Jeter’s Retirement Marks End of an Era
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 02:02
We’ve seen it before: Player announces retirement well in advance, player gets overwhelming media attention and then anyone who is not a fan of said player’s team gets tired and resentful of the spectacle.
There are exceptions, of course, for exceptional talents and exceptional players. While Ray Lewis’ last playoff hurrah turned many into 49ers fans for the Super Bowl, Mariano Rivera’s season long farewell tour was met with universal applause — even from the most diehard Yankee haters.
Despite all of the contempt for the Yankees that runs within the very fiber of baseball fandom today, it is undeniable that Rivera and Derek Jeter led them to glory for all these years. We watched Rivera walk away last year, and now Jeter — the face of the Yankees and the face of baseball for nearly a generation — is preparing to head to batter’s box for the last time.
For the past half-decade, Jeter has made a habit of refinding his best form just when people begin to question whether his best days are behind him. When he followed the 2009 World Series title with a mortal .270 batting average in 2010, many thought that age had finally caught up to the superstar. But a .297 average in 2011 left people guessing, and a resurgent .316 average in 2012 suggested that Jeter could keep suiting up in pinstripes for several more years.
However, Jeter knows his best days will soon be behind him — the process was accelerated by a crippling broken ankle last year — and he would rather leave on his terms than let it encroach on his playing days.
In most cases, many would roll their eyes at the prematurity of the whole affair: A man announcing his retirement more than half a year in advance, ready to bask in the glory of his drawn-out swan song. But not in the instance of Jeter, whose actions over the course of his illustrious career have revealed a man who does not crave the spotlight.
Jeter accepts the mantle of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees, but he does not pay it any notice. Nor does he ever give the media any material to twist into a story when one does not exist. This announcement, like so many other Jeter decisions, is about giving back to fans; it’s about giving them a chance to say goodbye and appreciate the last days of Jeter as they happen.
It’s not just Yankee fans that need to say goodbye. Whereas Mariano Rivera’s final season was about appreciation for the best closer in the history of baseball, Jeter’s exit is about something more.
Jeter was one of the best shortstops of the past two decades, and he is a first ballot Hall of Famer; his hitting was textbook and his defense — in his prime — was solid. But it was his heart and his poise when the moment was biggest,that became his calling card.
Becoming Mr. November in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, the (multiple!) head first dives into the stands, the leaping throws from the edge of the outfield grass — all of these moments will stand the test of time (although Baltimore fans will undoubtedly never forget about the “home run” in the ’96 playoffs as well).
Of course, we must not forget the defining play of Jeter’s career and the greatest defensive play in postseason history — the flip. The intelligence, the hustle, the heroics; Jeter’s game-saving, postseason-salvaging play against the Oakland A’s was unlike anything seen before or since, and it perfectly encapsulates everything that he is as a player and as a leader.
Jeter’s popularity went far beyond his play in the field. He became the face of baseball because, despite his greatness, he was always relatable. He epitomized the purity of a Little Leaguer, the competitive drive of a champion and the humble nature of the everyman all at once.
When you watch Derek Jeter play baseball, you see a little piece of all the best attributes of sports, and some of the best qualities of a person too. Among a litany of disgraced sluggers, Jeter was a baseball fan’s favorite player; instead of falling for the show-stopping allure of the home run, he crafted his swing for subtler tools, such as the opposite field single.
As the mantle is passed on, baseball fans can only hope that the example set by Jeter will remain the gold standard for young players everywhere.
Darius Majd is a junior in the College. The Sporting Life appears every Friday.