“There are major league ball players, then there are Yankees.”
30 for 30 – The House of Steinbrenner
How would you like to play Major League Baseball for the New York Yankees? In spite of any prior allegiances, the answer is almost always yes; just ask Johnny Damon, Kevin Youkilis, and now Jacoby Ellsbury. When New York comes calling, you can be assured they’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. Playing for the winningest franchise in sports comes with just one requirement. Be the best player in history (and get a haircut you hippie!). For the last nineteen years, no one has embodied the role and requirements of being a Yankee more than Derek Jeter and yesterday he announced that 2014 will be his last. There isn’t just the end of an era, it’s the end of an institution.
Career .312 BA, 3,316 Hits,1,876 Runs
Before we get any farther into this story, let me be clear. I hate the Yankees. In 1998, I rode a miracle wave to the World Series only to see my hometown San Diego Padres get swept by the greatest Yankee team in history. I’ll always remember seeing the Bombers celebrating on our home field from the nosebleed section of Qualcomm Stadium. I’ll say again – Hate the Yankees. No matter how strong your feelings, though, Jeter was always the one player anyone could root for, or at least appreciate.
“He’s the king of cool- the George Clooney of baseball…”
For years, kids across America have worn number two on their back, for the same reason Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies) and B.J. Upton (Braves) do – to be like Jeter. Honestly, there is no better player to emulate. On the field, he’s ruled with an inside-out swing, and a glove as smooth as Sinatra’s voice. A .312 hitter, he currently sits 9th with 3,316 hits. No other Yankee has reached 3,000 hits and he’ll surely eclipse Honus Wagner for most hits among shortstops (he needs only 114). In the playoffs he ranks number one all time in games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, total bases, and is third in home runs. Pair that with an uncanny ability to come through in clutch moments and its easy to see why he’s nicknamed Mr. November. His career off the field has been devoid of controversy and full of supermodels. He’s Mr. Cool, the King of Cool- the George Clooney of Baseball.
If you haven’t tried this, you’re not American.
With a two hundred hit season, he could finish as high as fifth all time, and although he’ll never have a chance to challenge Ty Cobb (4,189) or Pete Rose (4,256), he’ll surely go down as the best at his position. Again, without injury he’ll surpass Honus Wagner in hits, he’ll continue to surpass Alex Rodriguez in years without steroids, and no disrespect to Cal Ripken Jr, Barry Larkin, Omar Vizquel, or Ozzie Smith, but Jeter has done it better, longer, and never left the 5.5 hole. More importantly, he won. With five rings, five gold gloves, and five silver slugger awards, no other shortstop’s trophy collection has been so well rounded.
Speaking of trophy collections
So there it is. In a town where being good isn’t good enough, Jeter has been the best. While his stats are impressive, it’s the respect he’s earned from peers, and his contributions to the most renowned franchise in sports that will forever be his legacy. The embodiment of pure class, you could count on Jeter, in the good years and the bad, to play with guts and devotion . Kids have emulated him for his stellar play, sure, but his passion will forever set him apart. Even nearing forty, you can see glimpses of a kid playing the game he loves. He’s refused to milk any last minute contract options, and hasn’t tried to draw attention to himself. He will leave the game the only way he knows how, leaving it all on the field.
And sometimes leaving it in the stands.
What else is there to say about the guy? This year, millions of kids across America will go to their first baseball game and their sibling or parent will say, “Him? That’s Derek Jeter. The greatest Yankee to ever play,” and they will be right. There is no uniform more iconic than Yankee pinstripes and no one has earned those stripes quite like Jeter. He’s played the game with passion and iron determination. That’s why, despite rooting against the team all the years of my life, I will tip my hat to number 2 as he makes his victory lap this season, and you should too. If you have a chance to see him play this year live, do yourself a favor and go watch history before he’s gone. For twenty years he’s been baseball, and he’s been the very best the institution of baseball has to offer. There are ball players, then there is Derek Jeter.