The Core Four is a phrase that has often been thrown around when discussing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. I don’t remember when exactly people started referring to them as ‘The Core Four.’ I think Michael Kay had something to do with it.
It’s pretty self-explanatory how the name ‘The Core Four’ was created. Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte have been important cornerstones on championship teams. They’ve played with each other for nearly two decades. There’s four players. It rhymes. It sounds good.
Last week, SI had a cover story on The Core Four. I’m sure you’ve all read the article by now and have seen the picture that headlines it. If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth a look.
With the advent of free agency and the inevitable pitfalls of age, it’s amazing that they have remained together for so long. Only a team like the Yankees would be able to consistently sign four superstar players to lengthy and expensive contracts. This wouldn’t – and couldn’t – happen in Kansas City or Cincinnati or Oakland. Jeter, Posada, and Rivera are the only trio of teammates to play 16 consecutive seasons together – in any sport. Pettitte would be in there too if not for a three-year stint with the Astros from 2004-2006.
What makes the situation unique is that they all came up around the same time (they all debuted in 1995), they are all similar in age (Jeter is the youngest at 35, Rivera the oldest at 40), and they are all in the upper echilon of the game’s greats. Two of the four are sure-fire Hall of Famers (Jeter, Rivera), one (Posada) has a very good chance of being enshrined in Cooperstown, and one (Pettitte) has an outside shot.
I think Yankee fans tend to agree that Posada should be in the Hall of Fame. He has a career slash line of .278/.379/.482. He is a five-time All Star. He’s been on four World Championship teams. He has been extremely durable (he has caught 1,507 career games as of today). He also caught a perfect game. The case for Jorge Posada’s Hall-of-Fame candidacy is definitely strong.
But what really stands out is Posada’s comparatives to other catchers. Take a look at his OPS+ numbers in comparison to some other current and future Hall of Famers:
Mike Piazza- 142
Johnny Bench- 126
Jorge Posada- 125
Yogi Berra- 125
Carlton Fisk- 117
Gary Carter- 115
Ivan Rodriguez- 108
Posada’s OPS has been above the league average in every full season he has played, except 1999. This, while playing in one of the biggest offensive eras in the game’s history.
And unlike 99% of catchers, he has aged very well. Some would argue that he’s gotten better (offensively, not defensively) throughout his career. He had his best season in terms of OPS in 2007 (his age 35 season), and even though he’ll be 39 later this year, he is still hitting close to .300 with five homers and twelve RBI’s through his first 19 games of 2010.
Non-Yankee fans tend to believe that Posada just hasn’t been good enough to merit Hall of Fame enshrinement. He has never really been looked at as the best catcher in baseball. During the early part of his career, Pudge Rodriguez was the best. In the last few years, it’s been Joe Mauer. So it’s understandable why people don’t think he belongs in. He never has been dominant.
That said, I think he should be a Hall of Famer. And I think in time, he will get elected. I think the numbers speak for themselves – and he’s still not done yet.
Anyway, back to the main point. People always talk about how the Yankees of the early ’90′s were terrible. And they were. The emergence of guys like Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte really allowed the team to erase their bad memories from the early ’90′s and transition into a period of dominance. But when you think about it, the struggles of the early ’90′s were necessary in order for the Yankees to obtain such good talent. Derek Jeter, for example, was a first-round pick (6th overall) in 1992. If the Yankees hadn’t had such an awful season in 1991, Jeter would have fallen into the hands of some other team.
Guys like Posada (24th round), Pettitte (22nd round), and Rivera (not even drafted, signed as a free agent in 1990) basically fell into the hands of the Yankees. Good scouting had a lot to do with it. But it’s amazing when you think about how many teams passed up on them.
And now here we are, close to twenty years after some of these guys were signed. The Core Four have remained together all this time (Pettitte took a vacation from 2004-2006). They are still putting up big numbers and have shown few signs of slowing down. Four players, five championships, sixteen seasons. One team.
I don’t think we’ll ever see this again.