Klonsinski: Derek Jeter, one of the best
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, October 1, 2014
This last Thursday, I had to try to come to grips with the fact that Derek Jeter’s career is over.
I know, I know. You have been inundated with all things RE2PECT since March or April, and this might be the least creative topic I could have chosen. Bear with me though because a player like Jeter comes around only once in a lifetime, and I get to do a column only once every other week, so my timing doesn’t line up exactly as it was supposed to.
Speaking of timing…
Jeter always seemed to have it. His final game at Yankee Stadium could not have had a more storybook ending, unless that game had been a World Series clincher. His 3,000th hit was a home run. He was out of position against Oakland for his iconic flip. He won five World Series titles, while playing for one of the greatest dynasties ever. He played in just two games ever while his team was out of playoff contention and was injured last year when the Yankees had one of their worst seasons ever, so all those games New York spent out of contention conveniently don’t count.
Some criticize Jeter, saying he was merely the beneficiary of good timing. They argue that, by the numbers, Jeter really wasn’t that good.
Excuse me? The man is sixth on the all-time hits list.
Ruth, Wagner, Mays, Brett, Ripken and Gwynn. Those are some of the names behind Jeter.
The only five above him? Rose, Cobb, Aaron, Musial and Speaker. Jeter is first in all-time hits for the Yankees franchise, a franchise that boasts many of the greatest players of all time, including Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle, Williams and DiMaggio. Jeter is in front of all those legends by over 700 hits.
If you watch highlights, his swing never changed. It was always that smooth, quick and short stroke that would just as gladly take a ball down the third-base line or the first-base line, whatever the pitch and situation demanded.
“His fielding was never very good,” some critics say.
Name a time off the top of your head a Jeter error cost the Yankees in a big moment. Now think of the some of the lasting images Jeter left us: the flip against Oakland, the crash into the stands later in that series and the other, full-speed dive into the stands against Boston that broke his face. Those three defensive highlights alone trump every other player who has played this game. All that from a guy who supposedly sucked on defense.
Phew. All right, glad that rant is out of the way.
I’ve never met the man, never was fortunate enough even to get a chance to see him play in person. My only accounts of him come from those who did, but everything I’ve heard has always been positive and respectful. His play left many people awestruck by what they witnessed.
I’m sorry to see him go. If there is one man in baseball whose leadership, presence and work ethic I wish to emulate, it would have to be Derek Jeter. He’s a legend not just because of his on-field success, but also because of the guy he was off of it. Being the face of the team with the highest expectations, for fans that demand the best performance, in a market with suffocating media coverage like New York, he never once had a slip-up.
Maybe an additional part of Derek Jeter’s mystique to me is the idea that the man has been playing baseball as the shortstop for the New York Yankees since before I could walk. In my 20 years of life, No. 2 always has patrolled between second and third base for the team in pinstripes. Now that time is over.
I’m sure next year, if I do watch any Yankee games, I’ll get the same ‘something’s off’ feeling when someone other than Jeter plays short as I did when I saw someone other than Joe Sakic wear the captain’s ‘C’ for my beloved Colorado Avalanche.
More than that though, Derek Jeter was the face of baseball for me and for countless people all over the world. Analysts already have begun the debate about whether or not a guy like Mike Trout or other young stars will be able to fill the void left by Jeter’s departure.
Yeah. Good luck with that.
Derek Jeter is my generation’s Cal Ripken — just as you never doubted Cal would suit up for the Orioles, Jeter was always at short for the Yankees. As the story goes, on the night Cal ended his streak of consecutive games, who was the first person to notice, standing in the on-deck circle and beginning the ovation that signaled the end of one of the most historic and impressive streaks in baseball?
Timing is everything.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.