It finally happened. The door on an era was finally slammed shut yesterday. The door to the era that was the mid-90s Yankees Dynasty that started to close with the retirement of Jorge Posada and was almost fully closed with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte last season, finally latched shut with a deafening click yesterday afternoon when Derek Jeter announced his retirement following the 2014 MLB season via his Facebook page.
I must admit, I was taken aback when I saw the Facebook post from Jeter show up in my feed. In my heart I wanted Jeter to play forever, but in my mind I knew he had one, maybe two seasons left in a Yankees uniform. I figured he would come back this season, see how his ankle held up and how he did over the course of the season and then he would make a decision after the season was over. I figured he would play out this season, do okay, then decide to come back for one more year and make 2015 his farewell tour. I really was not expecting 2014 to be Jeter’s final season.
For some Yankees fans, the Jeter-led Yankees are all they know. They didn’t suffer through the Yankees of the 1980s – never making the post-season and never making the World Series (except 1981) much less winning it. All these Yankees fans know are success – five World Series titles in seven appearances, multiple AL East crowns and only missing the playoffs twice from 1995 through 2013 and the man at the head of the team was Derek Jeter. With Jeter announcing his retirement following this upcoming season, they feel like their heart and soul have been ripped out.
I understand that heartbreak and sense of loss those Yankees fans are going through. Fans of my age went through the same thing when Don Mattingly retired. To us, Mattingly was the Yankees, just as Jeter was the Yankees to the fans of today. Mattingly was the Yankees of my youth, Jeter was the Yankees of my adulthood. I understood why I felt like that when Mattingly retired – he was my idol, my favorite player from when I was eight years old and when he retired when I was 20, it not only signaled the end of an era for the Yankees, it signaled an end to my childhood.
Then 1996 happened. A young player named Derek Jeter came on the scene and stole the show. He won the Rookie of the Year award and the Yankees won their first World Series title since 1978. Over the next 19 years, they would win the World Series four more times, with this young player getting over 3,000 hits, multiple All-Star appearances, being named The Captain, and pretty much putting himself into the discussion of all-time Yankees greats alongside players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra.
I am not going to bore you with a ton of career stats. Yes, defensively, Jeter was overrated, but he was fun to watch and always seemed to be in the right place (right Jeremy Giambi?). But he was also underrated offensively. He (as of today) has the 3rd highest Offensive War for shortstops behind Honus Wagner and Alex Rodriguez (yes, offensively he was better than players such as Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin).
What I like about Derek Jeter was not the 3,000 hits and the other awards and milestones; it was the inside-out swing on an inside-pitch that he would bloop to right field for a single. It was the always running hard to first, no matter the play. It was hitting a home run for his 3,000th hit (the second person to do so – the first was Wade Boggs) and going 5-5 in the same game. It was for hitting a home run when the team needed it (Mr. November or Game 3 in the 2000 World Series). It was for always being on the top step of the dugout cheering on a batter, even when the Yankees were down five runs in the ninth. It was always being the first player to go talk to a pitcher that just had a rough inning or a batter that just struck out or a fielder that just made an error. It was for diving into the stands to make a play or for backing up first base in the playoffs and basically saving the Yankees’ season against the Athletics in the playoffs.
People always joke about the “intangibles” when it comes to Derek Jeter. But you know what? It’s the intangibles that set him apart. It’s the little things that Jeter does that everyone, fans and opposing players, like.
His die-hard haters call him phony for “rah-rahing” but fans realize his passion and love for the game. When you watch Derek Jeter play, you are watching someone who truly loves what he does, wants to win, and I firmly believes, wants to win the “right” way.
Baseball has had many great ambassadors of the game. Buck O’Neil, Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente – are just a few that come to mind. Derek Jeter easily fits into that category. Not only was Jeter a Hall of Fame player on the field, he was one off the field as well. You never heard a peep of him getting into any kind of trouble off the field and he was always trying to help people (through his Turn 2 Foundation).
You can discuss where Jeter ranks among the all-time greats, among all-time great Yankees, and among all-time shortstops till the end of the time; that’s what’s great about baseball. Derek Jeter, through his play on the field, earned his way into those discussions. Derek Jeter, the man, simply through the way he carries himself, has earned the love, admiration, and respect of millions of baseball fans and players alike over the last 20 years.
The Yankees without Derek Jeter just will not be the same. The New York Yankees in 2015 will have to find their new leader, just like they did in 1996 after Mattingly retired. Who will step up to take the spot? Is that player on the team already? Is that player in the minor leagues somewhere? Only time will tell. One thing I do know is, whomever that player is, he is going to have very large shoes to fill and I can only hope he is up to the task.
The door is closed to another Yankees era as well as another part of my life. Thank you Derek Jeter for being The Captain and bringing success and pride back to the Pinstripes. Here’s hoping that 2014 is all you (and Yankees fans) want. Oh, and thank you for deciding to retire as a member of the Yankees and not making us watch you in the uniform of any other team for your final few seasons!
I’m sure the Yankees will retire your number at the end of this season and then in 2020 you will be joining baseball’s immortals in the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.