Lou Gehrig never played against the Yankees. Neither did Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Thurman Munson. The list goes on with Phil Rizzuto, Bill Dickey, Whitey Ford and Don Mattingly. It includes even those who don't reside in Monument Park. Earle Combs, Tommy Henrich, Bobby Richardson and Roy White don't know what it is to play without pinstripes on their back.
That's why it will be strange to see Derek Jeter face off with the Yankees on Tuesday. Even in an era that sees few players stay on one team for their whole career, the thought of Jeter on another team is a hard one to wrap the mind around. Unless you're Jeter, that is. Then it just becomes another reason to give a statement that offers absolutely no insight into his feelings.
“I haven’t really thought about it that way,” Jeter said. “It will probably feel like an intrasquad game.”
Team USA isn't a big league club, or course, and Jeter will be back with the Yankees before too long so there really isn't much reason to get all worked up about things. It will likely be a curiosity and nothing more, but the look back at all those career Yankees reveals something else as well.
Babe Ruth and Lefty Gomez didn't finish as Yankees. They had ignoble finales with the Braves and Senators, respectively. Key cogs in championship machines, players like Charlie Keller, Elston Howard and Billy Martin, were sent packing before they were done playing. Heck, Yogi Berra had nine at-bats with the Mets in 1965, in a futile attempt to come back after the Yankees fired him for losing the 1964 World Series.
Jeter's contract is up after the 2010 season, a year that will see him turn 36. His defensive skills have already disappeared, and he posted an off year offensively in 2008. What will the future be for a 36-year old without a position or a bat that can cover his other flaws? At that point, much of Jeter's value will be tied up in his history, image and the PR hit the Yankees would take for letting him leave for another club.
It's hard to quantify that much extrinsic value, although the Yankees would likely put a higher number on it than other teams. Still, they may not put the number on it that Jeter would, which could create a nasty impasse and, ultimately, the premature end to Jeter's Yankee career. Unlikely? Sure, but, as history tells us, it isn't unthinkable.