By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
The circle of success closed around Derek Jeter as he stood in front of the Yankee Stadium crowd on Sunday night and accepted his place in Monument Park.
The captain has his plaque now. The No. 2 he made famous over a 20-year career is officially retired, which means no Yankee will ever don a single number again. Those are all gone.
And so is the past. With Jeter’s ceremony, the franchise duly honored the last and — all due respect to Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada — the greatest of the Core Four. With that, the Yanks closed the gate for now on Monument Park.
There are no others who present a pressing need for enshrinement. The Bambino and the Iron Horse and the Yankee Clipper landed out there years ago. Thurman’s out there. Scooter’s there. Whitey’s got his plaque, as does Donnie Baseball and Casey and Yogi and Goose and Gator and Reggie and Joe Torre, and the rest of the 38 players that represent the best the Bronx franchise ever offered.
There is really no one else who deserves enshrinement, simply because few others served the Pinstripes long enough, or led them to the kind of success that makes nights like Sunday’s necessary, as Yogi once said.
The only thing left now is the future. For the next decade or so, we are left free to debate the next deserving inductee. It would, of course, help if the Yankees ripped off three or four World Series titles in that span, as winning always fathers greatness. And it would certainly be fitting if one of these current Baby Bombers took Jeter’s words from Sunday and deeds from his career to heart and took his own place in the memorial niche behind the center field fence.
They have plenty of young stock to step up.
Perhaps Aaron Judge will reach such heights. Imagine Hal Steinbrenner handing him his No. 99 to start a reverse high-to-low tradition of numerical retirement.
The way he’s going, though, they’ll have to put his plaque in the middle of the batter’s eye, since that’s where most of his home runs tend to land.
Could it be Gary Sanchez? Well, catchers don’t get into Monument Park on the basis of their defense, even though Bill Dickey and Elston Howard and Berra were three of the best defensive technicians a battery could ever possess. But Sanchez’ 20-homer power show in the last 53 games of 2016 showed he might have the potential.
With just two homers and a .239 BA this year, he’s got a long way to go. But, hey, no pressure. He’ll have the next 10 years or so as a starting catcher to straighten things out.
Masahiro Tanaka could fit the bill. He came to the Yanks from Japan at 25, plenty early to have a long, long career. And with a 44-17 record, he’s certainly acted like the ace the Yanks were expecting to get in his four seasons here.
This could be his final season in pinstripes if he activates his opt-out clause for a bigger payday elsewhere. If the Yanks do step up and renegotiate, and his steadiness leads him to a Cy Young or two, he’d certainly be a candidate.
Didi Gregorius? Starlin Castro? Sure, if they stick around long enough.
The next guy might not even be in the majors yet. Who knows what kind of impact a prized farmhand like Clint Frazier or a Gleyber Torres could make, assuming they’re still around. That would require Brian Cashman to resist the temptation to use either as July trade bait for a final division title push.
The honoring of Jeter all but closed the book on the past. Judge and his young teammates have opened the next volume.
Only after they finish will we know the next person to glide into Monument Park.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino