“When you win four [world championships] in five years where are you going after that. There’s nowhere else to go. You’ve got to stay there or you waste a year of your career.” – Derek Jeter
Following 9/11, the emotional aftermath took it’s toll on the New York Yankees as Jeter became the 11th captain in the team’s history.
That was just one part of the transformation that started taking place in early stages of the twilight of his career. The powerful championship machine that was seemingly invincible began showing signs of falling apart despite being five-time American League championships and winning four World Series.
To the outside observer, the Yankees were a juggernaut and the original group who redefined their legacy in the Bronx were beginning to show signs of age.
With age came the experience and championship savvy which held over from their previous success. However, the grind of annual postseason lore and the dramatic finishes began wearing on a dynasty in transition.
“If you play this game long enough you’re going to struggle,” Jeter said. “It gets hard.”
Part of what made the Yankees of the Jeter era so iconic was the fact they would never die, the opposition had to kill them. But in many respects the annual grind of more than a half decade of postseason title runs began wearing them down. They had become the championship fighter who could no longer deliver the knockout blow when it came time to close.
However, the routine of ALCS comebacks and ultimately playing until November left the aging Bombers in a place they were unaccustomed to. Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the baseball history, blew saves against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Florida Marlins in 2003 and their invincibility was no more.
After their final late inning meltdown on the precipice of a championship, the core of Camelot would be torn apart. A Yankees team that was previously built through drafted players who were developed through their organization succumbed to a new era of free agent players that were brought in for immediate success. The influx of imported teammates which changed the dynamics inside their clubhouse.
That was the time when Jeter started seeing his baseball mortality. Many of the names on the locker would change because team owner George Steinbrenner was adamant about winning another before turning the franchise over to his son Hank. Ultimately, however, the Boston Red Sox had different ideas.