This was supposed to be a quiet week for sports bloggers. There was no more football, Spring Training is just about ready to begin, there was only a half of a week of NBA action, and for those of you that actually noticed the NHL is on a 2 week break for the Olympics. Then the fireworks started: Marcus Smart goes Ron Artest on an old fat guy, Michael Sam comes out as the soon-to-be first openly gay NFL player, and Tyler Ennis hits a miracle three to keep Syracuse undefeated. If that wasn’t enough, yesterday, via a Facebook letter to all of his fans, Derek Sanderson Jeter announced he was hanging it up.
For the last 19 years, Jeter has represented everything good about baseball. He has never been vocally arrogant, he has always put the team above himself, and he has never been linked to steroids. If you have been a Jeter hater for the last two decades it is for one of two reasons: you are a Red Sox fan or you hate the Yankees and Derek Jeter is the epitome of everything Yankees.
Until Jeter and The Core Four came along, being a Yankee fan was miserable. We were young fans of the winningest franchise in professional sports, but had never seen a winner. Sure, we had our Yankee legend in Don Mattingly, but they couldn’t win when he was our Captain; Not one first place finish and one lone playoff appearance in Mattingly’s last season. In fact, we endured some of the most awful seasons in Yankees history between 1982 and 1993.
Then it all changed. Jeter and his three wingmen came along and taught Yankee fans how to love again. Five World Championships, 7 AL Pennants, and 11 AL East crowns later Yankee Pride was restored for my generation. Like I said, the children of the 80s had Mattingly, but he didn’t win. Yankee fans of my era finally had their Gehrig, their DiMaggio, their Mantle, their Munson.
Jeter did it all with style, grace, a sense of dramatic flair, and the patented Jeter fist pump. Was he the best fielder of his generation? By no means, but he sure made some of the most memorable plays in Yankee history. Was he the best power hitter of his time? No where close, but he hit bigger home runs than Bonds, A-Rod, Griffey, or Big Mac ever did. Was he the best hitter of his era? Considering he played in a time of Tony Gwynn and then later Ichiro, I would have to say no.
That was never important to Jeter. He has no regular season MVP awards in his trophy case. The Yankees all-time hits leader has no batting titles to his name. All Jeter ever did was his job. He did what was best for the Yankees. He got on base more times and scored more runs than anyone for one of the most prolific offenses of our generation. His reward was ring after ring after ring.
He was always more about being a Yankee than being Jeter. The fact that he did it with Jorge and Mo by his side for 17 straight years shows family values. Throw in Pettitte for all but three of those years and you have a heart that beats strong. The Core Four could have signed anywhere throughout their career, for any amount of money they wanted, but they always returned home because together they could win. Alone, who knows what they would have been.
That was the environment that Jeter established in 20 years in pinstripes. Sure, some of the big-time free agents came to New York for the money, but they didn’t last. The ones that stuck were the ones that realized they came to New York to win. David Cone was a hired gun most of his career, but he left it all on the field every start for the Yanks. Roger Clemens had done it all, Cy Youngs, MVPs, back-to-back Triple Crowns, but he never won until he was a Yankee. It was something you had to accept on Jeter’s Yankees: winning and the fans happiness, no matter how bright your star shined, was always first. I still don’t think A-Rod gets that.
I’m glad that we get one last season together with Jeter as a Yankee family. He deserves every accolade, speech, and gift he will get on his Farewell Tour. I have no doubt that, just like Mo, the most emotional and touching send-off he will receive will be from the Red Sox because when you’re a stand-up guy, even your biggest enemies respect you.
So I say thank you, Oh Captain, My Captain. Thank you for 1996 when Bisach, Bret, Ross, Varrass, Bull, Rosie, Andy, myself, and others squeezed onto the tiny Courtney Street couches to watch the birth of a dynasty. Thank you for all those sunny Saturdays and cool weeknights with Big Lar, D-Sant, and Greene at the old ball park. One of the writers I work with at YanksGoYard.com tweeted how Jeter’s retirement marked the end of his childhood. He’s 20. At 38-years-old, I feel the same way.
(For more on Jeter’s illustrious career, check out my piece on Jeter’s Top Ten Moments at YanksGoYard.com)