Rewarded by loyalty: 1990 sees birth of legends
Chipper, Posada, Varitek, Rivera spend careers with one team
It was a very good year, 1990, for the Yankees and the Braves -- in spite of what the record book would have you believe.
On the field, that summer couldn't have been much bleaker in the South Bronx and Atlanta. The Yankees and Braves both finished dead last in their divisions, a combined 60 games below .500. New York's winning percentage was .414, Atlanta's .401.
But things were about to change -- dramatically -- thanks to what would unfold in the First-Year Player Draft, along with the amateur free agent signing by the Yankees of a slender right-handed pitcher from Panama.
Over the next 21 seasons, the Braves would reach the postseason 15 times, winning one World Series, while the Yankees became Team October, claiming five World Series titles with 16 postseason trips in 17 years.
Atlanta won it all in 1995, at Cleveland's expense, and the Yankees launched their new dynasty the following October -- dispatching the Braves in a memorable Fall Classic.
The franchises have been bonded in excellence ever since.
Both organizations got lucky in the fateful 1990 Draft -- the Braves in drawing the first overall pick by virtue of their '89 futility, the Yankees by making two of the best -- and luckiest -- late-round selections in the history of the process.
Passing on highly touted pitcher Todd Van Poppel, Atlanta made Chipper Jones, a gifted shortstop out of The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., the first overall pick of that 1990 Draft. It turned out to be a franchise-altering decision.
Jones debuted briefly for the Braves in 1993 and arrived to stay in 1995, launching a career that seemingly has him ticketed for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y.
One of the game's premier third basemen and offensive forces for 16 seasons, Jones has announced that he'll retire after the 2012 season.
The Braves would love to send him off with another trip to the postseason and a shot at the World Series, an event the 1999 National League Most Valuable Player has graced three times. He celebrated in '95, his World Series debut.
The Yankees, picking 10th overall in 1990, selected Carl Everett, a high school outfielder from Tampa with exceptional talent. Like Jones, a switch-hitter with power from both sides, Everett would play for eight teams in 14 productive Major League seasons -- but not one game for the Yankees, who lost him to Florida in the 1992 expansion draft.
It was much later in that '90 Draft when the Bronx Bombers won the lottery -- twice in three rounds.
In Round 22, with pick No. 594 overall, they chose Andy Pettitte, a southpaw from Baton Rouge, La., and Deer Park High School.
Two rounds later, after 645 players had been taken, Jorge Posada -- Puerto Rico born and attending Calhoun Community College in Alabama -- fell to New York.
In this highly unlikely fashion, a battery was formed that would help drive New York back to the top of the heap. A rocking Yankee Stadium singing along with Frank Sinatra's post-victory recording became part of the American culture.
Pettitte was a draft-and-follow, spending a year at San Jacinto College before signing with New York in 1991. Posada also signed in '91.
They met that summer at Oneonta in low Class A ball and were Minor League teammates for the next four years at Greensboro, Prince William, Albany-Colonie and Columbus.
Both reached the big time together in 1995. They were accompanied by another youthful talent, shortstop Derek Jeter, and that skinny kid from Panama, Mariano Rivera, who turned out to be merely the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game.
A reliever in his first professional season in 1990, Rivera was a Minor League starter from '91 until he made it to the Bronx in that springboard summer of '95.
A return to the bullpen, where he emerged quickly as setup man to John Wetteland in the '96 championship run and assumed the closer's role the following season, had Rivera on his way to immortality.
Now Posada is walking away, leaving Rivera, Jeter and Pettitte -- coming out of retirement -- to carry the torch.
Posada's great contemporary in Boston, Jason Varitek, is joining Jorge in retirement after a distinguished career behind the plate.
Varitek also was taken in that 1990 Draft, in the 23rd round by Houston, but he didn't sign until 1994, when the Mariners tabbed him in the first round (14th overall) out of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Three years later, in another stroke of remarkable fortune, the Red Sox acquired Varitek along with pitcher Derek Lowe in exchange for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. The rich don't just get richer -- they seem to get luckier as well.
With Varitek as their formidable and durable captain, running the pitching staff and delivering clutch hits, the Red Sox have enjoyed unprecedented success, chasing away all those Ruthian ghosts.
Like Jones and Posada, Varitek spent his entire Major League career -- 15 seasons -- in one uniform.
Loyalty has been rewarded in Atlanta, New York and Boston, where franchise fortunes have been shaped over the past two decades in the most remarkable of ways.
"I will always be a Yankee," Posada said. "The New York Yankees [are] my second family."
No doubt the man in Atlanta and the fellow in Boston share Posada's sentiments with respect to the Braves and Red Sox.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.