Amid the champagne showers and bear hugs and tears, the generations melted into one early this morning in the Bronx. Hours after the New York Yankees won their 25th World Series, there was Yogi Berra wrapping an arm around Derek Jeter, Whitey Ford chatting with Mariano Rivera and Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield talking about these New York Yankees just like they were their New York Yankees.
In a sense, they are all part of the same team, from Ruth and DiMaggio to Jeter and O'Neill. No team has a history so rich in tradition and success, and no team works harder to make every generation feel like part of every other generation.
Those generations were brought together once more Wednesday night when the Yankees defeated the Atlanta Braves, 4-1, to finish a four-game sweep and win the World Series for the third time in four seasons.
They didn't defeat the Braves as much as they smothered them. The starting pitching was almost perfect. The closer was perfect. And a lineup that didn't have a Reggie or a Babe did its job with a string of patient, professional hitters.
They won Game 1 when Paul O'Neill fought off a 96-mph fastball from John Rocker to drive in two runs. They won Game 2 when the top four hitters in the order got on base 11 times with seven singles, a double and three walks.
Just when the Yankees had almost convinced everyone they weren't a home run hitting team, they homered four times--including two by reserve outfielder Chad Curtis--to win Game 3. They won Game 4 with a three-run rally that included two infield singles, a walk and a stolen base.
"They are amazing," Braves starter John Smoltz said after allowing three runs and striking out 11 in seven innings. "They just don't swing at bad pitches. I threw some pitches that should have been swung at, that would have been swung at by almost any other team. If I pitch 10 more games like this against the Yankees, I win nine of them.
"In years past, the Yankees had all that high-priced talent and didn't get anywhere. The last four years, you can tell there's no selfishness, and that makes a club that's already great even better. From the seventh inning on, they're as dominant as any team I've ever seen."
They're the first team in the era of free agency to win three championships in four years, and in the last two postseasons, they're 22-3.
Their secret is simple: They do the little things.
* They outscored their playoff opponents 27-7 in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and hit .353 as a team.
* World Series MVP Rivera had a victory and two saves in the World Series. He finished the season with 43 consecutive shutout innings, and his postseason earned run average is 0.38, the lowest ever among pitchers with at least 30 innings.
* Starting pitchers Orlando Hernandez, David Cone and Roger Clemens allowed the Braves six hits in 21 innings. The Braves homered once the entire Series, and Atlanta's fourth and fifth hitters--Brian Jordan and Andruw Jones--batted .076.
Perhaps the highest compliment came from Braves shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who was asked if the Yankees were the best team he'd ever seen.
"No," he said. "Cleveland has a better team. The Yankees have the most unity, though. They are together. They care about each other and respect each other.
"The manager and coaching staff have a lot to do with that. The way the players handle themselves and play together, you have to hand it to them. They play like a family."
It's a large, extended family. Visit their spring training headquarters on any given day and there could be a who's who of Yankees credits either in uniform or chatting in the clubhouse. Joe DiMaggio was a regular spring training visitor until his health began to fail. The late Catfish Hunter served as a spring instructor for years after his playing career ended. Don Mattingly could return as a hitting coach next season.
Perhaps that's why DiMaggio's death brings tears to the eyes of 25-year-old Jeter. Around the Yankees, history and tradition are not separated by generations. So it wasn't unusual to see Clemens walk through Monument Park and touch Babe Ruth's plaque on his way to the mound for Game 4 of the World Series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Perhaps only the Yankees understand what it means to be a Yankee.
"You recognize there are a lot of ghosts in this ballpark," Manager Joe Torre said. "It's pretty special. There's a lot of history, a lot of pride involved with being part of the Yankees organization.
"You do feel an obligation. Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio. The city, the uniform. So many uniforms have changed over the years. The Yankees have maintained their style and their class with the pinstripes and no names on the back. There's just a certain elegance. Nobody wore a uniform better than Mickey Mantle. You don't even have to be a sports fan to know who the New York Yankees are."
No sooner had the Yankees won their 25th World Series than Torre began talking about a 26th. These Yankees were different than the 1998 champions after owner George Steinbrenner traded lefty David Wells and two others to Toronto to get Clemens last spring.
Next year's team will also be different. Cone, Joe Girardi and Chili Davis may have played their final games for the Yankees. Steinbrenner is concerned about a payroll that's already above $80 million and could soar above $90 million after Jeter and Rivera sign new contracts.
Still, no team will begin next season with a stronger foundation.
"There's definitely something about wearing this uniform," Torre said. "When you see all those flags flying, you know what your goal is."
CAPTION: If one looks closely, the ghosts of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio might be seen sharing in the Yankees' World Series celebration Wednesday night.
CAPTION: Derek Jeter may have been spraying champagne for Babe Ruth as well as himself in celebrating Yankees' 25th championship on Wednesday.