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.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
And he needed only 98 pitches to do it.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT
The Angels beat the Mariners 5-0 on Wednesday night in Anaheim but had to wait a while to watch the A’s blow a ninth-inning lead against the Rangers before they could officially celebrate their clinching of the American League West championship. And several thousand Angels fans waited too. MLB.com has the video …
Sep 18, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
He pushes the Cardinals one step closer to the NL Central title. And pushes the fading Brewers another game back.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
Acting wisely, not acting quickly, is the only way to go.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:37 AM EDT
The Angels clinch, the A’s clench.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT
Yankees setup man Dellin Betances has broken a franchise record that Mariano Rivera set in 1996.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT
Watch as new Red Sox outfielder collects the first hit of his major league career Wednesday night at PNC Park on a hot shot that Pirates second baseman Neil Walker couldn’t quite handle …
Sep 17, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT
CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury hears that Phillies have “legitimate interest” in signing Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas, whose price tag is expected to top $100 million.
Sep 17, 2014, 9:17 PM EDT
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the Brewers intend to exercise their half of a $14 million mutual option on Aramis Ramirez for the 2015 season. But will the veteran third baseman exercise his half?
Sep 17, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
His worst career slump remains 0-for-32 in 2004.
Sep 17, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Carlos Beltran has been excused from the Yankees to deal with a private family matter, according to MLB.com beat reporter Bryan Hoch, with manager Joe Girardi saying Wednesday afternoon that the veteran will be given “as much time as he needs.”
Sep 17, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Sep 17, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT
Watch as Matt Duffy smacks this pinch-hit two-run single in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday at Arizona’s Chase Field to put the Giants ahead of the Diamondbacks for good …
Sep 17, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Raburn parlayed a very productive season in a part-time role with the Indians last year into a two-year deal, but he hit just .200 with four homers and a .547 OPS in 74 games.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT
After playing fewer than 100 games in each of the previous four years Navarro has had a solid season as Toronto’s primary catcher, hitting .282 with 12 homers and a .734 OPS in 131 games at age 30.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
As first reported by Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM, the Cardinals have cleared right-hander Michael Wacha to return to the starting rotation this Saturday evening against the visiting Reds.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
Perkins had a 2.44 ERA with just two homers allowed and a 64/9 K/BB ratio in his first 55 innings, but in his last eight appearances he’s given up 10 runs–including five homers–in 6.1 innings for a 14.21 ERA and .429 opponents’ batting average.
Sep 17, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Stanton, who hit .288 with a league-leading 37 homers and a league-leading .950 OPS before the injury, will end up missing the final 17 games of the season.
Sep 17, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
Forget it, Jake. It’s Colorado.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT
After a solid first half Teixeira has batted .179 with 43 strikeouts in 42 games since the All-Star break.
- No, baseball does not need to “announce a domestic violence policy ASAP” 14
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 15
- Video: Rusney Castillo notches his first major league hit 4
- Michael Wacha cleared to return Saturday vs. Reds 2
- Marlins officially shut down Giancarlo Stanton for the season 6
- Umpire Joe West suspended for one game for his part in the Jonathan Papelbon incident 56
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 83
- Jose Altuve breaks Craig Biggio’s franchise record, tallying his 211th hit of the season 13
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (88)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (83)