“On and off the field, he’s the way you want your kids to grow up. Only Jesus is perfect, but he’s pretty close to that guy.” –Angels first baseman Albert Pujols on the news that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced his retirement following the 2014 season.
I’d like to think that the Derek Jeter tongue bath we’re all in for this season couldn’t get any more hyperbolic than that statement, but we have to know better, right?
The Derek Jeter farewell party, otherwise known as the entirety of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, is going to be an insufferable display of iconery from all facets of the game. The New York media – hell, all media – will run out of laudatory superlatives to describe the Yankee captain by the time Memorial Day comes around. Major League Baseball will attempt to market the star’s final season with the inevitable tributes, T-shirts, collectible coasters, and Yankee Stadium dirt upon which Jeter once tread. Twenty-nine other MLB teams will have to come up with more original parting gifts, after exhausting the well for Mariano Rivera’s retirement lap through the league last season.
Tickets for Jeter’s final games at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park have already soared in price on the secondary market. The All-Star Game will no doubt be Jeter-centric. Heck, Yankee Stadium may even have a sellout or two over the next six months.
Look, there’s no argument that Jeter doesn’t deserve the accolades. He is indeed one of the most popular Yankees to ever play the game, a consummate winner with five rings to his name. But let’s stop with the knee-jerk nonsense that has Jeter preparing to go into the business of multiplying loaves in his post-baseball life.
Here are just a few of the headlines in the wake of Jeter’s announcement on Facebook Wednesday:
“There will never be a Yankee that mattered more than Derek Jeter”
“TELANDER: Can’t be a hater with Derek Jeter”
“Winter Olympics: Derek Jeter’s retirement news fails to wow the masses in Russia”
“Albert Pujols says Derek Jeter is ‘pretty close’ to Jesus”
“Derek Jeter: Great player, or GREATEST player?”
OK, let’s address that last one, shall we?
Maybe you didn’t get to see Babe Ruth play, or Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio or Yogi Berra. Maybe you’ve thought of how lucky the fans who watched them were. Maybe you wish you were one of them.
On the other hand, you got to see the great Jeter. As long as baseball is played, he’ll be one of those players every other is measured against — not just by the raw numbers, but the way he moved and reacted, the ease with which he played the most difficult game on earth.
Jeter did everything gracefully, with dignity and poise. He never seemed rattled. Even when he was moving at full speed, he seemed to be completely under control, to be dictating the game. This season, we may have a chance to let him know how much pleasure he has given us through the years.
Jeter’s place in Yankees history will be debated and discussed forever. Was he greater than DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle? Does Jeter deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the Babe or Yogi?
That we’re even having this conversation tells you what Derek Jeter has meant to baseball, how much he has given and how he’ll be remembered. And how lucky we’ve been to watch this guy play.
Neyer disagrees: “Forget about the greatest who ever lived, through. To get him into the top 20 — and past Cal Ripken, by the way — you have to prove that he was an above-average fielder. And that’s a heavy lift. I think that unless I had a great deal of time on my hands, I would be content with a tremendous player who ever lived.”
There. Is that so hard?
But because Jeter played for the storied Yankees, his legacy has to be so much more. Had he won five rings in Kansas City, his farewell tour might amount to a couple book signings and a new Gatorade commercial. In self-important New York, Jeter will receive enough flowery tributes to make you gag. We’re in for seven more months of debating where Jeter ranks among all-time Yankees, among all-time shortstops, among all-time just ol’ regular swell fellas.
If the baseball media has collectively bowed to another player as much as it has Jeter since his rookie season, it came before my lifetime. Of course, Red Sox fans have a fragile relationship with the rival player, an antagonism that has resulted in lectures on behalf of the Boston keepers of the guard. Instead of rosary beads, you’re liable to find baseball writers carry around pocket-sized abacuses, saying 10 DiMaggio’s for every bead that marks a former flame. The media worships this guy. Baseball worships this guy.
Be ready for plenty of it over the next few months. It’s Jeter’s going away party and you’re all invited and required to attend, whether you RSVP or not. Jesus is perfect you know. But Jeter? He’s close.
Also, be prepared to see the flip play ad nauseum between now and October. It’s still as overrated as it ever was.