Photo above: Derek Jeter’s final at-bat at Yankee Stadium. It was the bottom of the 9th inning, the game was tied between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees, 5-5. Evan Meek was on the mound for the Orioles and there was one out with one man on second base, pinch-runner Antoan Richardson. On Meeks’ first pitch, Jeter swung, sending it into the gap between first and second base into right field. The speedy Richardson made the turn at third and slid head first safely into home plate, the winning run of the game. (YouTube)
Derek Jeter’s season long swan song concludes with a series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The intensity of the competition between the two teams, particularly during Jeter’s 20 year career, reflects perfectly Jeter’s own personal drive and so it seems fitting that he conclude his career against the Yankees’ archrivals.
Epitomizing the intensity of the Sox-Yankees rivalry as well as the competitive edge in number two’s DNA is a catch which has been simply coined “The Dive”. Playing against the Red Sox in 2004, Jeter sprinted so hard past Alex Rodriguez in pursuit of a pop up in the twelfth inning of a regular season game that he launched himself into the third base stands. Helped up by the crowd, he stood up woozily, bleeding from scrapes on his face and head, but waved off assistance as he climbed back onto the field.
True to his nature, Jeter held on to the ball that he’d caught, got the out and went back into the game. The Yankees went on to win in the thirteenth inning, no doubt propelled to victory by his effort. That’s the essence of Derek Jeter.
And that’s what makes any of the carping this week about his greatness or the fanfare which surrounds his final games so utterly absurd. Listening to the rants from Keith Olbermann and others about Jeter being overrated, or the complaints that the farewell tour is too much, misses the mark. He’s more, much more, than his baseball numbers, as “The Dive” shows.
What made him stand out over the course of the years are a series of intangibles. There are probably baseball players who may have one or two of these qualities, but none come with Jeter’s unique array of personal attributes that he displayed for the entirety of his career.
Jeter is a guy who always loved playing the game, as his willingness to hustle for a foul ball and careen into the stands for an out, or always running out routine ground balls like they tell you to do in Little League, prove.
He maintained a quiet leadership when he easily could have been distracted by innumerable things over the years — the bombastic Steinbrenner, the constant scrutiny of the press in the biggest sports market in the country, or performance enhancing drug scandals that rocked the Yankees clubhouse, to name just a few.
His immense impact on the players around him cannot be quantified by baseball statistics. Jeter, like other sport icons — Magic Johnson for instance— may not have always posted chart topping numbers every year, but each season the players around him played better because he was there, poised and confident.
In an era full of self-centered, self-promoting and troubled athletes, he remained scandal free, private, relatively unjaded, and mostly allowed his actions on the field to speak for him. Maybe some of that is public relations magic, but more likely it is the result of a man who is comfortable in his own skin and with his place in the world.
Spending twenty years — the entirety of his career — with only one team, in arguably one of the toughest cities to play any sport, speaks volumes about his importance to a legendary baseball organization. But it also reveals something that Jeter values — loyalty.
Ultimately, the Jordan commercial got it right. Jeter, in his retirement, earned the respect he is getting because he gave it: respect for the Yankees organization, for his teammates and opponents, for his fans, and for the game of baseball itself .
Just in case the quality of his character alone doesn’t justify all the celebration, his baseball numbers would: over 3,400 (3,463 as of this date) hits in over 11,000 (11,191 as of this date) at bats, and a .309 lifetime batting average with an on base percentage of .377. He’s also hit 1,310 RBI’s as of this date, his last RBI being a game winning, walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th inning during his last game at Yankee Stadium, “The House That Jeter Built.” He’s been Rookie of the Year (1996), a 14 time All Star, and a World Series champ five times over, including an amazing three year World Series streak from 1998-2000. He’s the only player ever to be a World Series MVP and an All Star MVP in the same year. These statistics stand alone as a reminder of why his remarkable and steadfast twenty-year career is worthy of observance.
But with Jeter, the sum was always greater than the parts. And that’s what makes his career ending so momentous — his unique combination of character, longevity and talent will not likely be duplicated any time soon.
This weekend at Fenway, Jeter’s final farewell should be treated like the changing of the guard that it is. The Sox will be giving Jeter Yankee themed duck boots as part of what the Sox are describing as a low key farewell. Maybe instead of playing Sweet Caroline in the 8th inning as they traditionally do, the Sox should play Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way,” to celebrate a player who uniquely did it his way for twenty great years.
(The Air Jordan Commercial)
(The Gatorade Commercial)
Lisa Perez Tighe has been an attorney, writer and a professor. She attended the University of Notre Dame and New York University School of Law. A native of the Bronx, Lisa currently resides outside of Boston with her husband and four children.