Opinion | Saying goodbye to Derek Jeter after 20 years
Legendary Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter announced he will retire at the end of next season, which would be his 20th. He made the announcement via Facebook, saying in part, "The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward."
It's popular to claim, but losing Jeter really is the end of an era. Jeter is a dying breed in sports, a one-team superstar. In fact, chances are good he'll be the last given the economics of the game and the importance placed on statistically based value.
The era of the one-team superstar has been on its way out for a while. Especially in baseball, an early adopter of free agency, and a confluence of factors have kept him in New York in a way that he probably wouldn't have stayed in Cleveland, for example. The team was winning. The team had the money to keep him happy. But when guys continue to leave teams for the highest bidder and for no other reason, continuity on a roster is near impossible.
It will be tough in the future for any team to justify continuing to shell out the required dough to keep a shortstop considered subpar defensively by advanced stats, but with a superstar reputation. Teams don't pay for intangibles like temperament and leadership that lead to success anymore. They pay for OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), OBP (on base percentage), and runs above average per 1,200 innings on defense.
Jeter is the ultimate intangible player, whose career highlight reel is full of plays that look like luck, but are really based on giving top effort. Diving into the stands to catch a foul out against the Red Sox. The flip play against the A's in the playoffs--consistent effort like this shows Jeter is the type of superstar who is excited to play the game. The type of superstar who actually cares about being the captain of a storied franchise--the gravity of that distinction was and never will be lost on him, but he does the post proud.
It's an oft-repeated clichÃ©, but one that, in this circumstance, holds true, Derek Jeter played the game the right way. He played a game, now taken over by metrics and steroids, with a soul.
Athletes are often admired because they're living out their dreams--something most people know is unrealistic based on their talents. Derek Jeter always wanted to be the shortstop of the Yankees. And he's one of the lucky few whose life has exceeded his dream. But he hasn't thrown away that gift like the utterly soulless Alex Rodriguez (who Jeter, like the rest of us, completely despised) or stars in other sports by behaving badly. Its not like Jeter is a boy scout, but he's about as close as a modern sports superstar can be to one.
Yankee public-address announcer Bob Sheppard died at the age of 99 in 2010. He had been on the job since 1951. Sheppard's voice greeted legends like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio as they strode to the plate, and after his death, it continued to greet Jeter. Jeter made sure the man who informed fans the captain was up to bat since 1995 recorded himself saying his name before he died. This is a player that respects tradition so much that his career deserved to be chronicled by Grantland Rice or Red Smith instead of in today's shrill media environment.
Not staying on too far past his prime is a smart move, but many of us still wish he would stay. It's true that too many legacies get somewhat tarnished by diminished play late in a career in some faraway city. No one wants to see Derek Jeter hit sixth out of necessity, or have to move over to third base. It's the right time for Jeter to go, but for a generation often in too much of a hurry for a game like baseball, a one-team superstar like Jeter will be sorely missed.
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