Like Michael Jordan's No. 23, Derek Jeter's No. 2 lives on in his sport

ByAndrew Marchand ESPN logo
Thursday, May 11, 2017

The New York Yankees will retire Derek Jeter's No. 2 on Sunday, but his legacy will continue on the backs of ballplayers across the major leagues.

Of the 21 players who currently wear No. 2, nearly half wear it for Jeter.

"Whenever you see a No. 2, you think of Jeter," said 23-year-old Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. "Just like when you see a No. 23, you think of Michael Jordan; 42, Jackie Robinson. There are certain numbers that just ring with certain people."

Swanson was given No. 2 as a rookie, but he has since changed to No. 7 to honor his Vanderbilt roots -- that was the number he wore when the Commodores won the 2014 College World Series. Swanson, like so many players, grew up admiring Jeter because of the respect he showed for the game, his clutch performances and his ability to stay out of trouble. For many, this has made No. 2 a symbol for doing things the right way.

At the beginning of spring training this year, every other AL East team's shortstop wore No. 2 -- except for Tampa Bay's. But the Rays' Nick Franklin, who had the number, was a shortstop before being moved off the position. And while he was released right before Opening Day and is now in Milwaukee, he's still wearing No. 2 -- and has a pit bull named Jeter.

Toronto's Troy Tulowitzki and Boston's Xander Bogaerts might be the two most well-known members of the Jeter Fan Club, having professed their fondness for the Yankees captain for years, while Baltimore's J.J. Hardy, who was assigned No. 2 when he joined the Orioles in 2011, said Jeter was his favorite player in high school.

Someone who nearly wasn't a No. 2? Derek Jeter himself. The Captain was more interested in 13, the number his father, Charles, wore while he was a shortstop at Fisk University. When Jeter arrived in the Bronx in 1995, catcher Jim Leyritz wore No. 13. Jeter took No. 2 and wore it when he won his first title in 1996. But when he came to camp in 1997, he was handed No. 17.

"I said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,' " Jeter recalled in an interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech. " 'You know, I do want No. 2.' So, I think if you go back to the program in 1997 spring training, I was listed at No. 17."

Sunday night, the Yankees will become the fifth team to retire the No. 2. The Dodgers (Tommy Lasorda), the White Sox (Nellie Fox), the Cardinals (Red Schoendienst) and the Tigers (Charlie Gehringer) have already taken the number out of circulation. Currently, there are four teams who don't have anyone wearing No. 2. That leaves 21 clubs.

Of those 21, there are 10 players on their 40-man rosters who wear No. 2 as some sort of an homage to Jeter.

Not surprisingly, seven of those 10 play his old position. The Angels' Andrelton Simmons didn't get to wear No. 2 in Atlanta but grabbed it with his current team because of Jeter.

The Reds' Zack Cozart wanted No. 1, but that's retired for manager Fred Hutchinson. so he chose No. 2, with Jeter in mind. The Royals' Alcides Escobar said he picked the number for the usual reason -- he loved how Jeter played the game.

The Mets' Gavin Cecchini is not currently in the majors, but when he was the team's No. 1 pick in 2012 he called Jeter his favorite player. Cecchini is listed with the No. 2 on the Mets' 40-man roster.

Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who was a shortstop as a rookie in 2012, wears No. 2 and a sweatband on his left arm, just like Jeter did. Astros third baseman, Alex Bregman, has No. 2 on his back because of Jeter, and as a reminder that he was the second pick behind Swanson in the 2015 draft.

If there are two players who most represent No. 2 as baseball's version of Jordan's No. 23, it is Bogaerts, on the Yankees' archrival Red Sox, and Tulowitzki. They're arguably the most devoted Jeter-ites currently in the game.

When Bogaerts was growing up in Curacao, he loved watching Jeter play in Yankees-Red Sox games.

"Derek Jeter is one of the prime examples of how you want any kid growing up to be, just to take the good habits that he had," Bogaerts said. "He has been a huge role model."

Bogaerts picked the number because of Jeter and teammate Hanley Ramirez, himself a former shortstop who once wore No. 2 in honor of Jeter. When he finally played against Jeter, Bogaerts says he didn't get too much time to talk with him. But, like he did with a lot of players, Jeter made a point to offer a word of encouragement when he reached second base.

"That was one of the things he always did," Bogaerts said. "He told me, 'Keep working hard. You are a good player.' "

Jeter didn't just offer platitudes but delivered personal messages as well. With Bogaerts, he would joke about listening to coach Brian Butterfield, who's now with the Red Sox but had been a big help to Jeter while with the Yankees.

In Toronto, Tulowitzki's love for Jeter is well documented. Growing up in the Bay Area, it was easy for Tulowitzki to stay up and watch Yankees playoff games until the very end. He reveled in Jeter's clutch performances, though as an A's fan, he says "The Flip" play -- Jeter's famous play from the 2001 ALDS -- stung.

Tulowitzki would attend games at the Oakland Coliseum and study No. 2 during pregame warm-ups.

"I just tried to take a lot out of his game and apply [it] to my own," Tulowitzki said.

When Tulowitzki was in Colorado, he got a chance to meet Jeter. At the time, Jeter had his own brand of cologne, which Tulowitzki's teammates bought him, imploring him to splash it on before he met his idol. Tulo introduced himself, sans fragrance.

To this day, Tulowitzki wears the number in appreciation of Jeter, just like so many others in the majors. For the man known as 2-lo, it's about paying tribute to one of the all-time greats.

"That's a great way for players to pay respect to guys," Tulowitzki said, "and show they know the history of the game a little bit, and they respect it."

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