The New York Yankees will retire Derek Jeter’s number 2 tonight in a ceremony before the Yankees game with the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium. It will be the 21st Yankee number to be retired and will also be the last of the numbers 1-10.
As would be expected with the most successful franchise in sports history, the Yankees have more retired numbers than any other team in baseball. There are 11 players in the group of retired numbers 1-10 as both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra had number 8 retired in their honor. Of the 11 players, including Jeter, 8 are in the Hall of Fame and Jeter will make it 9 when he is eligible. The only two that aren’t in the Hall of Fame, besides Jeter, are Roger Maris and Billy Martin and Joe Torre got in as a Manager, not as a player.
Looking back at the players in that numbers 1-10 group, you could put together a pretty good ball club, covering all the positions. Between the 11, they accounted for 3,553 home runs.
Behind the plate would be either Berra or Dickey, who between them made 29 All Star Teams and played on 17 World Championship Teams. Berra, himself, played on a record 10 World Series winners.
At first base would be, the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, who held the record for most consecutive games played at 2,130 before Cal Ripken broke it, led the league in home runs three times and played on six World Championship teams.
At second, the irrepressible Billy Martin who played on four World Championship Teams and managed the Yankees to another.
At shortstop Jeter would share his spot with Phil Rizzuto, the Scooter, who played on seven World Championship teams and five All Star Teams and went on to be the voice of the Yankees for decades. Jeter, of course, played 20 years for the Yankees, played on five World Championship Teams and also 14 All Star teams.
The only position not represented in the group is third base. Joe Torre, was a catcher by trade but did play 515 games at third base in his playing career, would fill this spot on the imaginary team. He was a career .297 hitter, named to nine All Star teams and was named MVP in the National League.
The outfield would have Mickey Mantle in left. Mantle hit 536 home runs, was named to 20 All Star Teams, played on seven World Championship Teams as well as being named MVP three times and winning the home run title four times.
In center field, of course, would be the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. Joe D., who many, including this writer believe to be the best all around player ever to play the game, with the possible exception of Willie Mays, played on nine World Championship Teams, 13 All Star Teams, won three MVP Awards, and led the league in home runs and batting average twice.
In right field would be Maris, the man who broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record with 61 in 1961 and gave the record books their first asterisk, to show that he did it in 162 games while the Babe had done it in 154.
Every team needs a pitcher and, hiding behind the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, was one of the most successful pitchers in early baseball history. Between the Red Sox and Yankees, both before and after he became a slugging outfielder, Babe won 94 games and lost 46 with an earned run average of just 2.28.
Of course, he also hit 714 career home runs, led the league in homers 12 different years and played for seven World Championship Teams. He had a streak of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings pitched in the World Series, which began in 1916 and which held as the record until 1962, when Whitey Ford extended his scoreless innings streak to 33 2/3 to break the record. Of course, Ford’s number 16 was also retired by the Yankees.
Babe Ruth was only named to two All Star Teams, because the All Star Game began in 1933 and his career ended in 1936.
It is interesting that the lowest ten numbers the Yankees have retired belonged to players who had played each of the positions and that would be a tough team to beat. Of the 11 players, five Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle, Maris and Rizzuto were the only players with that surname, of the over 18,650 players who have made the Majors, to play in the Big Leagues. Three others on the list, DiMaggio, Berra and Torre have surnames that only they and siblings, or in Berra’s case, a son, have brought to the Major Leagues.
Jeter brought a tremendous amount of talent to the field but also a level of class and leadership seldom equaled in the game. The Yankee Captain was as well respected throughout baseball as any player in the history of the game.
Tim Kurkjian recently called Jeter the third best short stop in the history of baseball and, though many would disagree with that assessment, his record of achievements certainly places him high up on the list.
Two weeks ago, when Yankee right fielder Aaron Judge dove into the stands to make a catch, against the Red Sox, the first thing the ESPN staff did was bring up Jeter’s dive into the stands to make the catch against Trot Nixon and the Red Sox on July 1, 2004. When Xander Bogaerts or Addison Russell go into the hole and make a jump throw to first to get the runner, everyone compares the play to Jeter’s ability to make it. When a right handed batter slaps a hit into right field, you often hear it called ‘Jeter Like’.
The play that he made in 2001, in the American League Division Series, against the Oakland Athletics where he fielded an errant throw on the first base line while running all out and flipped backhanded to cut down Jeremy Giambi at the plate, will always be in the all time highlight film.
His home run to tie the first World Series Game ever played in the month of November, which got him the nickname Mr. November, hitting a homer for his 3,000th hit and so many other highlights that Yankee fans will never forget made Jeter perhaps the most popular Yankee ever.
Derek Jeter is not the most talented of the great Yankees, but his career and accomplishments and his respect for the game and the respect he earned from the fans put him on a level not many have achieved.