It's hard to picture either side allowing such a situation to occur, but the fact is that the Yankees and many of their most storied players have gone their separate ways before.
The most famous of the departed players, of course, was Babe Ruth of the Boston Braves. But six other players with plaques in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park finished their careers in different uniforms.
Meanwhile, two of the four managers honored in Monument Park — Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel — ended their careers with teams other than the Yankees. That number could grow to three when the freeze between Joe Torre and the Steinbrenners thaws and his monument is placed in center field.
At any rate, let's take a closer look at the seven players who ended their careers with other teams. They provide proof to Jeter and Rivera that Yankee legacies aren't destroyed if you play elsewhere near the end of a career.
• Babe Ruth (Boston Braves) The man who made the Yankees and baseball relevant bookended his career in Boston — first with the Red Sox and finally with the Braves. After an only slightly subpar 1934 — he had just 22 homers in 125 games, but still finished fifth in the league in OPS, not that anyone knew what that was at the time — the Yankees summarily released him. The Boston Braves picked him up, and he played only 28 games in his final season. He died of cancer 13 years later, disappointed that he was never offered a job to manage the Yankees. Still, he will forever be the player who's primarily associated with any mention of the Yankees.
• Lefty Gomez (Washington Senators) Lefty Gomez played for the Yankees for 13 seasons, but after a disappointing 1942, with just 80 innings pitched, he was sold to the Boston Braves. They released him before he'd pitched an inning, and he wound up his career by making one start for the Washington Senators, pitching 4 2/3 innings and allowing three earned runs.
• Yogi Berra (New York Mets) Yogi Berra ended his playing career as a Yankee in 1963, was fired as Yankee manager in 1964, and was hired as a coach with the Mets in 1965, where manager Casey Stengel gave him four appearances as a catcher and pinch hitter. Two singles later, the mitt came off for good.
• Red Ruffing (Chicago White Sox) Maybe the second-greatest former Red Sox in Yankees history — behind Ruth and somewhere ahead of Johnny Damon(notes) — Red Ruffing came to the Yankees after five full seasons in the Hub. He stayed through 1946, missing 1943-1944 to World War II, and they released him after his 41st birthday, a season when he had a 1.77 ERA but made just eight starts. He signed in Chicago as a free agent, and made just nine starts before retiring.
• Elston Howard (Boston Red Sox) Elston Howard integrated the Yankees roster. A gifted catcher, he mostly played outfield when Yogi Berra was on the field. He was traded to the Red Sox in mid-1967 after spending most of the year under the Mendoza Line. He rebounded to .241 the following season, and then retired.
• Roger Maris (St. Louis Cardinals) As one of many Yankee acquisitions from the Kansas City Athletics, Maris initially came up with the Indians and came over to the Bronx from K.C. in a seven-player deal. After two seasons with a batting average under .240, he was traded to the Cardinals for Charlie Smith, a weak-hitting infielder. The home run champ managed just 14 longballs in 225 games with the Redbirds in 1967 and 1968, and retired at the age of 34.
• Reggie Jackson (Oakland Athletics) Jackson was well on his way to Cooperstown by the time George Steinbrenner paid him a king's ransom in free agency, more than doubling his salary to put the 31-year-old in pinstripes. He played just five seasons in New York, but earned his place in Yankee history in four Octobers. After the end of his five-year contract in 1981, he signed with the Angels, and played six more years in California and Oakland.
The list doesn't count Andy Pettitte(notes), who spent three years with the Astros and then returned to the Yankees, and who some day soon is assured of a spot in Monument Park himself. He would be the first Yankee immortal to return to the team after spending time away.
But it should be said that Reggie was the only one of the Yankee legends to have a significant post-Yankee career — the rest of them faded away shortly after leaving the Bronx. Jeter, Rivera and Yankee fans still expect that they have something to contribute, which makes their situations a bit different from those cited above.
Still, it isn't as if we'll associate them with their new teams if they actually sign elsewhere.