Yankees Salute Their Captain

Derek JeterLast winter’s announcement that Derek Jeter’s number 2 would be retired by the Yankees likely shocked no one. With Jeter’s former teammates Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada having already received the honor, it was only a matter of time, and Jeter’s standing in baseball history appears to be more or less understood.

Yet unquestioned greatness can often have the adverse effect of cheapening a career, removing the need for further discussion by accepting the player’s impact as a given. So perhaps the upcoming May 14 ceremony will give fans an opportunity to once again reflect on just what Jeter did to merit a celebration so soon after retirement. And with countless words devoted to all of the things Jeter was—a “winner,” a “class act,” someone who “did things the right way”—his greatness may be better understood by pondering all of the things he wasn’t.

Jeter was probably never the best player in baseball. He never won an MVP award, although he finished in the top 10 on eight occasions. In fact, he was rarely if ever considered the best shortstop in the league, with rivals like Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez often overshadowing Jeter during his early prime. But regardless of which players looked best on paper, no one looked better than Jeter where it truly counted; on the field with everything on the line. Jeter’s career post season average of .308 is not only remarkable as a raw statistic, but it’s eerily similar to his career regular season mark of .310. Yankees fans knew that, during the time of year where high stakes could dim even the brightest of stars, they would be getting the same old Jeter, which is why even in the twilight of his career, Yankees fans would accept no substitute at shortstop.

An indispensable part of five championship teams, including four in his first five full seasons as a player, Jeter was never the vocal leader in the clubhouse, with outspoken teammates like Paul O’Neill, David Cone and Posada more suited for that role. It hardly mattered, because Jeter’s actions spoke louder than all of them combined. His leadership was in the way he accepted coaching advice no matter what type of season he was having. It was in the way he never gave up on a game no matter how lopsided the score, even when his teammates had checked out both mentally and physically. His body language and tone after a game was perhaps most telling. He handled both winning and losing gracefully, but his dull, controlled anger after a defeat reminded his teammates that there was work to be done going forward, and those who didn’t think so were in the wrong clubhouse.

A winner of five Gold Glove awards, Jeter’s defense was nonetheless shortchanged by recent sabermetric statistics, which judged his range to be below average for a shortstop. But regardless of how others viewed his fundamentals, Jeter’s instinctiveness and irrespresible desire to win allowed him to make plays that even the most physically gifted shortstops wouldn’t. The immortal “flip play” may best epitomize those aspects of Jeter’s game. One could sift through thousands of hours of baseball footage without finding a shortstop who was so far out of position and yet, somehow, exactly where he needed to be.

Unforgettable moments seemingly came so easily to Jeter—his walk-off home run in the 2001 World Series; his 3,000th hit, a home run at Yankee Stadium—and his last at bat ever at Yankees Stadium, which ended with a game-winning single, was no exception. But the true ending to Jeter’s career, in terms of both chronology and essence, was his final career at bat, which took place at Fenway Park. Jeter didn’t produce a moment for the ages; instead, he chopped a ball straight into the ground and moved as fast as his 40-year-old legs could carry him, ultimately reaching first safely and putting the definitive stamp on his career. Jeter hadn’t struck the ball hard enough to earn a hit; he’d simply wanted one more than anything in the world.

Want It In Print?

We now offer matted and framed copies of articles upon request.

Joseph Catrone
Joseph Catrone is the former editor of Farmingdale Observer, Hicksville News, Levittown Tribune and Massapequa Observer.

Leave a Reply

Discover

Sponsor

Latest

Column: Reflecting On The Strangulation Death Of George Floyd

The video footage is excruciating, with 8 minutes and 45 seconds of having the life squeezed out of you with three grown men kneeling on you. 

Anton Classifieds—July1-7, 2020

Anton Classifieds—July1-7, 2020

Curran Addresses Safety Concerns Due To Firework Complaints

In response to a 400 percent increase in reports of illegal fireworks sales, County Executive Curran announced a new email tipline, FireworksSales@NassauCountyNY.Gov for residents to report the illegal sale or delivery of fireworks in Nassau County.

Glen Cove Native Signs Minor League Deal With New York Mets

Glen Cove native Joe Suozzi is on the path to living out his dream of taking the field for the New York Mets after signing a minor league deal with the organization.

Thought Gallery: Three Virtual Events To Keep You Busy This Week

Consider these recommendations for upcoming virtual talks, readings and more in and around New York City: Weird Homes Tour x Atlas Obscura: Ghosts in the...

Get Updates Via Email

Enter your email to be updated with all the latest news and special announcements.

x