Only 10 players who spent their entire careers with one team did so for longer than Jeter’s 20 seasons as a Yankee: Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles), Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox), Al Kaline (Detroit Tigers), Stan Musial (St. Louis Cardinals), Mel Ott (New York Giants), George Brett (Kansas City Royals), Walter Johnson (Washington Senators), Ted Lyons (Chicago White Sox), Cal Ripken Jr. (Orioles) and Willie Stargell (Pittsburgh Pirates).
Some current stars — generally in big markets — seem to have a chance to play only for one team: the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey. Others, like the Mets’ David Wright and the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer, seem bound to their original teams mainly by burdensome contracts.
Justin Verlander joined the Tigers in 2005, the year Felix Hernandez became a Seattle Mariner. Both have remained where they started, but will they make it to two decades? Will anyone? If so, he will surely have nights like Jeter’s on Sunday.
The Yankees have retired the numbers of Manager Joe Torre and five players from the title teams of 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000: Jeter (2), Jorge Posada (20), Mariano Rivera (42), Andy Pettitte (46) and Bernie Williams (51). Paul O’Neill’s No. 21 is out of circulation but not officially retired.
Jeter, 42, is the youngest of that team’s core, and he played the longest. The retirement of his number will most likely end that group’s march to Monument Park.
“An end of an era,” Posada said. “He’s probably the last guy — he’s it. He’s the last one.”
No team has repeated as champion since those 2000 Yankees, making this the longest stretch in major league history without a repeat champion. The Yankees won another title with Jeter in 2009, but their end-of-the-century achievement — all requiring a climb through three postseason rounds — seems more and more improbable.
“I didn’t appreciate it, probably, during the run,” Pettitte said. “But the World Series appearances that we made, from the ’90s into the early 2000s, it’s pretty remarkable. When you look back and see how many we were able to get to and how many of those we were able to win, now that I’m retired, it’s pretty special.”
Jeter was the Tom Brady of baseball: a franchise stalwart with a 5-2 record in the championship round and a well-earned reputation for thriving under pressure. But while the deflated-football suspension tarnished Brady’s image, the biggest ethical question ever raised about Jeter was the time he faked a hit-by-pitch against Tampa Bay. (Yes, it was as silly as it sounds.)
“I always looked at it as you had a responsibility to the organization, the fans, your teammates, the media,” Jeter said. “You had to handle yourself the right way, and you had to take the approach that, every single day, whether it’s the season or the off-season, you’re representing the New York Yankees, and I took that serious.”
That credo, and the remarkable discipline to stick to it, defined Jeter’s career. That is what truly set him apart, much more than the simple fact that he spent two decades with a team that could easily afford to pay him. Jeter came up before social media, before camera phones, yet always knew how to comport himself, always understood that the fun stuff — the money, the models and actresses by his side, the respect — flowed from the way he honored his duty as a professional.
Matt Harvey, whose star has dimmed across town as he struggles to make baseball his priority, once said that he envied Jeter’s social life. Yet Jeter always retained a kind of dignity, on the field and off, and now he can sit around — with no regrets — and think about something else.
Fatherhood beckons this summer. For that, the most self-assured player of his generation is just another nervous rookie.
“I prided myself in my career to be prepared at all times,” Jeter said, smiling. “Any time I’m unprepared makes me uncomfortable. I’m unprepared.”