Editors Note: This post was written September 26, 2014 one day after Jeter's last game in Yankee Stadium.
Thursday, September 25, 2014 was a rare day in New York. It was a day fans, players, and management of the Yankees had not felt in a long time, actually in over a decade. The previous night the Yanks had been eliminated from the playoffs for the second consecutive season. But on this night, there was more another kind of strangeness: this night would be Derek Jeter—the Captain’s—last game in the home pinstripes at Yankee Stadium.
In weeks prior to this game there were negative almost laughable reports on Jeter’s career. Controversial newscasters boasting of how Jeter crippled the Yanks this year with his “goodbye tour”, his unimaginable remainder at the top of the Yankees batting order, and almost statuesque place up the middle even amid declining production. These reports even went so far as to label Jeter as not one of the best Yankees of all time.
For twenty years Jeter has donned the coveted pinstripes. His career has been nothing short of extraordinary. His model of leadership, consistency and work ethic are second to none. Coming into the game on this particular Thursday, the day after the Bronx Bombers were eliminated from the 2014 Playoffs, Jeter had only played 1 game (2008) out of 2,745 career games that did not matter. Now, at the conclusion of Sunday’s game, that number is a whopping 5 games out of 2,748.
Jeter will inevitably be measured against his statistics. Statistics that if researched would have given these reporters pause at making asinine claims of him not being a great Yankee. A look at Jeter’s all-time numbers will prove that he is in the top ten Yankees of all time. It was a stretch to say that he was not that high to begin with, as stats are only a part of the whole representation of a player’s career (i.e. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, etc.); yet, according to the Yankees All-Time Statistics Jeter ranks 8th all-time in average (.309), 1st in at bats (11,191), 1st in games played (2,745), 2nd in runs scored (1,923), 1st in hits (3,463), 1st in doubles (544), 13th in triples (66), 9th in home runs (260), 6th in RBIs (1,310), 4th in walks (1,082), 1st in stolen bases (358), 1st in strikeouts (1,839), 20th in on base percentage (.377), 37th in slugging percentage (.440), and 35th in on base plus slugging (.817). If one were to average these positions statistically together the average would be 9.33, leaving Jeter statistically as the ninth best Yankee of all time. He makes the starting line-up card of all-time Yankees.
On a bigger scale, Jeter comes in 6th on the all-time MLB hit list, 10th in runs scored and 5th in singles. For a number two hitter, what more could one ask for? But Jeter’s career should be remembered for much more than the statistics show. It was his ability to be consistent on and off the field that set the Captain apart.
What seems to be lost in the entire process of Derek’s goodbye season is not so much the statistics he has accumulated but the example that Derek Jeter has set. For twenty years he has played the game the correct way, he has been a true gentleman of the game and in an age of over-hyped, flashy players, Jeter has encapsulated what it means to be a big leaguer. An example that a father could show his own son and say, “Son, there’s a man to model yourself after.”
In a town that is notorious for their brutal handling of athletes, even on their own teams, Jeter’s reputation is still intact. He went about his business, did his job, and did it at an outstanding level. During his twenty-year career Jeter has averaged a full 162-game season played. He has missed 292 games out of 3,240. That is consistent, and his consistency has defined his leadership on and off the field.
Jeter has been a class act all the way through. He has never sought the spotlight, not intentionally grown his celebrity. He has played the game the right way, and never believed he was bigger than the game he loved. Before each at bat, Jeter would tip his cap to opposing pitchers, his hat was never crooked, and he hustled. When kids look for a hero they should be looking no farther than #2.
The strangeness of Thursday’s home finale quickly wore off as the Yankees took the field and gave up, back-to back home runs to Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza in the opening inning. The Yanks responded with a single by Gardner, and a double by the Captain, scoring Gardner. Jeter eventually came around to score the tying run on consecutive errors. The next five and half innings were scoreless until the bottom of the seventh when the Yankees scored three unearned runs to take a 5-2 lead. The top of the ninth saw David Robertson come in and give up 2 home runs, scoring three runs, which inevitably blew the lead and his save. All setting the stage for the Captain and the bottom of the ninth, when he was due up third.
The bottom of the ninth started with a Jose Pirela single and subsequent pinch runner in the form of Antoan Richardson. After a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner, the New York faithful heard a familiar comforting sound. It is an introduction they have heard throughout the Captain’s career at Yankee stadium, made by the late Bob Sheppard (1910-2010), “Now batting for the New York Yankees, number 2, Derek Jeter, number 2.”
Before Sheppard’s passing, Jeter requested a recording be made because in the words of Jeter, “That’s the only voice I’d heard growing up, and that’s the only voice I wanted to hear when I was announced at home…and fortunately he agreed to do it.” This would be the last time the Yankee faithful would see number two dig into the right-handed batters box, tip his hat to the opposing pitcher, and take his at bat. It would also be the last time they heard Bob Sheppard’s voice over their public address system.
Jeter took his time stepping to the plate, undoubtedly aware of the script that had been placed before him. He dug in, adjusted his elbow pad, fiddled with his batting gloves and then took his stance. Amid the deafening chant of “Der-ek Jet-er” from the 48,613 fans that could not have asked for a better ending to a story, Evan Meek delivered one pitch. A cut fastball, that started on the inside portion of the plate and slid ever so slightly back across the middle. In typical Derek Jeter fashion, he took the pitch given to him, and slapped the ball in-between the fielders on the right side of the infield, into right field, and when Richardson slid head first across home plate, Derek Jeter had delivered one last time. Yankees win 6-5.
After rounding first base, having delivered the game for the Yankees, Derek Jeter leapt with joy, and was mobbed by his teammates. The final steps of the night would be a victory lap around Yankee Stadium, for a game well played and a career well produced.
The greatest sign of Jeter’s legacy could be seen Thursday night as he was saying goodbye to the Yankee faithful. As Jeter walked around the infield for the last time, and then came to the batter warm up area for his well-deserved post-game interview, the camera panned to his young nephew in a Re2pect hat—Jeter’s “slogan” given to him by Nike. As the camera focused on the young boy, he tipped his cap, much like his uncle did in the batters box, as to say, “well done Uncle, well done.”
There will never be another Derek Jeter. There will never be another pinstriped number 2 hustling down the first base line after he has lined the pitch given him sharply into right field. There may never be another ball player that you could show your son and say, “that guy right there, that’s the Captain, he knows how to play the game, watch him, emulate him, he’s a hero.” And for that, Captain, we tip our hats to you.
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