 16 consecutive seasons. And there is no indication that any of the four, fresh off winning World Series ring number five in 2009, is close to being finished. Rivera (six saves, 0.00 ERA through Sunday), Posada (.315 batting average), Jeter (.316) and Pettitte (3--0, 1.29) helped the Yankees win their first five series of the season—the first Yankees team to do so since 1926.
Mo, Sado, Andy and Jeet, as they call one another, have spent more of their adulthood with one another than their own families. (Since they first met, all but Jeter have become husbands and fathers; Jeter was the best man at Posada's wedding.) One finishes another's sentences, they can communicate with just a look, and they operate a kind of elder's tribunal in the New York clubhouse. They also have built virtually spotless reputations, save for when Pettitte admitted in 2007 to twice using human growth hormone. When he faced questions from reporters about his transgression, Rivera, Posada and Jeter were, of course, near his side.
In all those years, however, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte and Jeter had never shared a meal except as part of larger groups—until SI gathered the Core Four for lunch last week at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, for a discussion moderated by senior writer Tom Verducci. Rivera, the closer, was the first one to show—two minutes early. Asked to predict who'd be the last to arrive, Rivera said, "Sado. Jeter, then Sado will be last."
Pettitte, the starting pitcher, arrived next, and then, just as Rivera was lecturing on punctuality and half-jokingly threatening to leave, Jeter, the captain and shortstop, walked in. "What time is it?" Rivera asked him.
"Seven after," Jeter said.
"You were supposed to be here seven minutes ago," Rivera said.
Posada, the catcher, was indeed the last to arrive. "Look at this," Rivera said, bowing his head at the table and rubbing the top of his balding pate. "See this? This is from Sado. He did this."
The Core Four were just getting warmed up. What follows is a transcript, edited for length and clarity, of their rare conversation: a celebration of their careers, their successes, their memories, their fears, but mostly their friendship.
SI: I want to go back to 1992, when Andy was throwing to Jorge, a converted second baseman, in Class A in Greensboro, N.C.