Yankees Mag: Just like old times

A quarter-century later, the 1998 Yankees revisit one of the greatest seasons in baseball history

October 17th, 2023
The 1998 Yankees’ incredible season would have all been for naught if they hadn’t closed it out with a World Series victory. Even if winning it all seemed like a fait accompli at times, the players felt enormous pressure to finish the job and earned the right to celebrate like champions after the final out. “You’re acting like little kids,” Scott Brosius says. “There’s no way to describe it other than just pure childhood joy.” (Photo Credit: Major League Baseball)

With 27 World Series championship teams to choose from, Yankees fans can have a spirited debate over which one was the crème de la crème. Nearly a century after winning 110 games and sweeping Pittsburgh in the World Series, the 1927 “Murderers’ Row” team remains synonymous with dominance, while the M&M Boys -- Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris -- powered the ’61 Yanks into baseball lore. The 1939 squad, which steamrolled its way to a fourth consecutive World Series championship, probably doesn’t get its proper due despite being the only team in the modern era to outscore its opponents by more than 400 runs. And you could make a case for nearly any one of the Casey Stengel-led teams that won five straight titles from 1949 to ’53.

But for anyone who witnessed or contributed to the 1998 Yankees, it’s hard to imagine a more complete, well-rounded, utterly unbeatable team. No one star outshined the rest. During an era of bodybuilder-sized sluggers smashing hallowed records, the ’98 Yanks didn’t have a single player with 30 home runs, while the top two finishers in the American League Cy Young voting that year -- Toronto’s Roger Clemens and Boston’s Pedro Martinez -- resided elsewhere in their own division. What they had instead was a roster, from one to 25, of players who cared about one thing only: winning. From the first day of Spring Training through the final out of Game 4 in San Diego, every last person on the team focused solely on doing whatever he could do to help win a ballgame that day.

“I’m a little biased, but I put that team up against any team that’s ever played this game,” says Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. “You can’t compare eras; it’s impossible, in any sport. You can’t do it. But that was a team, we went out and we won 125 games. It was every single day, we wanted to beat you. We basically won the division in May, but we just kept at it. It was one of those rare teams -- the best team, obviously, that I’ve been on. We got to stay together for a few more years after that, but ’98 was special.”

When a team like that arrives at a milestone anniversary, it deserves special recognition, which is exactly what it received at Yankee Stadium during the Yankees’ 75th Old-Timers’ Day this past Sept. 9. Jeter was among more than two dozen members of the 1998 World Series champions who returned to the Bronx for a 25th anniversary celebration that offered players a golden opportunity to reminisce about a season that will be talked about forever.

Here’s what they had to say about how it all came together …


The 1998 Yankees’ steely determination was forged from a heartbreaking loss in the 1997 AL Division Series in which Cleveland produced one-run victories in Games 4 and 5 to eliminate the defending World Series champions.

Joe Torre: The team was just so distraught. After winning in ’96, they didn’t assume they were going to win. They just expected to because they felt they were better. And it was really tough, that last Game 5 against Cleveland. Paul O’Neill hits a double, then Bernie Williams makes the last out with a ball to left-center field. I was going to have a meeting after the game, and I had to find Bernie. It took me time to scrape him off the steps outside in the dugout. And little did I know at the time, but these guys made a commitment to themselves about 1998.

Mariano Rivera: I wouldn’t change anything. All the victories and all the defeats made me appreciate the game. You know, sometimes we take for granted the expectation, especially here in New York; it’s so high, and you wanted to be the best every time. But … I wished we started playing the ’98 season the next day. It was that hard. We took our beating, then we got ready for ’98. But again, I would never change anything.

Andy Pettitte: After losing in ’97, we were so hungry to do it again because we had a taste of it in ’96. Once you get that taste of it, you know you want that, and so I think that really drove us.

During the offseason, the Yankees dealt left-hander Kenny Rogers to Oakland for cash and a player to be named later, which turned out to be Scott Brosius, a 31-year-old third baseman coming off a career-worst .203 season.

Torre: When Brosius came to our ballclub, he just elevated the mood. He was light-hearted, cracked jokes, made fun of himself.

Scott Brosius: Coming here as a visiting player was highly uncomfortable. Coming to the Stadium, the fans, everything that you face, it was not a comfortable place to be. But showing up here as a Yankee, it didn’t take long at all to get real comfortable. Being the new kid on the block, we’re sitting around in Spring Training one morning, it’s my first day meeting a lot of these guys and having conversations with them, and what struck me was every conversation in the clubhouse was about getting back to the World Series and about winning. And that’s what this team really was all about. Winning was most important.

Tim Raines: It wasn’t about who was the best. It wasn’t about who got the most notoriety. It was about the team. And I think Joe did a good job of putting that together.

Homer Bush: The cool thing about it, now that Jeter and Mariano and Andy Pettitte had these amazing careers, they were still young in ’98. They were feeling their way just like everybody else was. So, I think ’98 was a great year because it was perfect timing. You had this young group that was really good, and they were mature for their ages. It was just one of those things where it all came together at the right time for the organization.

The Yankees opened the regular season on the West Coast, and after an 8-0 loss to Seattle on April 6, they suddenly found themselves in last place at 1-4, 3 1/2 games behind Baltimore, with their All-Star closer, Rivera, on the shelf with a groin injury.

Torre: We were a little punchy starting the season. We had a good spring, and then we went out West, and all of a sudden, we couldn’t find a win.

David Wells: Joe came in, and he called everybody out -- Jeter and everybody. There was a lot of [ticked] off guys in that meeting. And I was like, “Wow.” To me, that resonated, and that was awesome. When Joe needed to put his foot down, he did, and everybody respected that.

Mike Stanton: There wasn’t really any yelling and screaming -- that wasn’t Joe’s style -- but it was more just, Let’s get focused on the little things that we need to do to win. I got a save the last day in Seattle before we came back home, and it was by the skin of my teeth. I think I gave up a run; there were runners all over the place. Somehow or another, I got out of it. And then after that, it was like we never lost.

Paul O’Neill: We all like Joe Torre, so we didn’t want him to get fired. So, we started going on a winning streak. Skip used to always say in the meetings, “Sooner or later, the cream will come to the top.” When you get off to a bad start, I know it’s a tough thing in New York. But obviously, the cream came to the top.

Tino Martinez: Whenever things would go south a little bit, Joe never changed. He was always very in tune with himself and in tune with the team. He never lost his cool, and I’ve learned a lot from him as far as that goes in life. When things go bad here and there, you’ve got to just take it in stride and keep working harder to get better.

Torre: We came back to New York for the Welcome Home Dinner, and with all the talk about, We have to make some changes after the first five or six games, George Steinbrenner came over and says, “You’re my guy.” Well, you know, that carries a lot of water at times.

The Yankees rebounded from their slow start to finish April atop the AL East at 17-6, with four of those victories coming in extra innings.

Mike Buddie: It seemed like every time that we were losing a game, Tino Martinez or Darryl Strawberry would come up and hit a home run. That whole season was just kind of everybody waiting until we won the game. The opposing teams, even if they were winning in the seventh or eighth inning, they kind of had that feeling of, This isn’t going to last. They’re going to find a way to beat us.

Darryl Strawberry: We didn’t care who was on the mound. They can have their best No. 1 starter; we always felt like we could beat him, and we did. We would eventually find a way to just beat people. And when you have that kind of group, you know you’re onto something good.

Pettitte: I was a starting pitcher, so I went out only once every fifth day, but to have the group of position players that we had -- we were young, obviously, at that time -- with the veteran guys that we had, the grind that they showed every single day to take the field and play the way they did was just awesome to watch.

Torre: We never had a group that pointed fingers. We always wore it and owned it. Whether it was positive or negative, it was something that we did together, and that’s something I was very proud of.

Wells’ first eight starts yielded seven Yankees victories, but the veteran left-hander had an ERA of 5.23 when he took the mound at Yankee Stadium on May 17 … and proceeded to toss the team’s first perfect game since Don Larsen blanked the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

Wells: Being with the team that we had, and just being focused on going out there and throwing strikes, you never know what’s going to happen in a game. And when you’ve got eight guys behind you that are studs, it makes the game a little bit easier for you.

Jorge Posada: David was fun for me to catch because he had unbelievable stuff.

Wells: I think in the eighth inning, [David Cone] comes up to me, and he goes, “Hey Boomer, why don’t you break out that knuckleball?” And I go, “What are you talking about? I don’t throw a knuckleball!” And he goes, “I play catch with you every day. Break it out!” And then it registered. I knew what he was doing. He was just trying to get my mind off it.

David Cone: I wanted it so badly for him because the thing about David is, he understands the history of the game. He’s got a memorabilia collection back to Babe Ruth and some of the greatest Yankees of all time. So, I knew what that would mean to him if he could make his mark in Yankee history and baseball history.

Wells: I go out, 1-2-3. I come in, and [Cone] is on the top step with his vein popping out, calling me expletives. I’m like, “What the [heck]?” But that’s what calmed me down. He gets a lot of credit because he got the nerves down. When you’re in a situation like that, you’re thinking about not making a mistake, and I didn’t think about anything. I just went out and did the job.

Cone: I remember that middle of May game like it was yesterday. That set us off on a run, and we just never looked back.

Two days later, Orioles reliever Armando Benítez entered in the eighth inning, tasked with protecting a 5-4 lead. Bernie Williams promptly crushed a three-run homer, and Benítez plunked the next batter, Tino Martinez, touching off a wild, benches-clearing brawl in the Bronx.

Graeme Lloyd: It sort of happened before, when Tino was over with Seattle, and Edgar Martínez hit a [grand slam]. So, me and [Jeff Nelson] said, “If [Benítez] does it again, we’ve got to go get him.”

Strawberry: We liked to say, “The important thing is caring about each other.” So, if teams wanted to challenge us, that was a big mistake. We had a hardcore group. We were good, but we would definitely defend ourselves. We didn’t back down from any situation.

Raines: We, as a team, and me, as being a part of the team, had to send a message that you can’t mess with the Yankees. You can not mess with the Yankees.

Lloyd: It was one of those times that I think really pulled the team together.

Torre: I don’t think you can go through life by yourself, much less try to go out there and win a ballgame by yourself. But these guys really pulled together and pulled for each other, which I found just terrific to watch and be a part of.

The Yankees didn’t lose a series in May, jelling off the field as well.

Bush: That particular year, ’98, we were really close. There would be 17, 18 guys at chapel.

Buddie: You didn’t just glom into your own little comfortable group of three or four guys. You spread it out, and you got to know everybody on the team. And I think it impacted how we played as a team.

Luis Sojo: We used to go out to dinner -- 10, 15 guys. Jeter was one of the leaders. Mariano would always take the Latinos. But we meshed, and we did a lot of things together because it was a special year. In the clubhouse, in the dugout, on the bus -- there was a lot of friendship.

Martinez: It’s very rare in baseball to have everybody get along as well as we did and play as well as we did. But you know, we spend more time with each other in the locker rooms and on the plane rides and the bus rides than we do with our own families. So, we had a lot of fun during those times, joking with each other out loud and messing around and just having a great time when we weren’t on the field. But when we were on the field, it was all business.

Cone led a formidable pitching staff, but when his mother’s Jack Russell terrier, Veronica, bit his finger, he had to miss a start in early June. The minor injury opened the door for Orlando Hernández to join the Yankees’ rotation after arriving the previous winter from Cuba, where the star right-hander had been banned from baseball on account of his brother, Liván Hernández, having also defected in 1995. “El Duque” would go 12-4 during the regular season, then win both of his postseason starts.

Orlando Hernández [via interpreter]: Prior to ’98, I already had confidence. I developed my confidence all the years I played in Cuba. I learned that the key is to enjoy yourself playing the game. I’m always going to be grateful for the opportunity to come to the Yankees and play professionally again.

Wells: With the pitching staff that we had, we had a game within a game because we were all trying to win our five starts a month. So, you just tried to make the culture around you better, your teammates better, and then you see how good we were because we all competed in a good way.

The Yankees continued to roll throughout the summer, building up a double-digit lead in the AL East and sending five players to the All-Star Game in Colorado. They produced five winning streaks of eight games or more in 1998, and each time one of those streaks ended, they won the following game.

Stanton: It was like we never lost. We would go on a run, and if somebody beat us, we were going to go on another run.

Raines: Every game, every day, we felt like we could win. Not only during the regular season but playoffs as well. It was just a family getting together, doing what they do best, and not fighting about anything but going out and playing a game and rooting for each other.

Strawberry: It was very special because nobody felt like they were bigger than anybody else. It wasn’t a team where guys had more pride than the next guy. We didn’t have that. We strapped it on together.

Bernie Williams: Every night, it seemed there was a different hero, and we were always there to pick each other up.

Jeff Nelson: When you had Derek Jeter on the team, and he’s going out and busting his butt every single day, he basically held everybody accountable. You looked at him, and he set the example for everyone. … We thought, “We’ve got to play as hard as this kid.”

Brosius: For me, it was professionally just such a huge turnaround. It’s such a huge shot of adrenaline to come from a struggling franchise over in Oakland, coming off a bad year with injuries and everything, and to not just get a fresh start but get a fresh start with this team. I said all along that I hopped on the train at the right time.

Sojo: You always knew something good was going to happen. We had a great pitching staff, a great manager; everything was kind of perfect.

Martinez: We played great team ball. Day in and day out, we did the little things right. We moved guys over, played great defense, got great pitching. And we expected to win every single day. We didn’t want to win nine in a row and then lose the 10th game. We wanted to win every single day. And that was our mentality throughout the whole year.

Torre: It’s funny, during my career, on my birthday, July 18, we never won, and I never hit or anything like that. It was always bad luck. I remember saying to somebody, “We even won on my birthday. This must be a special year.” And he said back to me, “You won on everybody’s birthday.” And that was pretty true. The ’98 team -- they were just relentless.

Derek Jeter: I don’t even know how many games we won the division by that year; I have no idea. But we didn’t care. We were competing against ourselves. It’s literally that simple: You win a game.

After clinching a playoff spot on Aug. 29 -- something the Yankees themselves weren’t even aware of immediately after the game -- the team went 9-11 over its next 20 games. But the Yanks headed into the postseason with a full head of steam, winning their final seven regular-season games to finish with a then-AL record 114 wins, 22 games ahead of second-place Boston. Cone led the Majors with 20 victories, Jeter led the AL with 127 runs scored and Williams won the AL batting crown with a .339 average. But none of that mattered once October hit.

Martinez: I felt like that was the most pressure we had in all of the postseasons that we went into. When you win 114 games, you’re expected to win the World Series, and it’s not that easy.

Williams: We all knew what the goal was, and nothing but a championship was going to be enough for this team.

Wells: There were so many good things because it just wasn’t one guy -- it was everybody. You get into the playoffs, and it seemed like Derek was the new Mr. October because he just shined in that moment. Bernie stepped up. Posada stepped up. Big hits, you know? So, that’s the stuff that made these teams because you just couldn’t really lean on one guy. We all did it.

The 1998 Yankees overcame a slow start to become an absolute juggernaut. Following the lead of their stoic manager, Joe Torre (center), the team won 114 games during the regular season before sweeping the Padres in the World Series. “We couldn’t have had a better guy leading us,” says Andy Pettitte. “He just never panicked no matter what.” (Photo Credit: Major League Baseball)

Torre: I remember having a meeting in Cleveland after losing an ugly Game 2 in the Championship Series. And I was telling these guys, they’re going to have to relax and have some fun. Because when you win 114 games in the season, the pressure is enormous that you’d better win, or nobody’s going to remember what you accomplished during the season. And Paul O’Neill came up to me when I told everybody to have some fun and said, “It’s not fun unless you win.” So, that pretty much signaled what our ballclub was all about.

After sweeping Texas in the ALDS and vanquishing Cleveland in six games, the Yankees advanced to the World Series to face San Diego. Trailing, 5-2, in the seventh inning of Game 1, the Bombers’ bats came alive with a three-run homer from Chuck Knoblauch and a grand slam by Martinez off Mark Langston.

Torre: We were getting beat up a little bit because San Diego, they were a powerhouse. And the one thing that turned us around -- and we never looked back after Game 1 -- was Tino Martinez.

Martinez: It was a tie game and bases were loaded, and I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit, trying to hit it hard somewhere to keep the rally going and get the next man up. Fortunately, I got a really good pitch in a 3-2 count, belt high, and I obviously hit it really well, and it went out of the ballpark. I didn’t hit a whole lot of no-doubters, but that was a no-doubter, and I got to enjoy my run to first base and watch the beer flying up there and the fans going crazy. It was probably one of my most favorite trips around the bases.

In Game 2, the Yankees jumped out to an early 7-0 lead and never looked back. Game 3 in San Diego saw another late rally courtesy of Brosius. The eventual World Series MVP could not contain his excitement after hitting a three-run homer in the eighth off Trevor Hoffman in a 5-4 win.

Torre: [Brosius] hit so many key home runs. Of course, the one he hit against Hoffman was amazing. Go in their ballpark, and you’re losing a ballgame. Hoffman -- who’s in the Hall of Fame, and we knew he would be at the time -- all of a sudden, you hit a ball over the center-field fence. You just shake your head. For not getting a lot of attention and notoriety, he really made a big difference.

Brosius: You always wonder, if you’re in that situation, would you be able to play it cool, or would you get kind of emotional? And I think I kind of learned right away that I’m not the play-it-cool kind of guy. There’s a lot of emotions. It’s just joy. It’s like being a kid again.

Torre: I’m sitting next to [Don] Zimmer on the bench, and he threw those arms up at first base. I said to Zim, “That’s the cover of Sports Illustrated.”

Finally, on Oct. 21, Rivera closed out a Pettitte gem for a 3-0 win -- the Yankees’ 125th victory of the season and the 24th World Series title in franchise history.

Pettitte: That was a strange one for me. My dad had open-heart surgery the night of Game 2, and so I wasn’t even with the team. I flew the night of Game 3 into San Diego and pitched Game 4, and we were able to wrap that World Series up, and it was just a party after that.

Nelson: After the final out, Brosius was jumping up and down for joy. He looked like Tigger. What a Series -- what a postseason -- he had.

(Photo Credit: New York Yankees)

Brosius: The first time you win a World Series, that’s kind of the childhood dream. I think about the end of the season, the dogpile and all that. … When you’ve never done it before, there’s just something about that last out that’s made, and now you’re jumping around, and you’re acting like little kids, and there’s no way to describe it other than just pure childhood joy.

Strawberry: It was just a kick-butt team all around. Coming to the ballpark every day was fun. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’ve got a game.” It was like, “Oh, let’s go win!” And that’s fun. It’s fun when you don’t have doubts. And that’s what the ’98 team had. We didn’t have doubts. We knew.

Martinez: It was very nice to finish that year with a World Series championship, for sure. We needed that one.

O’Neill: I look back at the four championships, and ’98, by far, was the best team that I ever had the pleasure to play with.

When the 1998 Yankees celebrated their 25th anniversary during Old-Timers’ Day this past September, they remained supremely proud of what they achieved together -- and appreciative of how their skipper guided them so deftly all the way through the parade up the Canyon of Heroes.

Cone: It’s in the argument for one of the greatest teams of all time.

Raines: All these teams that are winning all these games now, I kind of look at their situation and look at ours back in the day, and I’m like, “Wow. Everybody’s shooting for us now.”

Williams: Our 1998 team was one for the ages and continued a run of championships that will be hard to match for a long, long time. … And the best part was, we got to play in front of the greatest fans in the world of sports.

Martinez: When I’m walking the streets, the fans remind us how great our team was in ’98. It was a special year with a special group of guys. … You know the saying, “To the victor go the spoils?” Nobody gets more spoiled than the New York Yankees in New York City by those fans, more than any organization in baseball. It was so much fun.

Strawberry: Our love and compassion for each other is a lot deeper than just being on a baseball field. And we have that respect for each other because of what we accomplished together.

Rivera: It takes a special group of people to accomplish that. … It wasn’t just a team; we were a family.

Pettitte: We couldn’t have had a better guy leading us. He just never panicked no matter what and was just loyal to you to the end of the earth.

Nelson: This is a rat race to play here, and the expectation level is unlike anywhere else. Joe took all that away from us and allowed us just to go out on the field and be successful. He never had a doghouse, and we needed that calming voice. You didn’t need a rah-rah guy to jump all over you; we already had that from the media and the fans. … He was the perfect person for the job.

Sojo: He was like a psychologist. He knew how to treat 25 guys with different personalities; he knew how to handle them. To me, he was the best.

Cone: We wouldn’t have gotten there without Joe.

Torre: Everybody congratulates me on the success we had, but I had a special group. They never stopped to admire what they accomplished, and that means a whole lot to me. … My whole baseball career really is centered around what happened here with the Yankees. I played for 16, 17 years, and there were some special times personally. But when you do something as a team and have them play as a team for the period of time that they did was amazing. And when you see them, these memories come back. It’s just like rejoining a family.

Additional reporting courtesy of Jon Schwartz, Brianna Mac Kay and the YES Network. Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This story appears in the October 2023 edition. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at www.yankees.com/publications.