'96 champs reflect at Yanks' Old-Timers' Day

'96 champs reflect at Yanks' Old-Timers' Day

NEW YORK -- It has been 20 years since the championship that kicked off the Yankees' most recent dynasty, and the excitement of that run to a 23rd World Series title in franchise history was still fresh in the minds and hearts of those participating in the 70th Old-Timers' Day festivities on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

Three-time All-Star John Wetteland, the MVP of that '96 Series, was among those making his Old-Timers' Day debut. How unforgettable was the journey? The former closer still can detail each pitch of the final at-bat in the Fall Classic, when he got the Braves' Mark Lemke to pop a 3-2 offering into the glove of third baseman Charlie Hayes.

"It was an emotional year," Wetteland said. "There were so many moments within that World Series. [Jim] Leyritz's home run. Andy Pettitte's gem that he threw after Game 1. Wade Boggs drawing the walk off of [Steve] Avery, and how [manager] Joe [Torre] had him as the last guy on the bench.

Joe Torre's introduction

"I've always said, I think Joe Torre won that World Series, because he just flat out-managed Bobby Cox. Joe always seemed to have the matchup at any part of the game that he wanted. His spirit was always so cool and collected. I think that rubbed off on all of us."

Matsui goes deep

The Old-Timers were headlined by Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Torre. Hideki Matsui celebrated his 42nd birthday with a two-run homer into the second deck in right field off David Cone.

1996 Yankee Mariano Duncan made his Old-Timers' Day debut, along with Bubba Crosby and Eddie Robinson -- at age 95, the oldest living Yankee. Dr. Bobby Brown, the last surviving member of the 1947 championship club, was also present. The Yankees used commemoratives bases and balls to honor the late Yogi Berra.

"When I was a player, my favorite day of the year during the baseball season was always Old-Timers' Day," Lou Piniella said. "We had guys like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford and Elston Howard and the rest of these guys come in, and we'd get a chance to sit and talk to them and hear stories.

70th annual Old-Timers' Day

"Now, it's amazing how time flies. I'm getting to be toward the oldest class here. I don't know if that feels good or not, but it really is great seeing the fans, putting on a uniform for the first time in about a year, and seeing your ex-teammates here. Wonderful."

Hayes said that he is reminded every day about that catch, ranging over near the seats in foul territory at the original Yankee Stadium. He believes that the title continues to mean so much to Yankees fans, not just because it was the club's first since 1978, but because it kicked off the fun to come.

O'Neill recreates Game 5 catch

"I thought by now people would have forgotten about it, but I guess it was a very significant moment in Yankees history and I'm glad to actually be part of it," Hayes said. "I think I've had over four million people tell me they were at the game, so, it's kind of unique. I just sort of roll with it."

Bernie Williams said that the chemistry of the '96 roster set it apart from some of the other teams he played on during his 16 seasons in pinstripes.

Williams' introduction

"Those are some of the best times of my life," Williams said. "I was young, full of energy and playing the game that I practiced from the time that I was 8 years old. I was able to play it at the highest level that I possibly could play it, for the best team in the world. Looking back on it, I can definitely put it in perspective."

Wetteland said that the best part about Old-Timers' Day is renewing acquaintances with former teammates, most of whom don't seem to skip a beat.

"Ballplayers are funny," Wetteland said. "Because baseball is so transient, you can be very, very close but also know the next day you can get traded. As a result, when you do get back together, it's kind of like we were just together yesterday. You just pick up where you left off."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.