Beginning in February 1990, the Yankees signed Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter within 28 months of one another. All four made their big league debuts in 1995, and except for the three seasons when Pettitte played for his hometown Astros (2004--06), they have been together ever since, sharing championships and life's milestones, big and small, like brothers.
The Core Four—Rivera is 40; Posada, 38; Pettitte, 37; and Jeter, 35—have combined for 27 All-Star selections, 11 division titles, seven American League pennants, five world championships and $562 million in career earnings. In accomplishment and longevity, the sports world has seen nothing quite like this quartet. This year Rivera, Posada and Jeter became the first trio of teammates in any North American sport to stay together for 16 consecutive seasons. And there is no indication that any of the four, fresh off winning World Series ring number five in 2009, is close to being finished. Rivera (six saves, 0.00 ERA through Sunday), Posada (.315 batting average), Jeter (.316) and Pettitte (3--0, 1.29) helped the Yankees win their first five series of the season—the first Yankees team to do so since 1926.
Mo, Sado, Andy and Jeet, as they call one another, have spent more of their adulthood with one another than their own families. (Since they first met, all but Jeter have become husbands and fathers; Jeter was the best man at Posada's wedding.) One finishes another's sentences, they can communicate with just a look, and they operate a kind of elder's tribunal in the New York clubhouse. They also have built virtually spotless reputations, save for when Pettitte admitted in 2007 to twice using human growth hormone. When he faced questions from reporters about his transgression, Rivera, Posada and Jeter were, of course, near his side.
In all those years, however, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte and Jeter had never shared a meal except as part of larger groups—until SI gathered the Core Four for lunch last week at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, for a discussion moderated by senior writer Tom Verducci. Rivera, the closer, was the first one to show—two minutes early. Asked to predict who'd be the last to arrive, Rivera said, "Sado. Jeter, then Sado will be last."
Pettitte, the starting pitcher, arrived next, and then, just as Rivera was lecturing on punctuality and half-jokingly threatening to leave, Jeter, the captain and shortstop, walked in. "What time is it?" Rivera asked him.
"Seven after," Jeter said.
"You were supposed to be here seven minutes ago," Rivera said.
Posada, the catcher, was indeed the last to arrive. "Look at this," Rivera said, bowing his head at the table and rubbing the top of his balding pate. "See this? This is from Sado. He did this."
The Core Four were just getting warmed up. What follows is a transcript, edited for length and clarity, of their rare conversation: a celebration of their careers, their successes, their memories, their fears, but mostly their friendship.
SI: I want to go back to 1992, when Andy was throwing to Jorge, a converted second baseman, in Class A in Greensboro, N.C.
Posada: Go back to 1991. I was catching a bullpen from him [at short-season Class A] Oneonta, and he's throwing me knuckleballs. The ball hit me right in the knee. I said, "No more knuckleballs."
Pettitte: I had a knuckleball when I signed.
Jeter: Yeah, you're still throwing knuckleballs.
Pettitte: I'd get two strikes on somebody and throw it as hard as I could. Struck everybody out. And then they told me after the first year, "You've got to can it." They said, "After you've pitched for 10 years in the big leagues, if you want to break it back out, you can."
SI: So now you can throw it again.
Pettitte: It's no good now. I lost it.
SI: How about when Jeter showed up in Greensboro? He joined you guys on August 20, 1992.
Posada: [Laughs.] Good-looking fellow.
Rivera: Where was I?
SI: Fort Lauderdale, High A.
Posada: You were older. Let's make sure everybody knows that. He's the oldest.
Rivera: I saw Jeet.... Oh, my God. I was with my cousin [former major league outfielder Ruben Rivera] in Tampa. We were playing, if I'm not mistaken, the Cardinals in St. Pete. I looked at Jeet [who was in the Gulf Coast League before Greensboro].... I was skinny? This boy was dying. I was like, Who is that?
Posada: He comes in the clubhouse, and he's got high tops, with an ankle brace. And remember that Louisville Slugger bag that you stick your bats in? He had that. I was like, Wow, this is our first-rounder?
Rivera: And throwing the ball away.... But I saw the hitting. He hit the ball hard, and far. I said, "Wow."
Posada: They changed the Peter Pan Section [in Greensboro]. It used to be behind first base. They had to move it to third base.
SI: That was where the kids sat?
Posada: Yeah, it was too dangerous [because of Jeter's throws].
Jeter: The stories get better and better every year.
SI: Mariano, I remember you once said you cried a lot in the minor leagues, right?
Rivera: Not that I cried a lot. I did cry, like two, three times. That was my second year, in Greensboro, 1991. Because I couldn't communicate. But imagine, I came from Panama. My first year, in Tampa, most of the people I played with spoke Spanish. So I was fine. My second year I went to Greensboro. And no Spanish at all. It was hard. I think that was one of the toughest times that I had.
SI: I think people would be surprised how tough it can be starting out for young players. You guys probably all had moments of doubt or thoughts of, Wow, I don't know if I can make it.
Jeter: I cried all the time—1992, when I first signed, similar to Mo. I had no roommate, because I signed late. Third baseman spoke no English. Second baseman spoke no English. I struggled for the first time. [Jeter hit .210 in his first season as a pro.] I cried almost every day. That was tough.
Posada: I went to junior college [in Decatur, Ala]. So I cried there. When I got to the pros it was, "This is what I want." It was exciting for me. But junior college was tough. I didn't know any English. I mean, I got to know it a lot better during junior college.
Pettitte: I didn't cry at all. But the toughest part for me was ... I got called up to Oneonta [in 1991, during his first season in the minors], and it's where all the older guys and the prospects were. Those were the guys from the four-year colleges, mostly. I'll never forget, they moved me up and I had nowhere to stay. They told me to get in touch with [former Yankees farmhand] Lyle Mouton and a couple of other guys living together in a house. It was like a two-bedroom home. They put a cot in the pantry of the kitchen for me, and I bought a little thing to hang my clothes on, like a hanging rack. That's where I stayed for the last month and a half that I was there. So that was a real tough time. I felt real uncomfortable because those guys were older than me.
SI: What about when you got to the big leagues? You all got there in 1995. Derek and Jorge, did you room together?
Posada: Well, they put us in the same hotel in New Jersey. We shared a car, to go back and forth to the ballpark. A Dodge Neon. It said NEON on the steering wheel, and if you [barely] touched it, touched the o just like this, it would honk the horn. Eh-eh. Just touch it. So Derek and I would be back and forth in the Neon. But in '95 we were watching most of the games. We didn't have a chance to play.
Jeter: That was in September. Mo and I came up earlier in '95, and they sent us down the same day [in June].
Rivera: I gave up a home run against Edgar Martinez. They got mad at me and Jeet and sent us both down.
Jeter: He gave up a home run and they sent me down! We were miserable.
SI: What about 1996? You won the championship, but is there something else about that year that's particularly memorable?
Posada: I got sent down like 10 times. I was in the big leagues for 60-something days. [He actually made four round trips between the minors and majors.] Up and down. I was in that elevator the whole year.
SI: Did you guys all have that moment of, I belong here. I can do this.
Jeter: Probably Opening Day in '96.
Pettitte: Didn't you hit a home run on Opening Day?
Rivera: We were in Cleveland. We were snowed out, and then rescheduled.
Pettitte: For me that's when it all started. I mean, when Derek came along there was so much talk about him. I can't remember a whole lot of stuff. Like '95, I can't really remember ... I remember Mo coming up and making some starts and being in the rotation and stuff like that. But everything's kind of like a blank for me in '95. But then in '96 when Derek came up, there was so much anticipation about him being our shortstop and Opening Day and that home run. I can remember that like it was yesterday.
SI: So how does your friendship come about? Do you start hanging out together off the field?
Jeter: Just around each other [at the ballpark]. You see them more than you see your family.
Pettitte: These guys [Jeter and Posada] are together 24/7, it seems like. But the four of us ... I don't think we hang out.... I don't think we've ever been to lunch, us four, one time.
Posada: I don't think so.
Pettitte: But we spend so much time at the ballpark together, just talking.
Posada: We get on each other, we make fun of each other, we laugh....
Pettitte: If something's going on in the room, we can look at each other ...
Posada: ... and know what's going on—without even saying anything. I can just look at Derek, and he knows exactly what I'm thinking about. Mo same thing, Andy same thing.
Rivera: We have been together so long, but the four of us together, just us, like having breakfast, being all together at the same time? No, I don't think ever.
Posada: Maybe dinner, but part of a big group.
SI: If I wanted to get, say, restaurant advice, which one of you guys should I go to?
Jeter: Where are we?
SI: It depends where we are?
Rivera: [Points to Jeter.]
Posada: See, Mo goes to Benihana every day. So he would tell you to go to Benihana wherever we are.
Rivera: Listen, I like to simplify things.
SI: O.K., what if I was a young kid on the team and I wanted financial advice. Which one of you guys should I talk to?
Rivera: You know what my son says? That I still keep the first dollar I made. I understand that we do this in a period of time. We cannot do this forever. So whatever you make, you have to make sure that you take care of it. At least that's what I do. I know I'm going to play this game for ... a period of time.
Posada: Yeah, how long are you going to play, Mo?
Rivera: I have this year. After this year I don't have a contract. I don't have a job. I'm going to do whatever it takes to save the money that I have made, because I know that I'm not going to be working after that, or making the kind of money that we are making now. So you have to watch what you do, where you invest, and always make sure you do the right thing, and ask God definitely for directions.
SI: That was a good question, Jorge.
Pettitte: What was the question?
SI: How long are you going to do this? I'm assuming you guys all are in the same boat as far as that goes. Does anybody plan out, "I want to play X number of years?"
Rivera: I don't think so. I mean, how many times have I retired?
Jeter: He retires every other year.
Rivera: Every contract I think, Well, this is it for me.
Jeter: [Points at Pettitte.] Him, too. "This is my last year. One more year."
Pettitte: What are you talking about? I was [retired]. I was.
Rivera: I was retired every year after my contract was up. [But] I'm still going.
SI: This game keeps pulling you back.
Rivera: I love this game. This is what I know how to do. For me, it's kind of hard to just leave and be competitive. I'm competitive.
Jeter: It's tough to leave when you're having fun.
SI: You guys look like you still have fun after all these years, all these games, all these road trips. Am I right?
Jeter: You have to have fun. If I wasn't having fun, I couldn't play.
Pettitte: Especially after all the success we've had, right?
Rivera: I think it's easier for [Jeter] because he doesn't have a family. He can do this until ... he'll be 40 and have no kids still. But to me, and I can talk about Andy and also Sado, you miss your kids. You miss your family. This year it has hit me hard, especially in spring training. My kids were in New York. I was in Tampa. And I was missing them a lot. So that line, where's your family and where's your game ... how do you draw that line? How long are you going to do this? How long are they going to support you? And then flying, and those things that petrify you. I'm petrified by flights. I suffer on those flights.
SI: You guys must have fun with him about that.
Rivera: Are you kidding me? Everybody.
Posada: Every time the plane goes up and down we go, "Mo! Are you O.K.?"
Rivera: I loved it when we had [relief pitcher] Tom Gordon on the team. Because he would literally grab my hand. We'd be holding hands. He would say, "Mo, grab my hand!" He was maybe [more scared] than me.... You go through all those lines, but there is a line [where you can't play anymore]. And that's why I say [Jeter] is in a better position than us, to continue playing the game. I don't know how long I'm going to do this.
Pettitte: Because the older [your children] get, it gets harder. [Rivera's] oldest  is a year older than my oldest. More complications. It's pretty easy when they're small.
Posada: You've got kids who are driving now, right?
Pettitte: Not yet. Mo does. [His son] got his permit, so I guess he is driving.
Posada: So he's got the Challenger driving around? [Rivera owns a custom-built 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8.]
Rivera: He wishes. But it's amazing. I remember my kid being this small, and now all of a sudden.... That's why I say it's hard. That's why I say there's a line and you have to know when to stop, even knowing that you love the game. To me my family is more important than the game.
SI: So tell me one thing about you guys that might be surprising. Like Derek, I know, is a practical joker.
SI: He once tried to pull that trick on me about getting me to try to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon.
Posada: Well, he does that cinnamon thing, but that will be it for the whole year. He tries to see how many people he can get. And he will talk to every security guard, every new reporter. Derek's quiet, you know. He gets quiet.
Rivera: He's an instigator! Instigator!
Posada: The biggest instigator is over there—that lefty guy.
Pettitte: Actually, they all are!
Rivera: Whoa, time out. Time out. These three? Me? I'm in my corner. They all say, "Mo, this guy is talking about you!" Who do I instigate? Nobody. I'm on my own. This guy [Jeter]? The worst.
Pettitte: I'd say, to be fair, me, Jorgie and Jeter, we stir it up pretty good.
Jeter: Yeah, we keep the clubhouse loose.
Posada: Mo, he's in charge of the relievers.
Pettitte: Mo's kind of the quiet assassin type. It goes on all the time. [Other players say] "Get Jeter off me." "Get Mo off me." I can't tell you how many times somebody has walked up to me and said, "What are you saying about me?"
Rivera: The beauty about this group of guys is it's family. As a family we all pull for one another. It's beautiful. I don't think you will have this, or see this, again—in any other sport. Period.
Posada: I have never been mad at any of these guys. I swear to God. Mad like we don't talk to each other? Never. If we have a problem, we talk about it and that's it. I don't think there's ever been any problem. I think we understand each other so well that we've never had a problem.
Jeter: What it comes down to is that I never have to worry about these guys being ready to play.
Pettitte: It's all about trust.
Jeter: I mean, it never crosses my mind. I don't have to worry about them. I know they know how to win. I know that's the only thing they care about. They don't care about their personal stats.
Rivera: No egos. No jealousy.
SI: It seems like you've always been that way.
Jeter: We learned that coming up. The Boss [George Steinbrenner], all he cared about was winning.
Rivera: Whatever they did, I think they brainwashed us! They did a good job, put it that way.
Posada: They taught us well. The coaches, the front office, the director of player development ... they taught us well.
Rivera: You won't see this again. In any sport. Take a picture. And keep it.
SI: It seems like you guys always know you can count on one another.
Pettitte: Nothing against anybody else, but there are things I'll talk to these guys about that I may feel it's not appropriate to talk to somebody else about. There are certain things that may not need to be out there in the clubhouse. There's some stuff you feel like needs to be said between the four of us, and we'll say, "Hey, keep an eye on it."
Posada: Little things. We'll talk to each other and say, "What do you think about this?" And then we ...
Jeter: ... we've got to talk about it and make sure it doesn't happen again, things like that.
Posada: I bet you if we put our families together, they're very similar. I think my mom and dad are very similar to their moms and dads. Very, very similar.
Pettitte: No doubt. Very close.
Rivera: Strong families.
Posada: So I think that's why we're sitting here today.
SI: Thanks for your time, guys.
Jeter: Mo's going to Benihana's now.
"I have never been mad at any of these guys," says Posada. "I think we understand each other so well that we've never had a problem."
The Core Four learned early on that George Steinbrenner cared most about winning. "Whatever they did, they brainwashed us," says Rivera.