1. George Steinbrenner was an owner who was committed to winning. What was it like working for him?
In all honesty I think I was fortunate because I got him on the back nine. He certainly made his presence felt—he had plenty of huff and puff when I got there—but we had a very good relationship. I really looked forward to working for him (although my brother Frank thought I was crazy to take the job). I wasn’t really concerned with being fired because I’d already been fired three times so it certainly wasn’t something that would be foreign to me. Working for George kept you on the edge of your seat. Even though we were successful, he wouldn’t allow me to enjoy it very long, and this was a good lesson that I passed on to our players: Once you stop to admire what you’ve accomplished, you stop accomplishing. I treasure the relationship we had because I thought we had a mutual respect for one another.
2. What were your earliest impressions of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera?
Neither of them said a whole lot and both had a good work ethic. Jeter was anointed as our shortstop even though he didn’t have a very good spring that first year. He just went about his business—he could go 0-4 and never really worry about what was going to happen. That impressed me. Even during the end of spring training in 1996 one of the team advisors thought he wasn’t going to be ready and that maybe the Yankees should think about trading for a shortstop. Believe it or not, the guy they were going to trade was Mariano Rivera. We’re all thankful that never happened! My feeling was that we were too far along in spring training to bring someone new in and that we should start the year with Jeter. He never looked back. This kid has been a remarkable role model for all of the youngsters that watch him play and see the way he handles himself.
It was the same thing with Mariano, who went from not really having a job in our bullpen to becoming very prominent as a setup man in 1996—and from 1997 onward, the best closer that’s ever been. I’m very blessed to have had both of these guys on our ball club. Baseball is baseball and ability is ability, but when tough times come, you really look at the character of your players to help get you through the rough spots, and these guys were among the best I’ve ever managed.
3. Many people consider the 1998 Yankees to be one of the greatest teams of all time. What made that group so special?
In looking back, it may have been how the 1997 postseason was cut short so quickly in Cleveland. That made a very big impact on everyone. This club came to spring training in 1998 with a great deal of resolve. No one threw any slogans up on the wall or anything like that. It was more of an inner determination than anything. We started off slow but recovered in a hurry and won a ton of games. The guys never got tired of winning.
4. Which managers that you played for or coached with were most influential in helping you reach the level of success accomplished in the Bronx?
I had Red Schoendienst as my mentor and admired him a lot when I was a player. I think the combination of being named captain when I got to St. Louis and playing for him all six years made a big impact on me. I watched a lot of other managers to see how they would go about things, like Gil Hodges, who I admired from afar, and Yogi Berra, for whom I played a short period of time. It makes you realize that it’s just baseball and you try to keep it simple, which those guys all seemed to do. The one thing I told myself was to never forget what it was like to be a player. Remembering this went a long way because my style is more about managing people and less about Xs and Os.
5. Who were some of the less-heralded players that were instrumental in winning the four Yankee championships?
One guy who comes to mind is Scott Brosius. He had so many key hits for us and he came over from Oakland as a good defensive player with a sense of humor that really lightened the mood a lot—a big help in dealing with all the pressure of playing in New York. He won the MVP of the World Series in 1998. The other one was Andy Pettitte, who was always behind someone—whether Clemens, Cone, or Wells—and liked living in the shade of those guys away from the attention. He always pitched huge ballgames for us.
6. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio. Mickey Mantle. Casey Stengel. Yogi Berra. Joe Torre. What does it mean to be a part of such an incredible list of Yankees who have had their numbers retired?
It’s a feeling I can’t describe. Growing up as a kid in Brooklyn, we had three teams in the New York area. I was a Giants fan who hated (I use the word kiddingly) the Dodgers and the Yankees, but you never ignored the fact that the Yankees were respected for the great players and number of championships they’d won. I remember my first game as a kid in spring training of 1961 seeing Mickey Mantle step into the batters box and getting goose bumps all up my arm. The Yankees were always special, and to have my number 6 sitting there between Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and knowing how many other great players not only had their numbers retired but have played for the organization is amazing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d go home and have the success I did. It means a great deal to me.