He was their first big-league manager and took them to their first postseason, even if the most famous one of them wasn't even on the roster.
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Buck Showalter didn't stay Yankees manager long enough to enjoy the glory years of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. But he was there when the Yankees' championship quartet began their big-league careers in 1995, and he will watch them in the World Series beginning Wednesday night in his role as an ESPN analyst.
Did Showalter sense something special in those core Yankees back then? He says he did, even if he admits, "I'm not going to sit here and tell you I knew.''
No one could have known in 1995 that Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Posada would last long enough to be where they are today - in the Fall Classic.
Pettitte already has been in seven World Series (six with the Yankees, one with Houston). Jeter and Rivera have played in six each. Posada has been in five.
The Yankees' last World Series appearance was in 2003, when they lost in six to the Marlins. Coincidentally or not, Pettitte was allowed to leave as a free agent that offseason. But he returned in 2007 and has been a key starter despite turning 37 in June. Rivera turns 40 Nov. 29, Posada is 38 and Jeter is the baby of the bunch at 35. "It's kind of hard to believe we've been together this long,'' Jeter said. "You don't see it too often. Especially nowadays with free agency and people switching teams.''
Showalter knows about that. He was fired after losing a gut-wrenching five-game ALDS to Seattle in 1995. Pettitte and Rivera were key rookies, Posada made the playoff roster and Jeter traveled with the team as a then-unheard-of perk for a top prospect so he could get a taste of what the postseason was like.
Showalter had been a manager in the Yankees' minor-league system, so he was familiar with these players. He shared his impressions of them from back in the day before Joe Torre, before four world championships in five years:
On Jeter: "Derek, I remember when he walked in the dugout the first time with his mom and dad and sister when we had signed him. I remember how good I felt about his mom and his dad and that relationship and how that wasn't going to be a challenge for him off the field. He was very grounded in how he treated his sister. Little things like that you notice."
On Rivera: "A lot of people forget he had Tommy John surgery back when it wasn't taken for granted that you would get back from it. The rehab was a lot longer. Watching him play catch in the big-league camp with Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry and going, 'Geez, I hope we're right on this guy.' We had him on the roster, protecting him, when he couldn't pitch. That was quite a thing."
On Pettitte: "I remember [coach] Tony Cloninger asking me to say something to Pettitte about his weight. In '92, I believe it was, Andy weighed 250. He was a really big kid when he was just starting out."
On Posada: "I remember in Instructional League when Jorge was a second baseman and we made the change as a group to make him a catcher."
And on the whole group: "It was very obvious all of those guys had great upbringings and were very grounded. They were like sponges. They soaked everything in. They had great aptitude. It wasn't wasted time, them being up in September and being around for the playoffs in October. You couldn't do that with just anybody. They were four exceptions to the rule."
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