Derek Jeter may well be the greatest shortstop to ever play the game. He has, after all, more all-time hits than any other player at that position. However, what makes Jeter’s legend so grand isn’t his incredible stats, but rather his ability to remain relatable after 20 years in the white-hot spotlight of New York City. The pressure of being an athlete in Gotham is maddening for most; the pressure of being the Yankee captain is downright impossible to handle. Of course, achieving the impossible is commonplace for Jeter, the captain since 2003.
This season was a long, slow, and somewhat painful goodbye for Jeter fans everywhere. At every ballpark the Yankees visited this season, there were cheers for Jeter that matched the cheers for the hometown team. But those fans weren’t cheering because of Jeter’s 3,465 career hits. No. They were cheering for how he got those hits. They cheer because in perhaps baseball’s darkest era, Jeter has been the shining light for the sport. While steroids and other blemishes have become common in modern baseball, the only thing more common was seeing Derek Jeter at shortstop for the Bronx Bombers.
He kept to himself, he wanted to be left alone. All he cared about was playing the game he loved, and playing it to win. Everything else was bothersome. Winning, as Jeter puts it, was “the most important thing,” and he did it well. He played in over 1,700 winning games which ranks him fourth all time behind the likes of Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, and Carl Yastrzemski. But the love of winning wasn’t what drove Jeter the most, but rather his hatred of losing. He told Sports Illustrated that he thinks “most people want to win at anything they do. But what separates you is if losing bothers you.” Clearly, it bothered Derek Jeter.
As I’m writing this some 30,000 feet up in the air on a plane bound to Savannah from Boston, I can’t help but to wonder which will be missed more: baseball by Jeter, or Jeter by baseball? My gut tells me it’s the later. As he fades out of baseball’s brightest spotlight and into only our memories, I wanted to tip my hat to the captain one more time.
He played the game we all wish we could, the way we all like to think we would, with class, respect, and guts. Guts, which Ernest Hemmingway described as “grace under pressure,” were seemingly more prominent in Jeter than the blood in his veins. He used those guts to mystify the masses for two decades, and he did it with flawless ability on and off the field.
So from me, a lifelong Yankee hating Red Sox fan, to you Mr. Jeter, the classiest athlete of my lifetime, I just want to say thanks. Thanks for showing us all how it, regardless of what “it” may be, is truly done.