It was not that long ago in this very galaxy that the New York Yankees adopted the reputation as Major League Baseball’s “Evil Empire.”
From 1996-2009, the Bronx Bombers won five World Series titles built around the “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, who all made their MLB debuts in 1995.
Jeter and Rivera are surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famers as the best shortstop and closer of their generation respectively while Posada and Pettitte will take their place in the upper echelon of Yankee heroes.
The foursome combined for 35 All-Star Game appearances and led the Yankees to 15 playoff berths in the 16 years they were together.
To ensure they stayed in power though, the Yankees’ front office pillaged the free-agent market throughout the years and compiled one veteran star after another to create a seemingly endless superpower.
Whether it was Orlando Hernandez in 1998, Jason Giambi in 2001 or Mike Mussina a year later (just to name a few), the Yankees were accused of buying their way to championships.
That was true in part, but they had the payroll and the reputation to win the signatures of those big-name talents most small-market teams could not come close to acquiring.
But as the envy of teams and fans alike, the Yankees descended into the depths of villainy within the public eye that didn’t support the pinstripes.
It did little to slow them down, as the Yankees were baseball’s most successful team from 2000-2013, winning 1,229 games. Their archrival Boston Red Sox, who were second on that list, had 71 wins fewer in that stretch.
To put it in layman’s terms, they would simply kick down your door, break your spirits and then embarrass you in front of everyone that ever loved you.
Still, the Yankees had issues with accruing and keeping young talent. Instead, they would opt to deal it for the established veteran.
It worked for a while, but Father Time began picking off the “Core Four.”
Posada retired in 2011 and was joined by Rivera and Pettitte two years later. The final member of that group departed in 2014 with Jeter’s unforgettable retirement tour.
The Yankees’ performance has been forgettable since then, at least by their standards.
Since 2013, they made the postseason once and that was a one-game run-in with Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros in 2015 when New York was shutout 3-0.
The franchise has not experienced a drought that sizable since they missed the playoffs 13-straight seasons from 1982-1994.
One year later, the collective messiahs of Yankee Stadium arrived and the culture quickly changed.
With Opening Day 2017 approaching on Sunday, it looks like they have “A New Hope” in something that looks awfully similar.
Three young, 24-year-old homegrown talents will start on Opening Day with catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird and right fielder Aaron Judge.
Sanchez will attempt to replicate a stellar debut in which he electrified the league last season by belting 20 home runs in his first 50 games, tying Wally Berger’s MLB record set in 1930 with the Boston Braves.
Bird has been considered the heir-apparent to Mark Teixeria for years now, but will finally have the job all to himself after returning from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss 2016.
Judge has also been viewed as the right fielder of the future in the Bronx and has shown flashes of a big bat and impressive defense. However, he will have to cut down on the strikeouts. In 2016 he struck out 42 times in 84 official at bats.
New York’s prospect pool is also among the best in the majors and was ranked second in the league by MLB.com earlier in March.
They have seven players ranked within the top 100 prospects league-wide and managed to do so via the trade market.
Shortstop Gleyber Torres, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, was acquired when the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline. Outfielder Clint Frazier (No. 24) and pitcher Justus Sheffield (No. 79) came from the Cleveland Indians when the Yankees dealt reliever Andrew Miller.
It is very likely that the Yankees are going to be chasing the Boston Red Sox this season given their pitching depth and explosive offense. This new hope in youth though has delivered a new kind of optimism around Yankee Stadium, though.
One that hasn’t been felt since 1995.