With this weekend’s reunion of the 1996 World Championship team looming, we thought it would be fitting to shine the spotlight on a key figure of this Yankees team that began the historic run of the late ’90s – closer John Wetteland.
For many Yankees fans today, Mariano Rivera is the man in regards to the closer role that he held from 1997 until his retirement after the 2013 season. There is no doubt that Mo is the greatest closer in the history of baseball, but diehard Yankees fans will remember that on the ’96 squad that won the World Series, Wetteland served as the team’s closer as a young Rivera was emerging as a premier setup man.
Prior to his arrival in the Bronx, Wetteland had brief stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Montreal Expos. The Yankees acquired him in a trade in April of 1995 and he would be the team’s primary closer for the next two seasons. During the historic ’96 season, Wetteland lead the American League in saves with 43 and was named to the AL All-star team.
When the Bombers faced the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 Fall Classic, Wetteland was called upon to save all four of the Yankees’ wins. After dropping the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium, the New York went on to win four straight and capture the series.
Wetteland’s four saves tied a then postseason record set previously be Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 ALCS. John also set a record at the time with seven saves in a full posteason, a mark that has since been matched by five other relievers (Robb Nen, Troy Percival, Koji Uehara, Brad Lidge and Greg Holland).
After the Yankees’ triumph in six games over the Braves, Wetteland was named World Series MVP for his outstanding performance. Postseason weapons like Wetteland and later, Rivera, redefined the closer role in baseball in the mid to late nineties to where we are today.
With Mo ready to step into the closer role, the Yankees let Wetteland depart after the 1996 season so he could sign a four-year deal with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers were hoping to cash in on Wetteland’s World Series success with the Yankees, but unfortunately, they won just a handful of division titles and faltered in the playoffs against the Yankees in ’98 and ’99. Wetteland did not get any opportunities to close out any postseason games in his Rangers tenure.
As this weekend’s reunion takes place at the Stadium, let us remember that pressure-packed series as John Wetteland came on to close those four games in October over the Braves, and helped secure the Yankees’ first World Series Championship in 18 years.