Derek Jeter is retiring at the end of the 2014 season1. The 14-time All-Star2 has been on the Yankees for his entire 20-year career3. He's been a popular player4 in baseball, and he was honored by the Yankees5 on Sunday.
Let's talk about Derek Jeter. Let's talk about Derek Jeter Day.
Ken Rosenthal's first sentence in this column is probably going to win a Ledey at the industry awards this offseason.
There was simply no good way to do this.
Exactly. How do you honor a player who is supposed to be known for doing his job without pomp and circumstance? That's supposed to be Derek Jeter's whole thing -- at least that's supposed to be the public and recognizable image, the obvious starting point. Just a man tryin' to win ballgames. Just a guy doin' his job. Just a fella who will dive into the stands if he needs to. Just quiet greatness, with nothing flashier than the occasional jump-throw.
You can either honor that player with pomp and circumstance, which will make everyone (including the player) a little weirded out and uncomfortable, even if everyone agrees a good time was had by all. Or you could honor the player with the ceremonial equivalent of what Jeter's supposed to represent -- "Watch Derek Jeter Tip His Cap Day," in which Jeter comes out before the game, tips his cap for a few minutes, then goes back to playing baseball because there's baseball to be played, everyone.
Except that would be even more flashy, more noticeable. The absence of pomp and circumstance would turn into weaponized pomp and circumstance. Attempting to create a special, quiet Jeter-themed ceremony that was only as flashy as its subject would be obnoxious beyond words, as if he's the one player too special/stoic/classy for a big retirement production. He had to sit there and take it, just like the rest of us.
There was simply no good way to do this.
So true. There is no retirement ceremony for a first-ballot Hall of Famer that's the equivalent of a destination wedding, with only five guests wearing flip-flops and leis. Jeter and the Yankees made the best of a tough task, for the most part.
One of my dumber story ideas before Derek Jeter Day: look for current major leaguers who might have anything approaching a Derek Jeter Day in the future. It's dumb because, ha ha, there are no major leaguers who will have anything approaching a Derek Jeter Day in the future. That's kind of the point of Derek Jeter Day.
Take Andrew McCutchen, one of the most likable and talented players in baseball. He's the face of the Pirates, a symbol of restored greatness and pure talent. In terms of value, he's been comparable to Jeter through age 27. Now script the path that gets him a year-long Andrew McCutchen tour at every ballpark he plays.
- At least a decade more of high-quality play
- With the same team
- With multiple championships
There's another part that McCutchen's already nailed, which is coming into the franchise at just the right time, seeming like an angel of providence for a franchise stuck in the mud. But what those bullet points really translate to are freakish amounts of talent, health and luck. Talent, because of course. Health, because talent can't help a player if his wrist or ankle or back isn't letting him swing the bat like we all know he can. Luck, because it's not like Jeter was drafting (or financing) his talented teammates himself. He's a bad GM away from being Ernie Banks.
Perfect Team Player?
Perfect Team Player?
It doesn't have to be multiple championships. Ripken had the record. But to go from respected All-Star to someone getting the legend treatment, there has to be something more. It's been two years, and I don't remember a thing about the Chipper Jones retirement tour. If there even was one. Was there a Chipper Jones retirement tour? Feels like there were a couple ceremonies, but I can't remember. And that was a Hall of Famer, one of the best players who ever lived. Moving from Chipper to Jeter takes something more than just a Hall of Famer being with the same team for an entire career. A billion straight NL East titles couldn't do it, even if that's more remarkable than people give credit for.
There has to be talent, health and luck, but in such large quantities that even just one of them is unlikely. All three over a two-decade career is exponentially difficult to expect for anyone. Maybe McCutchen will be the next one. Maybe Buster Posey or Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout will be. The odds are that none of them will be.
Again, which is the point.
That's why Jeter Fatigue is the dumbest thing about the 2014 season. The Jeter Fatigue Fatigue I'm suffering from makes me lethargic and sleepy. Please stop.
If you don't recognize the uniqueness of Jeter, why it's probably worth ignoring the constant feting and praise from a fawning media to evaluate him as a player and historical anomaly, you're beyond help. You're so wrapped up in the presentation of the game that you're forgetting that they actually play games worth presenting. I have a one-step method of avoiding Jeter Fatigue, and I encourage you to follow it:
- Curate your own baseball highlights
That's a fancy way of saying "Don't watch SportsCenter if this bugs you so much." Don't watch highlight shows. If you're upset at the disproportionate attention paid to a topic, pick which topics you'll pay attention to. Go to the MLB.com video page, and click on the plays that interest you. Do it on your computer, do it on your phone. You are a news director now. Mash that stubby little finger into your newfangled device and watch the baseball you want to watch.
I'm not suffering from Jeter Fatigue because when I go to MLB.com and see a video of Jeter receiving two human twins encased in carbonite as a gift from the Twins, I don't click on the video. Not when "Giancarlo Stanton hits baseball through rift in space-time" is right next to it. So when Jeter Day came up, I was legitimately interested.
Remember this trick for the future, when the next superstar player gets too much attention. You have the power until the Ministry of Sports Appreciation starts mind-beaming the highlights into your brain in a dystopian hellscape. We're at least 10, 12 years away from that.
Michael Kay and John Sterling were co-emcees for the ceremony. One of the strangest things about the Yankees franchise over the last two decades is that for all the greatness, for all the unbelievable good fortune and talent that's passed through Yankee Stadium over the last 20 years and the 100 years prior to that, the Yankees fans still have to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours with those guys every season.
It's as if the baseball gods want us all to have something the Yankees don't, an olive branch for how the last 100 years have gone. It's inexplicable, and the contrast between those two and Derek Jeter and the Yankees was never more on display.
Replacing letters with numbers was dumb when New Line Cinema tried to shove Se7en down our throats, and it's dumb 20 years later. The squiggles in a "2" and an "S" go in totally different directions! Doesn't anyone see this? There are straight lines in a "2." There are none with an "S." The top of the "2" points that way, and the bottom points that way. The top of the "S" points that way, and the bottom points the other way.
It bugs me so danged much. And, for what, to get Jeter's jersey number crammed into a word -- respect -- that was chosen mostly because we can cram Jeter's jersey number into it?
Now that's something worth complaining on the Internet about. Not Jeter Fatigue.
This has little to do with Jeter Day, but it's worth mentioning in passing. This is also a silly tradition that has to stop:
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports
Is that seriously supposed to go somewhere in Jeter's house? What about the paddleboard he got from the Angels? Is he actually supposed to drag that thing down to the water, something that's so Yankees'd out that even Benny from Long Island, who calls into WFAN five times a day to talk about the Yankees, wouldn't be caught dead with?
They're all different versions of this:
And they will live in Jeter's basement, actual or metaphorical, for the next 100 years. Stop it, teams.
Rosenthal also noted the black "#2" wreath used by the Yankees was almost funerary, as were the celebrity remembrances that played on the scoreboard. It was all a requiem for a career that hasn't ended just yet in a season that's still partially alive.
Except maybe that's perfect. The Derek Jeter Era perfectly coincides with the Damn Yankees era of our time. Before Jeter, there was a morass of Steinbrenner escapades and uninteresting teams. After Jeter, there was sustained success. He's leaving at a time when it's easy to be pessimistic about the future of the Yankees, who have an aging roster that might not be helped with the top five free agents in each of the next three offseasons. This could be a set of bookends so obvious and on the nose, that it would make you roll your eyes if Hollywood concocted it. The Yankees rose out of the ashes with Jeter. Now they just might be a pile of ashes again.
You'd have better luck betting against the Harlem Globetrotters, so don't take this for a Yankees-are-totally-doomed prediction. Just an educated guess, that's all, and those educated guesses have been wrong for about a decade now. This time, though, the Yankees won't have Derek Jeter. They haven't had the real one for the last two years, and it hasn't worked out for them. When he's gone for good, maybe so are the Yankees as we know them.
There was simply one good way to do this. Have an appreciation/wake for Derek Jeter's career and try to forget about the crumbling infrastructure that may or may not get patched before it all crumbles. When you think about it like that, it turns out that Derek Jeter Day had less to do with him than you might have thought. He was just doing his job, and it was really all about the team.