In sports, when you have a beloved local hero who has been with a franchise his entire career, it’s impossible to imagine him wearing another uniform—until he does. Brett Favre ended up a Jet and a Viking. Michael Jordan was a Wizard, Babe Ruth a Brave. Albert Pujols was supposed to be the second coming of Stan Musial in St. Louis. Now he hits .258 in Anaheim. And this happens constantly: Permanence has always been one of sports’ more pernicious, most profitable myths.
Which is why it’s worth remembering how truly amazing a gift Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have been to the New York Yankees and their fans.
It’s not that there weren’t some scares along the way; George Steinbrenner famously almost traded Rivera to Seattle for shortstop Felix Fermin, unsure that Jeter was ready to play every day. But through all the madness of the Yankees—the tabloid tumult, the perpetual A-Rod circus, the impersonal new stadium that feels more like a Vegas casino than the House That Ruth Built—you’ve always been able to look to Jeter and Rivera and feel stable, feel like even if everything else collapses, those two will still be there.
Because of them, it rarely did collapse: They have missed the playoffs just twice. And more than anything else—their class, their consistency, their ability to represent what we wanted the Yankees to be, even when the Yankees were far from that—Jeter and Rivera were winners. They won at a rate that even DiMaggio would have found difficult to replicate.
But mostly: They were ours. During Rivera’s farewell tour last season, it was obvious that he was being honored not just because he was Mo but because he was a Yankee; the pinstripes complemented the regality, made it special. We’re likely to see this again this year with Jeter. Both Rivera and Jeter are special players, but they are more than that: They are special Yankees. And that is so rare.