In March of 1977, George Steinbrenner was fuming. His Yankees had just lost to the Mets in a Spring Training game, which had been televised in New York. Although it was only an exhibition, The Boss viewed the outcome as an unpardonable sin and quickly stormed into manager Billy Martin’s office seething about the team’s play.
“Don’t be yelling at me in front of my players!” Martin responded. Steinbrenner fired back, threatening to fire his manager, and the two moved their argument into the trainer’s room. Hoping to calm the storm, team president Gabe Paul got in between them, but the yelling continued. Martin then slammed his fist into a tub of water, showering and soaking Paul with ice cubes. It was a prescient outburst. In the decades that followed, the Yankees (including the front office, coaches and players) were instilled with their owner’s ice-cold determination to beat the Mets. The Bombers were the kings of New York -- losing to the crosstown rivals would not be tolerated in any capacity.
That ethos faced its biggest challenge 20 years ago, when the Yankees and Mets met in the 2000 World Series. Not since 1956, when the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers crossed swords for the seventh and final time before the latter departed for Los Angeles, had there been a Subway Series. Almost five decades later, New York’s two baseball teams had conquered their respective leagues in the same season -- and the city shook with excitement.
For the Yankees, coming off two consecutive World Series victories and three in the last four years, the expectations remained the same -- and yet somehow even higher. “I think we certainly felt like if we don’t win this [World] Series, even with the first two, if you lose to the Mets, it’s going to tarnish this thing,” third baseman Scott Brosius recalls. “People aren’t going to take to the Yankees losing to the Mets in the World Series like that.” With their postseason experience, strong nucleus of young players and calming manager, the Yankees never had to worry about ceding their Big Apple throne. They defeated the Mets in five games and floated through the Canyon of Heroes as champions a third straight time, the first team to do so since the 1972–74 Athletics.
But the Subway Series -- and the season leading up to it -- wasn’t without its drama, setbacks and hysterics. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, we asked several members of the 2000 world championship team to recall the magical year that solidified one of the greatest dynasties in sports and reaffirmed the city’s baseball hierarchy.
PART I: THE NEXT EPISODE
The unrelenting burden -- and privilege -- of being the New York Yankees is the perpetual expectation of success. Which is why, after winning two consecutive World Series titles in 1998 and 1999, the returning players had no trouble finding motivation for a three-peat as the new millennium began.
**Paul O’Neill (right fielder, 1993–2001):**I think we went into that year knowing how hard it is to win a world championship. I know going into Spring Training, coming off a world championship, we expected to win again.
David Justice (outfielder, 2000–01): When you win a championship and you come into the next season, you’re not going to be complacent, because you like winning.
Jeff Nelson (reliever, 1996–2000, ’03): You have the New York media, the New York fans, and then -- the most important -- you had Mr. Steinbrenner. With those three things, you never were complacent.
Roger Clemens (starting pitcher, 1999–2003, ’07): Each year we had at least one or two, maybe a handful of guys that came over that had never won a championship. And they were hungry.
Nelson: When we lost [to the Indians in the American League Division Series] in ’97, it was a big disappointment, and I think the media let everyone have it, and so did Mr. Steinbrenner. Because when we started in ’98, we were 1-4 and there were rumors and things floating around the paper that Joe Torre -- this was it, they were going to fire him if they didn’t turn this thing around. Here, it’s the expectation all the time, so there was no letting down.
Scott Brosius (third baseman, 1998–2001): It was just so cool to hear guys talking not about personal goals, but getting to the World Series. But your offseasons are very shortened. It just gets harder to repeat because of the mental and physical toll it puts on you.
Jorge Posada (catcher, 1995–2011): [Torre] just talked about how special it would be to win three in a row during the season. We were proud of what we had done, but we really felt like there was more to do in 2000.
PART II: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS
While interleague play is now standard throughout the entirety of the baseball season, its introduction in 1997 provided the first opportunity for crosstown rivals to earn regular-season bragging rights. In other words, it was a big deal in New York.
Nelson: It was a rivalry between two teams in the same city. As players, we feel it. We feel the fans, the passion, the TV stations, the radio stations, the newspapers and who’s going to be on the back page of the Post or the Times. It gets exciting.
Bernie Williams (center fielder, 1991–2006): Mr. Steinbrenner did not accept losing to any team -- but he simply could not tolerate losing to the Mets.
O’Neill: I remember those games being much more intense, obviously, because of the fan breakdown and because of the extra media attention.
Clemens: The rivalry, it was fun.
Justice: It was like a mini World Series.
Joe Torre (manager, 1996–2007): During the season, the hype was to the point where I said there should be a trophy -- there should be a ring -- that goes along with all of this.
Brosius: Both teams were fighting to be top dog in the city. True rivalry is when both teams are good.
Williams: For the most part, the Mets played us very tough in 2000. They had solid starting pitching with Al Leiter, Mike Hampton, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones, and most of the games seemed to be tough, hard-fought, one- or two-run games.
Justice: After we played them during the regular season, I was like, “They can’t beat us; they’re not better than us.”
PART III: TRY AGAIN
In what became a forgettable final month of regular-season baseball, the Yankees lost 15 of their last 18 games, which included a seven-game losing streak to finish the year. The team also lost Mel Stottlemyre in September for the rest of the year when the pitching coach needed to undergo a stem-cell transplant for bone marrow cancer. The Red Sox hit a similar skid, however, and the Yankees clinched the division (with just 87 total wins) during a Sept. 29 drubbing in Baltimore, part of a winless road trip that began in Tampa Bay.
Nelson: We lost three in a row to Tampa, and then we had to go to Baltimore for the last three games. We sat on a runway in St. Petersburg for almost two hours, and we were the only plane that was supposed to take off. They kept saying it was paperwork, paperwork, but I think it was Mr. Steinbrenner keeping us on that runway, saying, “I don’t appreciate you guys losing three in a row to Tampa.”
O’Neill: We had had seasons like that before, and Joe Torre was always so good at realizing there’s no magic switch.
Justice: We were getting our butts kicked at the end of the year. Joe Torre walked in one time to the clubhouse to say, “Hey fellas, why don’t we just lose ’em all?” Everybody started laughing.
Brosius: I remember Joe having a meeting with a few games to go in the season saying, “Listen guys, it’s time to get it back going again, time to start focusing on winning games again.”
Williams: Many looked at us as staggering into the playoffs on life support. We didn’t feel that way. We knew that if we played our brand of team baseball -- and relied on our preparation -- that we would be fine and defend our title.
Posada: Joe really kept things relaxed, and we just felt like we could turn it on when we had to.
Justice: Baseball is cyclical. The fact that we were not on fire was a great sign that we were about to do what we needed to do.
PART IV: ALL THE SMALL THINGS
Under Torre’s guidance, the Yankees reestablished their postseason swagger, advancing to the American League Championship Series with a narrow Game 5 victory over the Athletics in Oakland. The Bombers then took care of Seattle in six games, a product of dominant starting pitching, setting up a New York showdown in the World Series.
Williams: I think the city was ready to explode.
Justice: When I realized we were going to play the Mets, I was so happy we weren’t going to have to get on planes and fly. We were just going to drive across the city.
O’Neill: It’s not like you could travel to another city and get away from it. It was there, and it was in your face every day.
In Game 1, starters Andy Pettitte and Al Leiter matched zeroes through the first five innings. The Mets’ Timo Perez led off the top of the sixth with a single, and three batters later Todd Zeile thought he had driven in the first runs of the World Series. The slugger’s drive to left field hit the top of the wall but bounced back onto the warning track, forcing Perez to shift gears from trot to sprint.
Brosius: When the ball was hit, you’re thinking, “That’s out of here.” The way it hit the top of the fence, there’s a little bit of, “Wow, what’s going on here? Is it still in play?”
Justice: I went down barehand, looked up and pivoted and threw it. I knew where [Derek] Jeter was going to be just from playing forever.
O’Neill: You’re seeing the runner, you’re seeing the throws, and you’re trying to judge if it’s going to be on time.
Justice: Now [Jeter] has to do his part, which he did perfectly. He threw a perfect one-hop. That’s a hell of a throw that he made.
Williams: Taking the cutoff from Justice and making an off-balance throw to nail Perez at the plate may have been the key play in the entire Series.
Justice: There’s no way Pérez should have been jogging when that ball was hit.
Posada: Derek was doing what he always did. He was at his best when it mattered most.
A tied contest eventually ended in the 12th inning, when Jose Vizcaino drove in Tino Martinez with a single to left field to deliver a 4-3 Yankees victory.
Tino Martinez (first baseman, 1996–2001, ’05): World Series wins are huge, and however it works out, scoring the run is great, but you always have more work to do.
Justice: But look at how critical that one play was!
Williams: If the Mets take Game 1, who knows how the rest of the Series would have turned out?
PART V: WHOA!
With Clemens on the hill for Game 2, many anticipated the right-hander’s first matchup with Mike Piazza since July, when The Rocket hit the slugger in the helmet with a 92 mph fastball. In the first inning, Piazza fouled off an inside fastball and split his bat, part of which skipped toward Clemens. True to his combustible nickname, the pitcher erupted in that moment, firing the wooden shard he had collected in Piazza’s direction.
Posada: There was a lot of hype because of what happened earlier that season.
Martinez: Who would have thought that a cracked bat would be flying at Roger Clemens, and he’d just pick it up and throw it?
Clemens: I think Mike’s hit just about every breaking ball I’ve thrown to him, so I wasn’t about to throw him anything soft. Our scouts said if you miss with your fastball, you miss in. Don’t let this guy get [his arms] extended. I had thought it was a line drive coming back at me; of course, within seconds I knew it was the bat. It flipped right up by my leg, and I turned and crow-hopped it to our on-deck circle. Everybody went crazy, but that was the extent of it. I just said, “Get me another ball so we can get this at-bat over with.”
Once the angry players returned to the benches, Clemens continued on, unfazed. After all the drama, he got Piazza to ground out and spun eight scoreless innings, allowing just two hits as the Yankees earned a 6-5 victory.
Posada: Things got out of control pretty quickly, but Roger was able to refocus right away and throw an incredible game. He was an amazing competitor out there. Very intense.
Clemens: We pretty much settled right back in.
Justice: I got hit in retaliation [laughs]. It was all good, though. Mike Hampton had to hit somebody.
PART VI: EVERYTHING YOU WANT
Before Game 3, the Yankees bused across the Triborough Bridge for a workout day at Shea Stadium, which boasted a notoriously sparse visitor’s clubhouse.
Nelson: Shea was a hole in the wall. They had some kind of pipe that burst in our locker room.
Justice: In the Mets’ clubhouse, they’ve got these little-bitty white stools. You’ve got to sit damn near on the ground, that’s how low they are. They look like 25 for a dollar.
Clemens: I remember Mr. Steinbrenner heard a couple players made comments about it. The very next game … it was like your living room.
Justice: He had all our furniture from Yankee Stadium brought over to Shea.
Clemens: He rolled in there with a big truck, or two of them.
Justice: That was pimp. No other owner is going to do that. That’s why Steinbrenner was a bad man.
Brosius: That’s the one thing we knew about The Boss -- he was going to do everything he felt he could do in his power to help us win, and we really appreciated that. Some of those types of things … it just makes you smile.
PART VII: PUT IT ON ME
The Mets responded to their two-game deficit with a 4-2 victory in Game 3, believing their return to Flushing had changed the complexion of the Series. But in Game 4, with Derek Jeter moved to the leadoff spot, the Captain stole the momentum back.
Williams: He hit the first pitch of the game off Bobby Jones over the fence. I mean, fans were still getting to their seats, and he silenced that stadium.
Martinez: That was a deep blow to the Mets right there. We thought that Game 4 was over, it was such a huge momentum swing.
Williams: This was huge for Denny Neagle, who was starting his first World Series game (for the Yankees), to take the hill with a lead and relax him a bit.
The Yankees would go on to win the game, 3-2, and Jeter’s home run became another inflection point that eventually earned him World Series MVP honors.
Nelson: He’s probably the smartest baseball player I’ve ever played with, and he always seemed to be in the right position or know where the ball was going -- even at the plate.
O’Neill: It was kind of the height of why he is in the Hall of Fame.
Williams: We had all watched him blossom into such an outstanding, solid and consistent player, and in the Subway Series, it was more of the same.
PART VIII: HANGING BY THE MOMENT
In Game 5, the Yankees got another clutch at-bat when Luis Sojo grounded Al Leiter’s 142nd pitch up the middle to break a tie game in the ninth. As ever, the great Mariano Rivera came in to try and close out the game and deliver another championship.
Williams: Two outs, man on third, and here comes Mike Piazza to the plate as the tying run. Mariano left a little too much over the plate, and Mike put a great swing on it. I remember hearing a loud crack of the bat, and the ball just took off.
Justice: As soon as Mike Piazza hit that ball, I was leaning backward like I was trying to help the ball stay in the ballpark.
The 55,292 in attendance and millions more watching on TV held their breath, waiting to see whether Piazza had just tied the game. But Williams tracked it down in front of the warning track, sealing the Yankees’ third straight World Series title and 26th world championship overall.
Williams: The ball seemed to just die in that thick October air. As it landed in my glove, I had such a great sense of relief. I just knelt down and thanked God and then put the ball in my back pocket and ran in to join my teammates on the pile.
O’Neill: In 1999, I had lost my father and didn’t get to enjoy that World Series. I was hoping and praying that I would get back to a World Series where I could actually enjoy it. That’s what I remember about that time in 2000 -- “I can enjoy this one.”
Justice: When you’re the last team on the field, it’s just an unbelievable accomplishment. The best feeling that you could have as an athlete.
PART IX: BYE BYE BYE
The next year, against the Diamondbacks, the Yankees came within two outs of collecting their fourth consecutive championship. Two years later, they missed out on another, coming up short against the Marlins in the 2003 Fall Classic. The disappointing ends to those next three seasons only put the Subway Series into greater relief -- an unlikely swan song for a group that seemed like it had more victorious notes to sing.
O’Neill: You never know when it’s going to end. Now you look back and realize, you almost took it for granted going through it.
Martinez: We still felt we had a core group there that could win a couple more.
Clemens: When you’re winning so much, they almost [run together]. That’s what we did at the Yankees; we just kept reloading and just kept coming at you with firepower.
Brosius: You look back at it, and you’re like, yeah, I guess at some point it had to end. You just can’t win every year. The more distance you get from it, the more special the run feels.
Williams: Those two Series we did lose show you just how hard it is to win it all. I just feel so blessed to have worn the pinstripes and been part of a historic run that brought so much joy to our fans in New York and around the world.
Posada: It was very special, and when you think about what we were able to do over that five-year period, winning in 1996 and then winning three straight, I don’t think we knew at the time how rare that was. We dealt with adversity and a lot of pressure in 2000, and we won when we had to. It capped off one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history.