The Yankees of the late '90s and 2000s were an impressive bunch, and they have the most World Series titles since in the advent of the Wild Card, and, like their all-time total, it's not a close competition (five to Miami, St. Louis & Boston's respective two). They've featured some outstanding players, but the ones who always get the most hype are the "Core Four," picture above: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. Let's get one thing straight immediately- these guys are among my favorite players, and there's no doubt that I will remember them forever. However, I hate the tag "Core Four." It's a term that was created by the media to add storylines to the Yankees' 2009 World Series title run, but the idea behind it completely goes against everything those Yankees teams stood for. They weren't about individuals who were miles ahead of their fellow Yankee peers- the Yankees teams that won it all were full teams in every sense of the word "team." The term "Core Four" unfairly elevates these four players above their teammates and simply lends extra credence to the True Yankee™ myth. Further discussion will follow the jump.
Starting off, the term "Core Four" never really even made much sense in the first place. The phrase makes it seem like they were truly together from 1995 through 2010. Lies! Andy Pettitte was one of the best lefties of his era, but where was he from 2004 through 2006? Houston. He was there because Yankees management, in their infinite wisdom, decided to let him go after a terrific 2003 season. I pin that one on George Steinbrenner, as he apparently was willing to wine and dine with Gary Sheffield but never gave Pettitte a call. After the Yankees realized how idiotic their decision to let Pettitte go was, they brought him back for the 2007 season. Frankly, it doesn't surprise me that Yankees management decided to roll with this "Core Four" tag. Not only was it marketable, but it helped them hide the fact that they dismissed a valued member of those earlier teams and he was missing for 3 years.
Then there's the matter of Bernie Williams. Only five players in Yankees history have played more games for them than Bernie Williams and he was one of their main power sources for a decade. He was a survivor of some of their crappy early 90s teams, too, and both his patience and the Yankees' patience with his development were rewarded when he became an All-Star and regular MVP candidate. He won the '96 ALCS MVP, the '98 batting title, and slugged .480 in the playoffs with 22 homers. Sadly though, the "Core Four" philosophy dismissed Bernie's contributions and why? Because apparently he was just born too early and couldn't keep playing through 2009 (his "play" in the '09 World Baseball Classic... ugh). That's a lame excuse and diminishes Bernie's contributions. Think about it- if you asked some baseball fan to name players from the Yankees' World Series winning teams of the '90 and '00s, they will almost certainly name the "Core Four" before Bernie. Considering his toils on some bad-to-mediocre Yankees teams, that seems wrong.
Bernie's not the only one shafted by the "Core Four" theme. Key players from the 4-time champion '96-'00 teams become more casually dismissed as well. They are not meritorious of number retirement or anything like that, but Tino Martinez's first base defense and power, David Cone's leadership and pitching prowess, Paul O'Neill's intensity and awesome batting eye fall a little bit from memory as well. The 2000s Yankees become forgotten even more than the previous three players because they didn't win a World Series. I know that I'm certainly not going to forget Mike Mussina's ridiculous curve and "Mustachio Bashio" Jason Giambi. The list could really go on for a long time because fans of the '95-'present Yankees teams know that there were countless other players that played a significant role who stick in your mind: Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Hideki Matsui. David Wells. Chien-Ming Wang. Graeme Lloyd. Jeff Nelson. Mike Stanton. Luis Sojo. I could keep going, but the point is made. There were so many other vital players to those teams that the emphasis of the individual sells the teams short. The fans seemed to know who damned-near everyone was, even down to Clay freakin' Bellinger and his career OPS+ of 57. That was because the Yankees needed all their players to win those titles. Those "Core Four" players were important, yes, but were they annually all better than everyone else on the roster? Think about it.
One last thought- barring disaster, Alex Rodriguez is going to end up with more career home runs as a Yankee than everyone not named Ruth, Mantle, or Gehrig. I know it's going to suck having to watch the Yankees pay him $143 million plus homer milestone incentives as his body breaks down, but he won two MVPs with the Yankees and without his playoff contributions, the 2009 Yankees probably wouldn't have rings. Without that ring, the "Core Four" media orgasm probably doesn't become so sensational.