NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
After all of those years, all of those parades up Broadway, all of those records, all of those awards, all of those cheers, all of those good times and all of those farewells, they were gathered together Monday night on a stage at the swanky Cipriani Grand Ballroom on Wall Street. It was billed as "An Evening with the Core Four," with Steiner Sports founder Brandon Steiner moderating an hour-long conversation that made you want it to last forever.
This was historic stuff, and lifelong Yankees fans seated at tables soaked it in, following an hour with Reggie Jackson and other members of the 1977-78 champs. Guests saw the Core Four in their minds' eyes again as young up-and-coming players in pinstripes. It was the first time the public had access like this in a captive setting to the four for a nostalgic event, with photo opportunities and auction bidding, and it might be a while before it happens again, as the four gradually scatter to baseball's wind.
"When are you retiring, anyway?" Rivera asked Jeter matter-of-factly on the stage. "Why are you here?"
The crowd roared in laughter. This went on the whole night. Jeter of course was the only active Major League Baseball player among them, the two pitchers having just joined the catcher in retirement. Jeter, 39, pronounced himself "perfect" and said he was out of rehab and in normal offseason conditioning mode, although it is now time to start running -- a key test.
"I'm looking forward to it," Jeter said of 2014. "It's going to be awkward. I've never played a professional season without at least one of these guys, so it's going to be the first time.
"I was just joking with these guys, none of them are working out. I'm the only one that's still got to work. I've got to go back to work."
Rivera interjected: "You'll be calling us. 'Hey guys, come out here, I need help.'"
Jeter was asked when he planned to join the other three in beginning life after baseball, and he replied: "I don't try to tell the future. I really don't. I take it one year at a time, and my focus now is on 2014."
It is a much different Yankees clubhouse now, and the importance of Jeter's return and leadership is impossible to understate.
"Everybody up here, to be quite honest with you, had the same demeanor, whether it's a game in Spring Training or the World Series," Jeter said. "I think that's why we've been able to play here for this long, especially in New York. You don't treat it differently. Every game is important. You see guys play in the World Series, and they talk about how important it is. Well, it's not any more important than any other game you play. If you say it's more important, then you don't care about the other ones. Every time we took the field we wanted to win, and that's the only thing on my mind."
Rivera and Jeter are Hall of Fame locks, and the other two will have Cooperstown cases of their own to make. Pettitte (256-153), the all-time winningest postseason pitcher, said the four shared a trait that made them successful.
"Not one time did I ever think that any of us were scared of the moment, as far as the postseason and us being Yankees," Pettitte said. "I think that sometimes failure comes, for a lot of players, because you almost get too overwhelmed by the moment. But I can tell you, when the game's on the line, Derek wants to be up to bat, and Mo wants to close out the game, and Jorge wants to bat. If someone asked me who I would want in a big moment, out of all the guys I have played with or against, I would say these guys right here. That's what has made it so special."
Pettitte said he had become a big Baylor football fan, making regular trips to Waco, Texas, and watching games there because his oldest son now plays baseball for the Bears. The opening of the church Rivera has been renovating in New Rochelle, N.Y., is close.
"I definitely didn't think we would have this kind of run," Rivera said. "I knew we were good. I know that. I saw these guys play, and I knew there was something special. How far we could go, we knew we were hungry and we were able. As far as this, I knew it was something special."
The four are all partners with Steiner Sports, which is an Official Brand Shop at the MLB.com Shop. Whether it's The Captain Collection or Dodgers Dirt Coasters, Steiner Sports offers classic memorabilia for all 30 clubs. It is a go-to spot right now for many holiday shoppers, and many collectors were right there at this dinner.
One of the most moving answers to Steiner's around-the-horn questions came when Posada was asked what stuck out the most over two decades together.
"Well, winning sticks out," Posada said. "Talking about the clubhouse, we were able to mess around, closed doors, nobody there, we got on each other a lot. We were tough on each other a lot. But I have never been mad at any of these guys. And that's really tough, because you know what each of us are thinking. I've known Andy since '91, Mariano since '91, Derek since '92. I've never been mad at any of them, and it's always been fun."
Was it true that Rivera would sometimes start lecturing the other Core Four guys in the clubhouse?
"I don't know if we listened," Jeter said amid laughter. "He's preaching."
When asked if he was surprised that Rivera became such a rock star on his farewell tour, Jeter deadpanned: "I'm not surprised, because for years he's been telling me and Jorge and Andy that he doesn't get enough attention. He said when I decide to hang them up I'm going on this tour to get attention."
Jeter went on.
"When Mo came up, he was a starter. We were in the Minor Leagues, and he was coming off an elbow surgery, and we played together. The first year we played together was 1992. I was an 18-year-old shortstop; Mo was a 29-year-old starter. [More laughter.] He was coming off surgery; he was on a pitch count. Mo would say stay at short when he was pitching. I'd run to the mound and say, 'Listen, man, you've thrown 35 pitches, you only have 15 more. How can you make this last another two or three innings?'
"So that's the first memories that I had with Mo. You knew he was special. Everyone has a talent to get to the professional level. I think what separates good players and great players in life is their mindset."
The four talked about old Yankee Stadium, and Jeter, who gave the moving speech after the last game there, had to this to say: "It's like your first girlfriend. You never forget her."
All four were asked at the beginning of the session about their longtime manager, Joe Torre, who hours earlier was elected to the Hall of Fame. They used words like "father" and "trust" and credited Torre, now MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, for being where they are now.
"He's like a second father to me, a second father to all of us," Jeter said. "He's the reason why we are here today. He trusted us when we were younger; he gave us an opportunity to play. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."