As you may have heard by now, Derek Jeter announced on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon that the 2014 season will be his last in professional baseball. It will be his 20th season in the majors, all with the New York Yankees.
In his post, Jeter recalls his life’s journey of becoming a Bronx Bomber. As a kid born in Pequannock Township, New Jersey, raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he wanted to do only one thing growing up and would not be denied.
“From the time I was a kid, my dream was always very vivid and it never changed: I was going to be the shortstop for the NY Yankees,” Jeter said in his Facebook post. “In a million years, I wouldn’t have believed just how beautiful it would become.”
I don’t think we’ll recognize Derek Jeter as the greatest baseball player of all-time. He probably won’t be considered the greatest Yankee of all-time. But I challenge you to find me a better leader in the history of baseball, perhaps all of sports. Who else can you name that is more universally recognized with one team, in one city? Perhaps nobody.
Jeter is a 13-time All-Star, a 5-time Gold Glove and 5-time Silver Slugger award winner. He is the only Yankee to have 3000+ hits. He is New York’s all-time leader in games played, at-bats, and stolen bases. And lets not forget his 5 World Series rings.
Yet he never led the league in home runs, he never won a triple crown, and he never won a regular season MVP. Hard to believe, but perhaps the most decorated athlete in the last 20 years never won an MVP award.
Jeter spent his time and energy on goals that extended beyond himself. He was more concerned with getting on base, scoring runs, throwing runners out, being the captain of the clubhouse, and a model citizen on and off the diamond. Objectives that were directed at leading his team to victory.
“For the last 20 years, I’ve been completely focused on two goals: playing my best and helping the Yankees win,” Jeter writes. “That means that for 365 days a year, my every thought and action were geared toward that goal. Now it’s time for something new.”
He was never the most outspoken Yankee like Reggie Jackson, nor the most powerful Yankee like Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle; he was simply the most dedicated Yankee. A man who did whatever was necessary to win, no matter what role he played or where he was placed in the lineup.
Nothing symbolized this more than on July 1st, 2004, against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium. Jeter was holding a runner on second base. Trot Nixon hit a pop fly to the left side of the infield in foul territory. Jeter sprinted as fast as he could, knowing he was the only one able to make the play. He makes the catch and dives into the stands at full speed unable to stop. He rose from the crowd with a bruised face and a lacerated chin.
That is Derek Jeter. A player who surpassed all obstacles to do whatever it took to win. Whether you’re a die hard Yankee fan, or you despise him as a member of Red Sox nation, there is no denying the impact he has made on America’s pastime in the past two decades.
Jeter has nothing left to prove. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, have a place in the Yankees’ Monument Park, and be remembered forever in baseball’s history books. But with all his accomplishments, “Mr. November” still wants to leave the game with the one goal that has defined his career.
“I want to help the Yankees reach our goal of winning another championship.”