Feb 13, 2014, 6:57 AM EDT
SOCHI – When Derek Jeter made his major league debut in 1995, there was no Facebook. There was nothing that suggested there would ever be a Facebook. The internet was a dial-up puzzle. Founder Mark Zuckerburg was an 11-year-old son of a dentist and psychiatrist, and he was just beginning to write programs in BASIC.
Heck, DVDs had not been invented.
In other words, Derek Jeter began playing baseball in a very different America, a very different world, when newspapers told the story of baseball, when no words crawled along the bottom of television screens, when being social meant talking to people. There are countless words and letters and phrases – iPhone, blog, tweet, smh, Droid, OPS (as statistic), Yahoo! (as noun), the cream, high-def TV, lol, iPad, replacement player, Bieber, Google (as verb), Deadspin, Moneyball – that would have sounded like absolute gibberish to Jeter at the beginning.
And yet, those are some of the words that defined his time. And him.
“I know they say when you dream you eventually wake up,” Jeter wrote Wednesday on his Facebook page as he announced his 2014 retirement. “Well for some reason I’ve never had to wake up.”
* * *
Think of the magic trick Derek Jeter pulled off. He was, for most of his life, the most visible athlete in New York City. Kim Basinger called him a hunk. He was on the cover of GQ and eligible and obscenely rich. Reggie Jackson said he’d trade his own past for Jeter’s future. He was given a $189 million contract when he was 26 years old, and he was named the Yankees team captain just two years later.
When something awesome in baseball happened, he was often in the frame. The dive. The flip. The November homer. Every step he made was a potential backpage for the New York tabloids, every word he said might make Twitter explode. He was exalted to the heavens by his fans, detested to his core by opposing fans. He was the most visible man in a game that had such a deep steroid problem that it would get dragged before Congress. He had more hosannas thrown his way than any player of his time, and he never won an MVP award though he probably deserved a couple.
And all the while, he stayed utterly (and, to some, maddeningly) admirable.
Look at some of the greatest players of his time. Alex Rodriguez: Disgraced. Barry Bonds: Disgraced. Mark McGwire: Disgraced. Manny Ramirez: Disgraced. Albert Pujols: Floundering. Ken Griffey: Tumbled in late career. Jeff Bagwell: Can’t get elected to the Hall of Fame. Mike Piazza: Can’t get elected to the Hall of Fame.
And through all of it, Jeter soared – not only as a player but also as a modern day icon. Has any player since Cal Ripken or Hank Aaron or Joe DiMaggio been so respected simply for being himself?
When Alex Rodriguez caused that stir by walking across Dallas Braden’s pitching mound, what did Braden do? He said A-Rod should learn some respect from Derek Jeter.
When Hanley Ramirez got in to trouble for loafing after a ball, what did his manager Fredi Gonzalez say? That he wished all talented players were like Derek Jeter, but such dreams are just not realistic.
“You know, I really didn’t get Derek Jeter,” a player named Aaron Guiel told me a few years ago. “I mean, sure, you see him across the way, you know he’s a great player, great leader, all that stuff. And then I came to play for the Yankees, and I saw it firsthand. He’s different from anybody else. The guy does so many things to help the team that you can’t even count them all.”
Guiel said that the first day he came to the Yankees, Jeter came over, introduced himself and talked about how happy he was that Guiel was on the team. But more, he talked about how excited he was because he knew Guiel would help the team. “He knew a lot about me,” Guiel said, with some wonder in his voice.
Jeter answered a million questions from reporters – at least half of them inane, all of them repeats – and he answered them politely. Blandly but politely. He deflected negativity with the same ease with which he flicked singles to right field. He uttered clichés with energy, giving the words a little more power. The Yankees clubhouse had more multi-millionaires (and accompanying giant egos) than any in baseball, but it never devolved into a poisonous place like so many others. The reason was Jeter. A Derek Jeter team, by definition, would be professional.
And his professionalism towered over everything. When Alex Rodriguez took some shots at him in a magazine, it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When Rodriguez came to the Yankees and only one could play shortstop, it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When Jeter’s love life became public – with Mariah Carey or Miss Universe or Minka Kelly – it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When George Steinbrenner took a shot at Jeter for staying out too late one night during the season, it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When it seemed like everyone in baseball was being suspected of steroid use, any rumor could have become a thing. It didn’t.
His defense – despite him winning five Gold Gloves – was savaged on the Internet. That too could have become a thing. It didn’t.
And it didn’t because of Jeter’s constancy — play hard every day, run the bases hard every day, be polite every day, speak positively every day. He was the waves beating against the shore. He hit .300 every year. He scored 100 runs every year. He played 150 games every year. He led a playoff team every year. He became Twitter proof, statistic-proof, scandal proof. In this new social, bloggy, TMZ, 24-hour world, Derek Jeter’s magic trick was not getting 3,316 or scoring 1,876 runs or being shortstop for five World Series champions.
It was staying irrepressibly likeable.
* * *
So now, Derek Jeter has announced on Facebook that he will play just one more year. Of course he will be celebrated in every city. Millions of words about his brilliant career will spill out. A “Derek Jeter is overrated” backlash will undoubtedly gain momentum as the year goes on too. Then a backlash to the backlash.
But, in the middle of it all, in his own quiet way, Derek Jeter will be doing one of the hardest things a great athlete has to do. He will wind down. The saying goes that great men die twice – once as great and again as men. And while there will be this big, public celebration for the most significant baseball player of our time, there will also be a quiet realization within him that the end is near.
Jeter won’t let us in on that. He never did let people in too close. That, I suspect, was part of his genius. When he was a boy, his father Charles – an Army man – would have young Derek sign a contract of expectations. There was a standard to live by. He came into an analog baseball world and he left with a letter to his fans on Facebook. He never fell for the praise or gave in to the criticism. The standard never changed. And, all the while, he kept the important stuff for himself.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:19 PM EDT
From FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi comes word that the Marlins and White Sox “have discussed a possible trade” involving left-handed starter John Danks.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:02 PM EDT
Dan Uggla’s stay with the Giants lasted nine days. MLB.com’s Chris Haft reports that San Francisco has released the veteran second baseman, who went 0-for-11 with a walk and six strikeouts in four games after being called up from Triple-A Fresno on July 25.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
Albert Pujols can barely move these days and for some reason went with a pop-up slide into first base, but this throw on Wednesday night from Manny Machado was still fantastic …
Jul 30, 2014, 8:22 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s farewell tour continued Wednesday night at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas with another set of retirement gifts.
Jul 30, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Blue Jays are targeting Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera — who is known to be available — and would ask him to play second base.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras has been mentioned as a possible centerpiece in trade talks this week for top-tier starting pitchers like David Price and Jon Lester, but if Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is to be believed that was all speculation from the outside.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT
The 44-64 Astros could jump into this seller-friendly market before Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Houston is “looking to move” first baseman and designated hitter Chris Carter.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT
Now that it’s clear he can’t ramp up for 2014, the Mets have cleared Matt Harvey to throw.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
White Sox reliever Nate Jones has been on the disabled list with a back injury since the first week of the season, but now he’s got an even bigger problem.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
It’s been a rumor for a good while, but now it’s going where rumors go when they die.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The very essence of the trade deadline just played out on Twitter
Jul 30, 2014, 3:51 PM EDT
Injuries derailed what was a very promising career for Chavez while with the A’s, but he bounced back and got healthy enough to thrive in part-time roles for the Yankees and Diamondbacks.
Jul 30, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Felix Doubront made it clear that he wanted the Red Sox to either put him back into the starting rotation or trade him, and then he went out and had a terrible relief appearance that many took to mean he was trying to push a trade.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
A few minutes ago we thought this man could soon be a Fish. Now it seems unlikely. HAPPY TRADE DEADLINE!
Jul 30, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Zeid pitched well for the Astros as a 26-year-old rookie last season, but struggled mightily this season with a 6.97 ERA in 23 appearances.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
They’ve been rumored to be in on all the big names, but now it sounds as if they’re out.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Cleveland turned down Justin Masterson’s attempted contract extension offer back in spring training–balking at what seemed to be reasonable terms at the time–and now the Indians are trading the impending free agent to the Cardinals, according to Peter Gammons of MLB.com.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
And no mention of Lester because I legit thought he’d get traded in between the time we taped this and the time it went live.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy would probably already be in the majors to stay if not for blowing out his elbow last season, but now the former No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball is struggling while rehabbing in the minors.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
But the Padres may be playing hard to get.
- Cardinals acquire Justin Masterson from Indians 48
- There’s a “very good chance” the Red Sox trade Lackey and Lester 51
- Hey, Rube: Phillies pay dearly for Amaro’s misguided loyalty 85
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 57
- Dodgers announce Vin Scully will return for 2015 season 52
- Jon Lester scratched Wednesday amid trade speculation 38
- Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace lefty David Price; Cardinals and Dodgers interested 41
- Phillies wanted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias from Dodgers for Cole Hamels 96
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (201)
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (199)
- Must-click link: sexual depravity — and possibly rape — in the minor leagues (105)
- The Nationals and Orioles dispute over TV money is about to explode (104)
- Phillies wanted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias from Dodgers for Cole Hamels (96)