NEW YORK -- By the time the Red Sox completed their steamroll to the World Series title last month, their relatively easy march toward the championship sparked a controversial question across baseball: Were the 2018 Red Sox, with 119 combined wins between the regular season and postseason, the best team ever?
In truth, it's a question subjective enough to never be answered. And this year's Red Sox are certainly in the conversation. But that's also a conversation that will always begin with the 1998 Yankees, even if any mention of the signature team from New York's late-'90s dynasty irks the Boston faithful. The memories of that 1998 season in the Bronx were brought back into the spotlight Thursday at the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Gala at the Cipriani on Broadway in Manhattan.
The 16th annual holding of the event celebrated the 20th anniversary of the '98 champs and featured appearances from former players up and down their roster. David Cone, Tino Martinez, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were all scheduled to make cameos, though snowy conditions in New York on Thursday cut into the event's final attendance. Former Mets closer John Franco and Red Sox vice president/special assistant Tony La Russa were on hand to support Safe at Home, which helps children impacted by violence and trauma in their homes, schools and communities, in an effort to get young people on a path to help and healing.
Founded by Torre in 2002, SAH has reached more than 85,000 students through individual and group counseling, school-wide campaigns, peer leadership and educational opportunities. Its signature program is a school-based "safe room" called Margaret's Place -- named in honor of Torre's mother. Each Margaret's Place is staffed by a therapist who provides both individual and group counseling sessions, holds workshops for teachers and parents to build safer school environments and leads anti-violence campaigns to empower students to become advocates against violence. There are currently 16 Margaret's Place programs in four states, and they reach 13,000 students each year.
"It's tough to have an event and not mention the '98 team," said Torre, the manager of that club and now MLB's chief baseball officer. "I can't believe it's been 20 years. It is amazing. It's like standing on a train platform and watching the cars go by."
The evening also allowed Torre a forum to weigh in on the debate: Which team was better? The '98 Yankees or '18 Red Sox?
"I looked at that [Red Sox] club and I didn't think they were ever going to lose," Torre said. "I thought they would go past our 114 wins, but it's tough to do."
With the American League East wrapped up, the Red Sox sat a bulk of their regulars down the stretch and finished with 108 regular-season victories. They then went 11-3 in the postseason to finish with 119 total wins, six fewer than New York's 125 in 1998.
"They have a great club, and they're going to have a great club next year, because of their youth," Torre said.
Torre had a similar mix of youth and experience in 1998. With a deep and balanced lineup led by 24-year-old Derek Jeter (.324 average, AL-best 127 runs), and behind a veteran rotation anchored by Cone (20 wins), the Yankees won a then-AL record 114 regular-season games before marching largely unchallenged to their 24th championship. It was their second title in three years and first of what would be three consecutive crowns.
They went 11-2 in the postseason, sweeping the Rangers in the Division Series, topping the Indians in the AL Championship Series and sweeping the Padres in the Fall Classic.
"That's the reason people remember what we did," Torre said. "That postseason was very difficult, just with the pressure that came along with winning that many ballgames. My club felt the pressure, there is no question. But they played well when they were tight."