No single-digits left as Yankees retire Derek Jeter's number 2
Never again will a professional baseball player wear a non-zero single-digit number for the New York Yankees. With tonight’s retirement of number two, immortalised by Derek Jeter, digits one through ten have been removed from circulation, by far the most of any major league ballclub. The face of baseball for a generation, Jeter finally secured his place alongside the ghosts of Yankee history, enshrined in Monument Park with his legendary forebears.
Of course, the Yankees were the first team ever to retire a player's number, doing so for Lou Gehrig in 1939. Since then, the Yanks have bestowed the honour on 21 additional players and managers, with Jeter being the latest.
Derek debuted with the Yankees in 1995 and stuck around for twenty seasons, living the dream as shortstop and captain of his beloved team. Nobody ever played more games for the Yankees, nor did anybody collect more hits in pinstripes. In fact, only five players in the history of baseball have mustered more hits than Jeter, and those guys are named Speaker, Musial, Aaron, Cobb and Rose.
Derek won five World Series rings with the Yankees and appeared in fourteen All-Star Games. A kid who grew up rooting for the Bronx Bombers, watching games on television, Jeter carved a niche in the pantheon of Yankee greats. He was the heir apparent to Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, hyped from the earliest age. Remarkably, he delivered on those lofty expectations and perhaps even exceeded them, putting his name in the conversation about the greatest Yankees who ever lived.
In grade school, Jeter and his classmates were asked to write a short essay about their career aspirations. “I’m going to play shortstop for the New York Yankees,” Derek told his teacher. If it was anybody else, that teacher may have been inclined to laugh, but even at such a precocious age, Jeter stood out for his unmatched determination.
As if by divine intervention, Jeter fell to New York in the 1992 amateur draft as five general managers overlooked his startling array of talent. Houston, Cleveland, Montreal, Baltimore and Cincinnati all had an opportunity to sign Derek Jeter, but each of those teams passed. The kid from Kalamazoo became a Yankee, just as he drew it up, and the rest, as they say, is sweet pinstriped history.
The Yankees endured a barren spell through the 1980s and on into the following decade. Embodied by Don Mattingly, the stellar first baseman, New York huffed and puffed but never quite blew the house down. After triumphing in the 1987 World Series, the Yanks waited almost two decades for another crown, an interminable wait for a fanbase accustomed to success. Along with homegrown prospects such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, Jeter led the Yankee resurgence, forming the engine of another dynasty in the team’s exceptional tradition.
Managed by Joe Torre, the Bombers won ten of eleven division flags, six of eight American League pennants and four of six World Series titles. Jeter was at the heart of it all, leading with guts and skill, never surrendering his spot between second and third on the hallowed infield dirt. He stuck around long enough to win a further championship under Joe Girardi in 2009, christening the new Yankee Stadium in fitting style.
That stadium came alive tonight as a sellout crowd of 47,883 besotted fans worshipped Jeter once more. Following the lead of Gehrig and Ruth before him, Derek gave an emotional speech without any notes, adlibbing on the sacred diamond of River Avenue. The captain always did have a flair for the dramatic.
“There isn’t a person or a player I would trade places with that's playing now or ever,” said Jeter. “I got a chance to play for a first class organization and in front of the greatest fans in the history of sports.
“I played here for 20 years and I learned that time flies and that memories fade, but family is forever. I’ll be eternally grateful to be part of the Yankee family.”
And with that, Derek Jeter transcended the mortal realm and took his place in the intoxicating tapestry of New York Yankees history. You could say that fate fuelled his journey and that destiny beckoned him home, but the guy still had to put in the work, over and over and over again, to reach the summit with metronomic guile. He still had to grind, day in and day out, setting an ultimate example for generations to come.
“There may be people who have more talent than you,” Jeter once said. “But there is no excuse for anyone to work harder than you.”
Let that be the defining legacy of a fine ballplayer, and let that blend into the philosophy of New York Yankees baseball. It was a pleasure to watch Derek Jeter as he rewrote the baseball record books, and now his toil will be remembered forever, a king among men.
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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!