To this day, Scott Brosius insists that you could choose any player on the 1998 Yankees who was just as, if not more, deserving of the World Series MVP Award than he was.
Nevertheless, Brosius walked away with the hardware after a Fall Classic -- and, in fact, an entire season and postseason -- in which he far surpassed anyone's expectations.
Acquired by the Yankees in November of 1997, Brosius was coming off a dreadful year with the A's and wasn't even sure what his role with the Yankees would be. In Oakland, Brosius had never tasted October baseball. Now, shipped across the country and thrust into the New York spotlight on a team with its sights set on a championship, the third baseman promised himself that no matter what happened, he would try to enjoy the ride.
Twenty years later, and now the Mariners' third base coach, Brosius still looks back on the 1998 season fondly -- and still tries to deflect any credit for the Yankees' historic run. From one of his favorite haunts near his home in McMinnville, Oregon, Brosius spoke with Yankees Magazine senior editor Hilary Giorgi about his first year with the Yankees and what a wild and exhilarating ride it was.
How confident were you going into the 1998 postseason, both personally and as a team?
I'll tell you a conversation that really helped me. It was early September, and I had been struggling a little bit offensively. My average had dipped under .300, and I was just kind of grinding. Don Zimmer walked over to me while I was taking grounders at third base. He pulled me aside and goes, "I can see your frustration. Look, I don't know if you're going to hit .300 this year or not, but you need to know something. You're one of the reasons that we're in this place. If you can't enjoy a season like this, you'll never enjoy any season because this season is special." And that was kind of what I needed to hear at the time. From that point on, I let myself get back to enjoying this game and playing hard. I started swinging the bat good again at the end of the year, and so for me personally going into the playoffs, I was confident. I think our team certainly had confidence based on the games that we were winning and how we finished. And you looked at the guys we were throwing out on the mound -- when you've got those guys, you feel like you can win every single game that you're playing.
It was your first taste of the postseason. Any jitters or butterflies the night before your first playoff game?
No, it was excitement. For me it was just like, this is dream-come-true kind of stuff. This is what you dreamed about doing, so enjoy the ride. Obviously, you're going to play hard and play to win, but make sure you look around. Make sure you enjoy the festivities. Make sure you enjoy just being introduced. Enjoy it, and have fun with the experience. Ultimately, I just wanted to make sure that I was appreciating something that I dreamed my whole life of having a chance to do.
There's definitely a different feel in the playoffs. There's a different intensity and focus about it. The clubhouse was loose, but at the same time you could see the underlying sense of, "It's go time." It's getting used to the mental ups and downs, and going from the high-intensity feelings to telling yourself to relax and go to sleep so you can get up and do it again. It's emotionally draining.
Were you worried at any point?
The scariest series is the first one because it's best three out of five. You have that one game that could go the wrong way, and all of a sudden it puts you behind the eight ball. In '98 we swept the American League Division Series, but they were tight, close games with Texas. Obviously, being down 2-games-to-1 in the ALCS was the first time we kind of had our backs against the wall. But even at that point, you still have confidence. I remember after Game 3 we were going back to the hotel, and on the streets in Cleveland they were just going crazy -- they were celebrating and all that. I remember seeing it and looking around the bus and saying to the guys, "Gosh, I didn't realize this was best two out of three. I thought this was four out of seven, and as far as I know we're not even close to being out of it. Look at these guys. They're celebrating like they won it already." Then El Duque goes out and does his thing in Game 4, and from that point on it was kind of unstoppable.
It must help to get off to a good start though, which you did in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rangers. You knocked in the first run of the game -- which also wound up being the winning run -- in the second inning. How important was it to get yourself and the team going quickly?
On the personal side, there's no question that it makes you relax. If you have some success early and get a hit, you relax, and it puts you into a flow. But it goes the other way, too. You see guys where the postseason starts tough for them, and it starts to snowball because there's so much more attention put on it. And during playoff games, you know that every run is golden. You don't know how the games are going to play out, and with the Rangers they were all tight, low-scoring games, so every run really mattered.
The Yankees wound up sweeping Texas and moving on to face Cleveland. How did you feel when you knocked off the Rangers?
After the first series win, it's kind of weird because you haven't really won anything yet; you've just sort of moved on. The first round is really just a first step. But for me personally, sweeping them meant there was an opportunity to heal up. I had rolled my ankle in the last game of the series when Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) picked me off first, so I was pretty gimpy. If we had had a Game 4, I would have been really questionable because I woke up really sore the next day. It was good to spend a few days getting treatment and trying to get my ankle back and ready to go for the next series.
The Indians had knocked out the Yankees the year before. You obviously weren't there for that, but was there any extra sense of, "We need to get these guys"?
There was extra intensity, no question. Like you said, I wasn't there for it, but I think it was still raw. When a team ends your season like the Indians did to the Yankees in '97, that was still talked about. Of course, you're playing for your own motivations, and you're playing for an opportunity to get to the World Series, but to be able to beat the team that got you the year before definitely added another level of intensity to that series.
You punched your ticket to the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Going into that game, did you have any doubt that you were going to win?
No. I think you have to go in saying, "This is ours, now, and we're going to win it." That's how we felt. As the game went on and the score started to dictate thoughts of, "Hey, if we get a few more outs, we're going to win this," that's when the excitement starts to grow a little bit. So that celebration, for me, meant something. We had won the American League, and we were going to the World Series, and I was like, "No way." Punching that ticket, that dog pile, that celebration was fun.
People were going nuts. It's so cliche, but it really is the stuff you dream about. You think, "This is what the big leagues should be." You hope for it. You dream about it your whole life, and then you realize, "Wow, I'm actually going to get the chance to play in a World Series."
Heading into the World Series, what did you know about the Padres and what did you expect facing them?
We knew they beat two good teams to get to the World Series, so we had all the respect in the world for them. We knew they were a good team and could beat good teams offensively, plus they were really balanced on the mound. They had Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock; a great closer in the 'pen with some good guys in between. So, we felt like we were playing the best from that league, and we felt like it was going to be a battle.
After winning the first two games in the Bronx, what's the confidence level on the plane ride to California?
Winning Game 1, to come from behind like that, that was a big win. Tino [Martinez] had the big home run, and it was huge to find a way to win that game against Kevin Brown, who was really good, really nasty. And in Game 2, we swung the bats well and took advantage of some mistakes. Any time you can leave home up 2 games to none, you feel great. But you also know how a series can turn, and you've watched enough playoff series to know that when you get a team to their home field, the series is far from over. So, we certainly didn't feel like it was over. We were treating every game like it was the most important game of the Series, because it was.
Take me through Game 3 in San Diego.
I think Sterling and Coney (David Cone) both had no-hitters going through the first four or five innings. So, it was a close game. But the thing that Joe Torre talked about all year long was, just grind. That was what we always talked about, how we had to keep grinding -- that's how you get through the season and these close games. That kicked in, and you're just hoping that you'll be the first one to crack the door.
Instead, San Diego got on the board first, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth, and then you're the guy leading off the top of the seventh. What was your approach?
I was seeing the ball pretty well off of Sterling, and to me it was just about getting on base. Just get on base and try to get an inning going. You kind of have to stay away from the thinking of, "Geez, we only have nine outs left," and instead think, "Let's score some runs."
So, the count went to 3-2, and as he should with a three-run lead, he didn't want to walk the leadoff hitter. I got a fastball to hit, and I just put a good swing on it.
How did the trip around the bases feel after that home run? Was there a bit of a spark?
It was kind of cool, but we were still down, and we knew we had a ways to go. But at the same point, it's like, "Wow, I just hit a World Series home run." It was a cool feeling, and a run is a run. The game was still close, and so to get one run closer it was great to feel like you'd helped. But there was no question I was rounding the bases thinking, "This is pretty cool." The little kid takes over.
In the next inning you come up again, this time against Trevor Hoffman, who, like Mariano Rivera, was a future Hall of Famer. How did you feel facing him?
That inning was a heck of an inning for our whole offense. If you look at some of the at-bats even before I got up, you'll remember that Tino had a great at-bat, Bernie [Williams] had a great at-bat, so there were a bunch of good things that led up to me coming to the plate. I had seen Trevor earlier that year -- he had struck me out in the All-Star Game -- and actually I think that helped me because at least I had seen him. I wasn't facing him totally for the first time. Going up to the plate I certainly wasn't thinking home run, though. I just wanted to get a pitch to hit and hit the ball hard and see what happens.
And then …?
And then he gave me a fastball, and I hit it good. When I hit it, I was thinking, "Is it going to be enough?" I was just worried about if it was going to carry. As I'm running down the line, I was waiting to see if it makes it over the fence or not. When it does, I think that's when the hands go up, and it's that initial reaction of, "Yes!" No question, that was probably my No. 1 highlight. To hit a home run to put you ahead, and at that point you see the dugout and the guys coming out, and you can't wait to get to home plate and high-five everyone.
In Game 4, you're facing Kevin Brown again, their ace. How confident is the team now that you're one win away from a World Series victory?
I think it was Tony Gwynn in an interview after Game 3 who said something like, "They're a great team over there, but I can't hand them the title until they win four, and they haven't won four yet." And he was exactly right. We knew this thing was not over. The thought process is, treat it like a must-win. And Kevin was tough. He was good that day, and we were struggling to score. But Andy Pettitte was good that day, too, and it was just another one of those close games.
You had a 1-0 lead going into the eighth inning when you come up with the bases loaded. How badly do you want to knock in a couple of insurance runs there?
Definitely. The infield was in, and I was fortunate because Brownie had a ton of movement on his ball that day -- he was throwing hard with a lot of sink. Typically, my approach off him was to pull something because everything was running in on you. I was able to get just enough barrel on something to get the ball into the outfield.
You knocked in one run, then the team added another and you knew you had the greatest closer of all time waiting in the bullpen. Are you counting the minutes and seconds at that point?
You're definitely counting outs.
The last batter of the game, Mark Sweeney, comes up, and hits a grounder to you. Are you thinking anything at that point, or is it just muscle memory?
What's funny is when I got traded over, (third base coach) Willie Randolph would hit me ground balls every day. And for the last ground ball of the day, I would always say to myself, "OK, it's two outs in the World Series." I'd tell myself that every single day. "Two outs in the World Series, last out of the season, make the play." I don't know why I did that. I guess I figured we were going to be in the playoffs so maybe I was trying to get myself used to the feeling, but it was just something I would tell myself. So, when the ball was hit to me I was like, "No way!" I started jumping in the air when I didn't airmail the throw. And then it's pandemonium.
Describe the rush of feelings in that moment.
I can't speak for the other guys, but for me it was just pure joy. My family told me the way I was jumping around, I looked like Tigger. And I was like, "I was jumping around?" I didn't even know. It's just joy, and you don't even know what you're doing. You can't wait to jump and hug guys -- it's the coolest feeling ever.
What do you remember feeling when you were named MVP of the World Series?
It was like icing on the cake. I saw it as a really awesome award to get, but it didn't matter because we won, and that's all I cared about. When they announced it, I remember I was wearing a hat, but I looked at it and it was the World Series champions hat. I gave it to someone and put on our team hat instead because we -- the team -- won the World Series, and that's what it was about. It was cool, and it was something I was proud of, but a lot of guys did their job and could have gotten that award.
What kind of bond do you share with those guys? How does a season like that connect you?
I think as time goes on you realize more and more how special it was. When you're in the middle of it and you're still playing and winning, you don't really think about it in those terms. When '99 comes you just say, "Let's do this again." Same thing in 2000. But now that we're separated from it, you can look back and say, "Wow, that was a pretty special year."
This interview is part of a season- long series of Q&A's with the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.