If the Yankees fail to make the playoffs, Jeter would spend the last weekend of his career at Fenway Park in the visitor’s dugout against the Boston Red Sox. Why then is Red Sox Nation nearly as melancholy over Jeter’s retirement as Yankee Universe?
When the staff of Red Sox 101 was growing up, the Yankees were the hated rival. We consoled ourselves as that team from the Bronx won back-to-back championships in 1977 and ’78, Reggie Jackson probably kicked puppies and Rich “Goose” Gossage enjoyed broken glass for breakfast. (Hey, we were seven.) Having kind thoughts of a drunken Billy Martin and Bucky Dent…well, we never had nice thoughts for those two.
As those Yankee teams faded into memory, and as the team rebuilt after a decade long struggle, the take no prisoner attitude those earlier Yankee teams displayed slowly had been replaced by the grace and elegance of Jeter, closer Mariano Rivera and manager Joe Torre.
Yes, they won four championships in five years, and yes, Aaron Boone deflated Boston in 2003 as Dent had a quarter century earlier. Even if you thought Pedro Martinez should have slapped Don Zimmer silly, when you watched how those Yankee teams played, the running thought was not hate, but respect.
Was Jeter overrated as a fielder? Probably. Did you send ex-girlfriends gift baskets as a parting thank you? Uh, no. Then why is his leaving the game sad?
Jeter approached every game as it was a gift to be enjoyed. As a kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan, he wanted to become captain of the New York Yankees. Think of the list that includes, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly among others. Jeter achieved his goal. He joined that group.
He played hard. The highlight reel will be on auto-play all summer on ESPN. The flip, the camera-well catch, the walk-off World Series home run, the 3000th hit, also a homer, are all going to be replayed to death. Again, why should the Fenway Faithful be sad?
Jeter never played as a “me-first” player. You would never see him dog a play. He gave every game everything he had. You would watch some of the Red Sox players over the last 19 years and wonder to yourself why Boston could not have someone that played with such quiet confidence. He never took his place in the game for granted. You have to respect someone of his stature to recognize that.
For the record, Jeter never dominated the Red Sox.
In 267 games between the two rivals he played in, his .288 batting average is the second lowest against any team he played in more than 100 games in. (He hit .283 in 163 games against the Seattle Mariners.) At Fenway, that average drops to .263 in 136 games or an OPS+ of 68.
If you wanted to show a kid who loved baseball how they should conduct themselves on the field and with the press, Jeter would be the place to start. That is why his retirement will be deeply felt.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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