I hate the New York Yankees with a passion usually reserved for Crusades. Three times in the glory days that were the 1990s, the hated Bronx Bombers dashed the World Series hopes of my beloved Atlanta Braves. I suppose I inherited my hatred of all things pinstriped from Papa Wham. I’m not sure Papa “hated” anything, but he did express a stern dislike for the Yanks.
Having said all of that, I do admire the game of baseball to a fault and when a player is worthy of making baseball history, I like to acknowledge a life well lived and a career worth remembering. With that in mind, I bid a nostalgic farewell to New York Yankee shortstop and Captain, Derek Jeter.
Jeter took his last at-bat today at Fenway Park in Boston and hit a single, fitting for a player who is at the top of the Yankee’s all time hits list and sits at number six on the same list for MLB with 3,465 putting him just below the legendary Tris “Grey Eagle” Speaker and a shade above the equally-if-not-more legendary Honus “The Flying Dutchman” Wagner (a fellow shortstop, btw). Definitely not shabby company by any metric.
What makes Jeter even more special — at least in my mind — is in an era of massive payrolls, egos, and free agent deals, Number 2 spent his entire two decade career with one team. Of course, when that team IS the New York Yankees, it’s understandable, but still, very few players — and almost none of Jeter’s performance level — stay in one place anymore but prefer to chase the next big contract with some other team, be they perennial contender or celler-dweller. Jeter made New York City his home — at least during the baseball season — for twenty years and never seriously looked to go anywhere else.
Perhaps it was this loyalty which prompted irascible Yankee’s owner, the late George Steinbrenner, to name Jeter as the 14th Captain in the long and storied history of the Wearers of the Pinstripes. When you consider some of the names on THAT list — Don Mattingly, Thurmond Munson, Craig Nettles, oh, and a couple of guys named Gerhig and Ruth — it puts Jeter’s place in Yankee history in some perspective. He may not be “The Greatest Yankee Ever” and I’m not sure any group of baseball writers, players, or managers could ever pin that title on any one of the greats who played in the Bronx, but he would certainly be in the dugout in reserve and probably on the field at shortstop with the first team.
Just as much as his performance speaks volumes about his career, the words which DON’T come up in conversations about him are equally important. Despite playing near the high water mark of what is now known as “The Steroids Era,” Jeter’s name has no taint of PEDs to cling to it. No one has ever seriously accused The Captain of juicing and his time on injured reserve as well as his stints in physical therapy point to a guy who didn’t cut corners to play the game he loved. Derek Jeter, who I like to think of as “The Anti-A-Rod,” is one of a handful of players like Cal Ripken, Jr. Ken Griffey, Jr. and my own beloved Dale Murphy who played the game right — no shortcuts, no special favors, just hard work.
Of all the qualities that make Jeter a memorable player, though, the greatest is probably his conduct OFF the field. For twenty years, Derek Jeter spent a majority of his time in the hottest spotlight and under the most powerful microscope in the United States. I’m talking about the shark tank that is New York City with its ability to eat celebrities of all shapes and walks of life and turn their lives into a paparazzi fueled Hell. A lot of players and celebs with half Jeter’s talents managed to upset the wrong journalist and ended up in tears amidst one scandal after another. Not Jeter. Despite being one of the biggest in a constellation of stars roaming the Big Apple, Jeter maintained his privacy and his dashing public persona as well.
Oh, to be sure, Jeter is a real life Bruce Wayne in many ways. Mild mannered billionaire playboy by day, hero — on the diamond, not in the alleys — by night. He even has his own extravagant “Batter’s Cave” in a penthouse apartment high atop Trump Tower in Manhattan! The string of lovely ladies who have graced Derek Jeter’s arm at one time or another is long and luxurious, but not very lascivious. So far, no woman from pop singing star Mariah Carey to eye-candy actresses like Jessica Biel and Minka Kelly have managed to wrestle The Captain down the aisle to the altar, but neither have they be splattered across the front page of tabloid after tabloid in one unsavory scandal or another.
So, the numbers don’t lie. Jeter has played a Cooperstown caliber career for twenty years in New York. He’s done it as the consummate professional all the while thriving in the media flashes and enduring the stormy moods of Mr. Steinbrenner. That makes him special all by itself. Goodbye, Captain, and thanks for the great memories, even if you were a Yankee.
And as for all of you . . . Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!