It’s been an emotional week in the state of Minnesota. After 15 years on the Twins, Joe Mauer officially retired. On Monday, Mauer held a press conference to thank everybody like the good Minnesotan boy that he is. No really, he thanked everyone. As I currently live with a die-hard Twins fan, I watched said press conference. It was pretty adorable, as well as emotional for many Twins fans. It reminded me of what a homegrown, one-team superstar can mean to a fanbase. It also struck a cord with me, as this era seems to be coming to an end.
Mauer wasn’t the only one-team player to retire this year. Due to health reasons, David Wright finally called it a career. Mauer also retired due to health reasons, as concussions are nothing to mess around with. Injuries taking players away before their time always gets to me, as Don Mattingly was just a year away from possibly getting his ring. Yeah, yeah, who knows what would have happened if Donnie Baseball was on the 1996 Yankees over Tino Martinez. Let me believe!
There’s a reason why fans are so ready and willing to embrace the homegrown star. They’re young and exciting. You pull for them to get their first hit, their first strikeout, their first dinger, and so on. They’re the player you grow with. Even when the team is down, they can still pull you up. Don Mattingly was that for me back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Bernie Williams was that during the most amazing tenure of baseball I’ll probably ever see.
It’s extremely cliche for a lot of Yankee fans to say that Derek Jeter was their favorite Yankee, but come on. He’s Derek Jeter, the face of the dynasty. In two years, he’ll be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. During his retirement tour, I wrote a piece about it. Many Yankee bloggers and journalists did. It was kind of sickening, really. Not in a bad way, mind you. More in a “holy crap I’m old” way.
In that article, I stated how I felt every baseball fanbase deserved a Derek Jeter-type homegrown superstar. Not the personality or same style of play. Just a player who meant so much to an organization. A player to grow with and watch climb the tallest of baseball mountains. You know, the ones you go to the game to see.
I also wrote in that article about how I wished Andrew McCutchen remained on the Pittsburgh Pirates for his entire career. He’s since been on the San Francisco Giants and the Yankees. I love Cutch. He’s always been one of my favorite non-Yankee players. Seeing him on the Yankees fills me with equal amounts of joy and sadness. Okay, perhaps 60-40.
This is not to say that McCutchen will not be remembered by Pirates fans for everything he did. Rays fans will never forget everything that Evan Longoria did for them, even though he’s on the Giants now. Perhaps winning that coveted ring would have helped their owners and GM’s decide that they were worth keeping. Please don’t tell me it has to do with the cost, because owners are fabulously wealthy.
My feelings on this could just be a singularly Yankee fan perspective for all I know. Or it could just be me and me alone. None of what I said doesn’t mean that a fanbase can’t or won’t embrace a free agent signing. Yankee fans have embraced Sir Didi Gregorius since trading for him. David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez will always be beloved in Beantown, even though neither came out of the Red Sox farm system.
All of this could just stem from watching Joe Mauer and David Wright leave due to injury. Brett Gardner was signed to a one-year deal and I couldn’t be happier. Gardner is by no means a superstar, except in my heart. I still have apprehension about seeing him in another uniform. There’s just something I find magical about players that only play for one team their entire career.
Perhaps I’m alone in this. Perhaps it’s because I had Bernie Williams and the dynasty era Yankees. I’d just like to think that when fans look at Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, they don’t want to see them on another team. Yet when it comes time for their free agency, I expect to see some fans complain about handing out long-term deals that last through their declines.
If Judge or Sanchez or Severino have the kind of early Yankee career we hope they do and Hal Steinbrenner does not just throw money and years at them, I will be upset. I don’t want to hear about them not accepting hometown discounts or other crap like that, just like I didn’t want to hear any crap about them not paying Derek Jeter during the 2010 contract debacle. Just like I still don’t give a bunt about Robinson Cano’s lack of hustle, and refuse to see it as a reason not to give him a slightly-better-than Jacoby Ellsbury deal.
I might be getting ahead of myself, though. I suppose the Yankees should focus on building their 2019 team, then figure out what they’re going to do several years from now. The reason I get so upset about fans complaining about long-term deals is because I don’t care about the Yankees five or seven or ten years from now. Maybe I should just let things be.