An alternate history of Derek Jeter and the Baltimore Orioles


It could've happened...

June 1, 1992 -- With the fourth pick of the 1992 draft, the Orioles selected shortstop Derek Jeter. Observers expected the Orioles to target outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, particularly with Cal Ripken entrenched at shortstop, but the head-turning move adds potential depth to the team's system . . .

It could've happened. The Orioles picked before the Yankees that year, and the Yankees picked Jeter two picks later. The Orioles also had the greatest shortstop ever at the time, only just nearing the end of his prime years. But draft experts always say that the first round is when you want the best player available, not to target need. So if the Orioles and their scouts had reason to believe that Jeter was the more promising prospect, it could've happened.

November 15, 1996 -- The passing of the torch has accelerated. After a brilliant offensive rookie campaign, in which he split only minimal playing time with Cal Ripken at shortstop, Derek Jeter propelled the Orioles to a playoff win with a game-tying home run, albeit a controversial one in which a young fan may have taken a catch away from Paul O'Neill . . .

So much changed with the Jeffrey Maier play. Orioles fans caught their first glimpse of Derek Jeter, Villain. Little did they know that their team, a perennial contender, was only another few seasons away from a pivot into the dark ages, and that that 1996 playoff opportunity wouldn't just be the next in a long series of chances for another title.

August 15, 2000 -- Sources inside the warehouse indicated that general manager Syd Thrift nearly used this year's trade deadline to completely tear down the underperforming roster, but decided to make only minor moves and rebuild from within in the near term. Thrift's decision was driven largely by the talent of younger stars such as Derek Jeter, in spite of the visible decline of some of the team's veterans.

No one player is going to completely and totally change the fortune of a franchise. Unless, that is, they do.

October 6, 2001 -- Orioles fans said an emotional goodbye to Cal Ripken, Jr., the Iron Man who broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak and remodeled the offensive profile of the modern-day shortstop. Fittingly, the evening's game featured a symbolic start at short by Ripken, who hasn't played the position in years, with a first-inning defensive shift giving way to Derek Jeter. The rising star may never be Ripken's defensive equal, but his bat has already netted him Rookie of the Year honors to go with four All-Star appearances, and he is widely seen as the next great Baltimore shortstop for years to come . . .

This could've been a thing. Orioles fans could've tearfully watched Ripken literally give way to Jeter on the diamond.

November 1, 2005 -- Clubhouse sources revealed that the Orioles' incredible playoff run nearly came off the rails in July, when a scorching 42-28 start gave way to a skid. Players credit Derek Jeter's leadership behind closed doors, and the willingness of Jeter, Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora to share time around the diamond as an example to the team's younger players, for the team's turnaround in late August. Mora's willingness to shift to right field allowed the team to cut underperforming veteran Sammy Sosa by August 1st . . .

All of the barftastic lines about Jeter's intangibles? Those could have been OUR barftastic lines.

March 31, 2014 -- His defense has lost a step and his health is increasingly suspect, but Orioles fans are preparing for a huge farewell season for shortstop-turned-third-baseman Derek Jeter. The franchise has seen two once-in-a-generation shortstops in just a few decades, and tickets are selling fast all around the country for Jeter's retirement tour . . .

As I wrote last week, fandom makes us do funny things. As things stand right now, I love to point out that Ripken was Jeter's obvious superior, and I love to hate on all of the press that Jeter's victory-lap season is getting. I love to hate Jeter, really. But just imagine if he'd been snagged by the Orioles in 1992. Imagine if the New York media circus hadn't turned him into a bland quote machine, as much politician as ballplayer. Imagine if he'd been my defensively questionable, durable, slash-hitting shortstop, basically, instead of someone else's.

Maybe I would've been a Derek Jeter fan, through and through. Hell, there isn't much maybe about it. I would have been a Derek Jeter fan. I'd be trying to talk myself into appreciating unnecessary jump throws and believing that postseason "clutch hitting" is a real thing. I'd be biding my time for the Orioles to retire the number 2, put up a new statue in the centerfield flag court at Camden Yards, and have a big ceremony where Cal and Derek talk about how they stack up in baseball history. I'd be crooning about how Derek Jeter is an obvious first-ballot guy, and really, if he doesn't get into Cooperstown unanimously, someone needs to be stripped of their Hall of Fame vote.

This makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

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