It was October 13, 2001. The New York Yankees were down two games to none in a best-of-five ALDS series against the Oakland A’s. Although the A’s were not seeded as high as the Yankees, they were coming off of an unbelievable year, winning 102 games — seven more games than the Yankees — earning a ticket to the AL Division Series. After reaching triple digit wins during the season and winning the first two games of the series by out-dueling the Yankees’ Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in Game 1 and Game 2, the A’s had a lot of momentum going into Game 3. It was the top of the fifth inning with nobody on base and one out. The A’s starter, Barry Zito, one of the team’s best young pitchers, had yet to give up a hit in the game. The Yankees starting catcher Jorge Posada stepped up to the plate. With almost 56,000 roaring fans in the Oakland Coliseum stands, Posada breathed, focused, and sent Zito’s pitch into the stands for a home run, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Nonetheless, it was likely that the A’s, who ranked fifth in the league in runs scored, would make up for the home run and generate enough runs to secure a win and a sweep of the Yankees in three games.
After a single by Jeremy Giambi in the bottom of the seventh put a runner on base with two outs, the A’s were in a prime position to tie the game. Terrence Long stepped up to the plate and ripped a double down the right field line. Giambi decided to risk it and tried scoring on the double all the way from first base. It looked like Giambi was a shoe-in to score when Yankees’ right fielder Shane Spencer overthrew his cutoff-man. Seemingly out of nowhere, shortstop Derek Jeter, a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest baseball players of all time, came sprinting across the infield from shortstop to the first base dugout, intercepted Spencer’s throw, and made a clean shovel pass to Posada at home plate. Giambi did not slide, and Posada slapped a tag on his shin just before he crossed the plate. This play is arguably the most heads-up play in all of sports history because of its spontaneity, instinctive thinking, and impact on the momentum of the Yankee’s postseason. The Yankees went on to win the game 1-0, riding the back of Mike Mussina’s spectacular pitching performance, Posada’s home run, and Jeter’s play, appropriately named “The Flip.” The Yankees capitalized on the momentum of this unworldly play, winning the next two games to clinch an ALCS birth.
It is remarkable how much one player can impact their team’s momentum. Cornerstone players like Derek Jeter were well known for being the best in their era for not only being able to put up quality statistics, but to come up clutch when their team needed it. Although Jeter was easily the most popular player on the Yankees 2001 roster, every player mentioned in the previous paragraph played a significant role in the Yankees success and will be remembered for his contributions.
Now, sports seem to be in a transition phase. It is important to note that the sports world is, at the current time, very young and does not have as many cornerstone veterans such as Jeter. The sports world is also not filled with first-class players to play alongside cornerstone players like Jeter, such as Posada, Mussina, Clemens, and Pettite. The players that dominated the early 21st century with young and primed skills no longer play in the current generation. The faces of early 21st century baseball were Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, and Vladimir Guerrero. However, all these players have retired and are no longer on major league rosters. Very few players who played during this era, such as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro Suzuki, still remain in the game today.
Jeter played his last game in 2014, Rivera in 2013, Giambi in 2014, Johnson in 2009, and Guerrero in 2011. Almost every player who made a memorable impact on baseball in the early 21st century has retired or is just about to do so.
However, the same goes for other popular sports. Kobe Bryant, easily one of the top three basketball players of all time, led the Los Angeles Lakers to multiple NBA titles, but just played his last game several days ago. At the conclusion of this year, NFL Champion Peyton Manning decided to retire as well. In 2015 alone, Abby Wambach, Jeff Gordon, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Troy Polamalu, and Steve Nash, some of the biggest names in sports, all decided to close the curtain on their careers.
Society is entering a new generation of athletics. In sports all across the country, young and hungry players are competing against each other to claim the title as face of their sport. These young athletes are looking establish not only great, lengthy careers, but also legacies that players like Kobe, Jeter, and Manning were able to create themselves. In baseball, players just out of their teenage years such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are looking to earn the classification as baseball’s best player.
In basketball, Steph Curry has garnered universal respect as the best 3-point shooter and potentially the best overall player in the game today. Entering 2015 when he was just 24 years-old, “Chef Curry” led the NBA in 3-pointers for four consecutive seasons. He already holds the record for most 3-pointers made in single regular season game, highest 3-pointers per game average in a regular season, and most 3-pointers made in a regular season. However, Curry is not the only young player on the court that is making a name for himself early on. Anthony Davis, who just turned 23, is one of 3 players (Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard) to have 5000 points and 500 blocks before he turned 23. Another lesser known but still powerful player is Damian Lillard, who has accumulated at least 1,500 points and 400 assists in each of his 1st 4 seasons.
The stories of great athletes in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that took the sporting world by storm are stories that our parents told to our generation. Now that those great players have hung up their cleats, our generation will have a new group of modern day heroes who will soon become legends and give us amazing stories to tell the next generation.