Soon baseball fans will say goodbye to one of the greats of his era. Yankees fans got to say goodbye, and enjoy his heroics, at their home stadium one last time just two days ago. Of course, I’m talking about Derek Jeter.
Jeter had a truly great 20-year career with the most storied sports franchise in the country. Love ’em or hate ’em the Yankees’ 27 World Series victories are leaps and bounds above second place – more than any single team in any major sport. My brother in California HATES!!! the Yankees. (All caps plus three exclamation points to illustrate his vitriol, otherwise there weren’t enough characters.) But I can say with certainty that he respects Derek Jeter as a great ballplayer. Twenty years with the same team and producing the sick numbers and highlight reels is truly amazing. And he kept his proverbial nose clean while doing it. (Hear that, A-Rod!) I have tremendous respect for that level of productivity for that long a time. And, he wasn’t an abusive cup-adjuster on the field; always a plus for a baseball fan.
The Atlanta Braves know the feeling; a short while ago they had to say goodbye to career-Brave Chipper Jones. The Payne Stewart of baseball, I had great respect for Chipper Jones, even though he played on my least favorite team. (I just got sick and tired of producers sticking Fonda on screen doing the tomahawk chop, for crying out loud!) But Chipper Jones is probably the second best Brave after Hank Aaron – maybe third after Greg Maddux, but who counts pitchers? And, once again, he maintained a good reputation as a person as well; as far as I’ve heard.
The last big retirement of a franchise super-star before these two in such a short span of time was obviously Baltimore’s Cal Ripken, Jr. I remember watching as he broke the record for most-consecutive games played. That was a magical moment for me – right up there with the Phillies winning the world series. (Which means it is likely to remain one of my three favorite baseball memories until the day I die.) I specifically remember the lap he took around the stadium high-fiving the fans. Although a car was there to take him around, he quickly hopped off, made the lap on foot and targeted the kids in the stands. That was a truly awesome thing to see from a world-class player, and world-class person.
What I see being a common trait of these three greats is their being identified as “throw-back” players. They were all grinders who worked hard, played hard and gave it their all. They all had a blue-collar look and feel in how they approached the beloved game of baseball. All of them recall a time beyond our own personal memories – but passed down to us through the stories of relatives, books and movies – of the hey-day of baseball. The ballplayers were personable, approachable and fun-loving. It’s similar to what you may find at a good minor league game; Ripken, Jones, and Jeter all appear to be like that jock you see on the field one night, and sitting at a restaurant table nearby the very next day. That, coupled with their clear athletic success, is what takes them from All-Star to GREAT!
You will be missed, Mr. Jeter. But, now I can go back to my own guilt-free hatred of the Yankees now that you’re gone.