Derek Jeter’s uniform number will be officially retired by the Yankees between games of Sunday’s doubleheader.
It was meant 2 be.
A plaque honoring the shortstop, who owns five World Series rings, multiple team records and an indelible place in Yankees history, will join those of other single-digit players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra in Monument Park.
“How many No. 2s are worn by kids that respected what he did on the field and who he was with the New York Yankees?” former teammate Paul O’Neill said.
That the ceremony falls on Mother’s Day is not a coincidence. Jeter has said he chose it to honor his mom, Dorothy Jeter.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to do something special for my mom,” Jeter told Yankee Magazine of the timing and his relationship with his mother. “She’s been very important to me, always being positive and telling me from a young age that I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I worked hard at it. I thought it was a good day to not only acknowledge my entire family but especially my mom.”
Dorothy Jeter, reached recently in Fort Myers, Florida, did not want to discuss the ceremony. “I like to keep everything personal,’’ she said. But she is expected to be on hand Sunday evening along with Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and Jeter’s fellow Core Four members — Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte — among others.
The big moment will come when Jeter speaks. Joe Torre, his former manager, believes Jeter will be at his extemporaneous best when he addresses the crowd. Jeter may have previewed his speech when he wrote this past week on his Players’ Tribune: “Everyone comes to this city with dreams of being No. 1. You showed me that being No. 2 was more than enough.’’
“Derek has something to say and he makes it easy to listen to and understand,’’ said Torre, who managed Jeter for 12 of the 20 years he played for the Yankees and whose No. 6 was retired in 2014.
“It’s going to be emotional,’’ continued Torre, now Major League Baseball’s chief baseball officer. “He may not show it, but when you think about Monument Park and you think about the neighborhood that puts you in and the career he’s had . . .
“He’s certainly going to highlight what it meant to be a Yankee and the fans that he delighted for 20 years.’’
Posada said recently from Coral Gables, Florida, “When you look back at his career, you see a guy that wanted to be out there every day and wanted to win every day. He’s going to be very honored and very humbled.’’
Jeter’s 2 is the final single-digit number to be retired by the Yankees, joining Billy Martin (1), Ruth (3), Gehrig (4), DiMaggio (5), Torre (6), Mantle (7), Bill Dickey and Berra (8) and Roger Maris (9).
Jeter was issued No. 2 when he was called up from Triple-A Columbus in 1995. And it wasn’t just a fluke.
“We all sat down and talked about it,’’ said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, the Yankees’ manager in 1995. He said owner George Steinbrenner was part of the discussion.
“Single-digit numbers . . . We don’t just give them out to anybody. We thought he had a chance to play for a long time for the Yankees. You can always change his number. If he’s a utility infielder, you can change it.’’
No. 2 wasn’t Jeter’s first choice, he said. “When I was younger, I wanted to wear No. 13 because my dad wore 13,” he told the YES Network recently. “Obviously, Jim Leyritz was wearing it, and I think the clubhouse attendant at the time thought I wanted a different number. So going into spring training in 1997, they were going to give me No. 17, and then I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Nah, I’m going to stick with No. 2.’ It was a good choice on my part.”
In 2004, No. 13 went to new arrival Alex Rodriguez. The retirement of Rodriguez’s No. 13 has not been discussed, a source said.
Dick Groch, the Yankees scout who discovered Jeter, said Jeter later told him the No. 2 “fit right between Billy Martin and Ruth, and that’s a pretty good slot.’’
Billy Martin Jr. said Jeter often asked him about his father. “Obviously, they were both World Series MVPs, somebody that can raise their level in those big games,’’ said Martin, a player agent and first-time manager of the independent Texas AirHogs in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie.
Linda Ruth Tosetti, the Babe’s granddaughter, said Jeter “greatly admired Babe’’ in her talks with Jeter over the years. ‘He’s always been so kind,’’ she said from North Haven, Connecticut. “They got it right with the single-digit numbers.’’
Jeter joins four Hall of Famers whose No. 2 have been retired by their teams: Nellie Fox (White Sox), Charlie Gehringer (Tigers), Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers) and Red Schoendienst (Cardinals).
“How about that? That’s something nice,’’ Lasorda, 89, said from Fullerton, California. “Derek represented the Yankees in the right way.’’
Perhaps the first person to predict Jeter’s rise to stardom was Groch, who in 1992 persuaded George Steinbrenner to sign Jeter despite the owner’s fears that the high school star would accept a scholarship from the University of Michigan. Groch, 76, said from St. Claire, Michigan: “I said he’s not going to college, he’s going to Cooperstown.’’
Jeter did not always have a smooth ride defensively through the minors, but the Yankees moved him through the system.
“Derek’s ceiling was unlimited, and he reached it,’’ said Bill Livesey, the Yankees’ former scouting director.
Jeter was shaky defensively at the end of spring training in 1996 and there was some talk of sending him to Triple-A.
“Some people said we could not win with Derek Jeter at shortstop,’’ said former Yankees manager and general manager Gene Michael, 78, a longtime adviser to George Steinbrenner.
The Yankees even asked the Mariners about Felix Fermin. Seattle wanted Rivera in return. “We had [Bob] Wickman and [John] Wetteland at the time,’’ Torre said. “Mariano seemed like he was expendable.’’
But Torre, starting his first season as Yankees manager, wanted to go with Jeter.
“You knew pretty early on that he was something special,’’ Torre said. “There wasn’t any one particular thing that was his strength. It was like a puzzle. When you put it all together, you saw the finished product, which was someone that was extraordinary.’’
Jeter hit .314 with 10 home runs, 78 RBIs and 104 runs scored to win American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1996 and help the Yankees win the first of four world championships in a five-year span.
“He had a quiet confidence,’’ said O’Neill, a teammate of Jeter’s from 1995 to 2001 who in his 15th season as a Yankees analyst for YES. “It didn’t take long before, I think, he expected to excel. Expected to be where he was. But not in a position where he threw it in people’s faces. I think some people come to the major leagues like it’s doing the major leagues a favor. Then there’s people who come and realize how lucky you are to be a major league baseball player.”
In 2003, George Steinbrenner asked Jeter to become the Yankees’ captain. Torre said Jeter reluctantly agreed. “He didn’t want the attention,’’ Torre said, “especially with George wanting to put a ‘C’ on his jersey. He was able to talk him out of that one. George having that football mentality, he was looking for a spark. It never changed who Derek was. When he became captain, he felt obligated to say something without being asked.”
Jeter, who already had announced his pending retirement, was showered with gifts by every team the Yankees visited in 2014. He left the game with 3,465 hits and a .310 career batting average.
Upon his retirement, he founded The Players’ Tribune, a website that provides content written by athletes.
He married model Hannah Davis last July. They live in a 32,000-square-foot mansion in Tampa and are expecting their first child this month. Jeter and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush head one of the groups in talks to purchase the Miami Marlins.
Former Yankees teammate and Tampa resident Tino Martinez said Jeter is always out and about in the neighborhood. The two play golf regularly.
“He’s not hiding. People are so used to seeing him around town,’’ Martinez said. “They smile when they see him. I think that’s why he likes it down there so much. He goes to lunch, to dinner, no bodyguards, no posse. It’s just him and his wife or him and his friends. He’s trying to master golf; he’s all in.’’
Jeter wrote a Players’ Tribune essay Thursday titled “Thank You, New York.” In the essay, Jeter describes himself as a kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan, who was “quiet, unsure and at times a little intimidated” upon coming to New York to start his 20-year career with the Yankees.
“A lot was asked of that kid,” Jeter wrote. “And I always respected the challenge to prove myself each and every day. The lights were always bright. The pace was always fast. The stakes were always high, and the expectations higher. And in those difficult moments — those moments that feel unique to New York — you always showed me a sign.”
Sunday night will be another.
YANKEES’ RETIRED NUMBERS
1 Billy Martin
2 Derek Jeter*
3 Babe Ruth
4 Lou Gehrig
5 Joe DiMaggio
6 Joe Torre
7 Mickey Mantle
8 Bill Dickey
8 Yogi Berra
9 Roger Maris
10 Phil Rizzuto
15 Thurman Munson
16 Whitey Ford
20 Jorge Posada
23 Don Mattingly
32 Elston Howard
37 Casey Stengel
42 Jackie Robinson
42 Mariano Rivera
44 Reggie Jackson
46 Andy Pettitte
49 Ron Guidry
51 Bernie Williams