Some guys cry on demand, not Derek Jeter. On February 12, 2014, “Mr. November” announced on Facebook his retirement at the end of this coming season. After watching his pals (Bernie Williams, Jorge Posado, Mo Rivera, and Andy Pettitte), leave the table, one at a time, I guess he figured he was up next. Why Facebook? Jeter, who wears #2, has mastered the art of dodging the spotlight, while basking in the glory. Then he called for a gathering. The reporters called it a press conference, but it was far from it. It was vintage Jeter, lots of notes but no real meat. He talked about team, winning and competing. Not all heroes wear capes. Baseball is a grind. For twenty years Jeter has represented tireless effort, hard work, and Yankee baseball. Umpires loved him, fans loved him, and other teams’ players loved him, because he was able to continue to do the little things that made him great. No doubt he was one of the positive faces during the turbulent steroid era. Get your tickets now as the Yanks open their season in Houston.
February and Spring Training is like chicken soup for baseball; everybody feels good about where they are. Pitchers and catchers just reported. We are just getting started and as long as no one screams “My elbow, my elbow,” it’s a good day. This was not about farewell gifting like Mo Rivera received in 2013, but then again maybe Jeter needs a ten-gallon hat. This was about being the first to be elected to Cooperstown on a unanimous ballot by the baseball writers. Will it happen? Just maybe! If anyone has this all figured out, it could be Jeter.
So, where does Jeter stack up against the greatest of all Yankees? First, I need you to know that Derek Jeter became my favorite player after Mickey Mantle died. Interesting, Mantle died on August 13, 1995, during the dog days of summer, just as Jeter was beginning his twenty year run with the Bombers. My Yankees top-five list would look like this: “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, “Yogi” Berra, and Derek Jeter. Yes, I would place Jeter number six; not in my top five. You see, Jeter was not the longest hitter, nor the fastest runner. He was not a good base stealer, and his range at shortstop waned in his last several years. He only made the spotlight for the good things he had done, not the bad. But, that does not mean he wasn’t a great player; he was greater than the sum of his parts. In the near future, Jeter’s #2 will be retired for all-time by the New York Yankees. That will leave only the #6 left of the first ten numbers not to have been retired. Can you name the other eight? Graig Nettles name comes up when the #6 is spoken about being retired.
According to the Baseball Reference.com, 582 players have worn the #2 while playing in the Major Leagues. Several of them are Hall of Famers; like Jim Bottomley, Earl Averill, Leo Durocher, “Sparky” Anderson, Nellie Fox, Jimmie Foxx, and Roberto Alomar. There are a few others but you get the picture. There are 23 current players wearing the #2 and some of those names of the more popular are, J.J. Hardy, Aaron Hill, Troy Tulowitski, B.J. Upton and Jacoby Elsbury, who will have to receive a new number now that he has joined the Yankees. Even our very own Corpus Christi treasure, Bart Shirley, wore #2 when he played with the 1966 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
I’m not going to bore you with Jeter’s numbers. My grandson would say “they are ridiculous.” I will share with you an interview done by my radio partner, Dennis Quinn, in August of 2013. When an athlete loses his skill, it’s like a slow death. It shows in his eyes and sometimes on his face. I think Dennis could sense the end was near for Jeter and spoke about how he had become one of the Yankee greats. Dennis explained how his partner had been a lifelong Yankees fan and that Mickey Mantle had been my childhood hero, but now it had become Jeter. “How does that make you feel,” asked Dennis. “I fooled him,” laughed Jeter. Then he went on to say how special it made him feel to be held in the same company with players like “The Mick. Dennis even got Jeter to say “Hello Andy” on tape. I was thrilled and will treasure his words always. Dennis continued the interview and finished with this question, “How do you want to be remembered?” Jeter answered, “I just want to be remembered as a Yankee.” I will always remember that answer. It was like Derek Jeter, nearly perfect.
Mickey Charles Mantle and Derek Sanderson Jeter were once-in-a-lifetime players. They were riveting to watch play baseball on the field and polar opposites off the field. One lived in the spotlight, while the other dodged the insanity. How lucky I am to have seen both Mantle and Jeter play baseball in person.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.