How Would Playing for Another Franchise Impact Derek Jeter's Baseball Legacy?

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How Would Playing for Another Franchise Impact Derek Jeter's Baseball Legacy?
Al Bello/Getty Images
Can we imagine Derek Jeter in another major league uniform?

The image of Derek Jeter playing for a team other than the New York Yankees is difficult to visualize. 

Jeter wearing a different uniform (and likely playing a position other than shortstop) would seemingly cause a rip in the fabric of the universe. This is the sort of thing that just isn't supposed to happen.

He's "The Captain." He has played for the Yankees for 18 seasons. For many of us, he is the New York Yankees even though their rich history obviously says otherwise. 

Yet Jeter apparently doesn't feel the same romance about his playing career that the rest of us might. When ESPN's Rick Reilly asked him if he could see himself playing for a new team, as Peyton Manning is this year with the Denver Broncos, Jeter said he could.

Actually, here are his exact words: "Well, if I wanted to keep playing, yes. It's a business. People forget that."

Jeter is right. We do forget that, even though we've been reminded time and time again that professional athletes and sports teams don't have the same sentimentality that we do as fans. 

But still, this is Derek Jeter we're talking about. Do we really want to see him end his career playing for a team other than the Yankees? 

It's not so much an aesthetic thing. Plenty of baseball teams have simple, clean, classic-looking uniforms that would suit Jeter just fine. 

Well, maybe the Miami Marlins' new togs wouldn't look so good on Jeter. And would we really want to see him wearing the Colorado Rockies' sleeveless vest? Fortunately, both of those teams already have shortstops. 

May we never see Derek Jeter in a uniform like this again. (AP PHOTO/RICH SCHULTZ)

(Regardless of what happens, we wouldn't see Jeter in anything like the American flag jersey he had to wear while on a rehab assignment with the Double-A Trenton Thunder last year.) 

What makes Jeter playing for another team particularly unimaginable is that he's not really chasing a milestone at this point of his career. He's not short of 3,000 hits. He wouldn't have to find a team willing to give him the at-bats necessary to reach that big number. 

Does Jeter have his eye on 4,000 hits? If he got there, he would be only the third player in the history of baseball to collect that many hits. 

Jeter will likely end the 2012 season with more than 3,300 hits. To get to 4,000, he would probably have to play at least four more years. Jeter probably thinks he has that many seasons left in him, but would any MLB team agree with him? 

The guess here is that Jeter reached this cold, business-like stance while coming to terms on his current contract with the Yankees in 2010.

It was a tough, surprisingly bitter negotiation with general manager Brian Cashman essentially challenging Jeter to shop himself around to find a deal better than the three-year, $45 million contract the Yankees offered him. 

That led to some entertaining speculation that the Boston Red Sox might try to sign Jeter to be their shortstop. But that was always more about sticking it to the Yankees than giving Jeter what he thought he was worth on the open market. 

Jeter and the Yankees eventually agreed to a three-year, $51 million contract, but according to ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor, hard feelings developed from the negotiation. Jeter's answer to Reilly's question about playing for another team seemed to indicate that those sentiments still existed. 

Tim Boyles/Getty Images
Do hard feelings still exist between Derek Jeter and Brian Cashman?

Realistically, however, we're not going to see Jeter in another uniform. He's under contract with the Yankees through 2014, including a player option. By the time that deal expires, he'll be 40 years old.

If he gets another 350 to 400 hits over the next two seasons, Jeter will probably pass Stan Musial for fourth on the all-time hits list. Ranking below Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron is hardly a bad place to end one's career. What more can Jeter really accomplish at that point? 

In a follow-up with the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand, Jeter insisted that he wasn't talking about himself so much as putting himself in Peyton Manning's shoes. Manning wanted to keep playing and the Indianapolis Colts no longer wanted him, so he moved on to the Broncos. It's a business. 

Would playing for another team tarnish Jeter's legacy? Perhaps in the short term because it would be so strange seeing him in another uniform and it would appear that he's hanging on to achieve another milestone (presumably 4,000 hits). 

But would one or two years with another team take anything away from Jeter's career? No, Jeter wouldn't be Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn, and that would be kind of sad. 

Yet for all the wincing and lamenting about how Willie Mays ended his career, misplaying balls and falling down in center field, we still remember him as one of the all-time greats in baseball history. Jeter presumably holds his legacy and image in high enough esteem that he wouldn't put himself in that position. 

No other group of fans besides Yankees fans should get to call Jeter their shortstop. He knows that, the Yankees know it and the discussion should really end there. 

 

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