As the Yankees’ captain, Derek Jeter pointedly avoided introspection. He was part of so many indelible moments, and every game was a chance to make more. Ask Jeter for perspective on history as it unfolded, and invariably he started his response like this: “It’s not like you sit around thinking about it.”
Jeter, to be sure, has stayed busy since retiring after the 2014 season. He married the supermodel Hannah Davis, and he will soon become a father. He has started publishing ventures and is part of a group trying to buy the Miami Marlins. But inevitably, there has been time to do what he always put off: Sit around and think about the glittering 20-year career the Yankees commemorated Sunday night by retiring No. 2 in Monument Park.
When Jeter reflects on such a rich tableau, what stands out most? After the ceremony, he pondered the question for a moment.
“The thing that’s most special, I think, is playing with one organization your entire career,” Jeter said. “Quite frankly, I don’t think that’s going to happen that often anymore, in this day and age of free agency and people switching teams and teams trying to stay younger. There’s so much player movement that I don’t really think you’re going to see guys, one, that play as long as maybe I did, but more importantly that stay with one organization. I think there will be some, but it’s very rare.
“That’s the thing I appreciate the most, because it’s the only place I’ve ever wanted to play. When you’re in it, you don’t really think about it too much because you just come to work and do your job. But after I’ve retired, I’ve realized how special that’s been.”
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.