Respect is something that is hard to come by in baseball, let alone sports. Athletes are often scorned for poor work ethic, a lack of commitment to the craft, or just because they rub some the wrong way. But once in a while, there comes a player that demands universal respect that demands such unlimited praise.
And that player is Derek Jeter.
What made Jeter the greatest Yankee of his generation? What made him such a captivating figure? What made him a New York icon, a Yankee legend, a baseball titan? How could this skinny 170-pound kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan, possibly live up to the Yankee gods before him – the Babe, the Iron Horse, the Yankee Clipper, Yogi, the Mick, and so many other greats, and become the one?
Hard-Work and Determination
In a 1992 scouting report, Dick Groch said of Derek, “He’s not going to the University of Michigan. The only place Derek Jeter is going is Cooperstown.” And on September 8, 2021, that finally came true. Derek Jeter was immortalized forever in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
From his first major league hit to the storybook walk-off single in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium, Jeter has always been ready. After a tough 12-year stretch that saw the Yankees fail to make a single postseason when Jeter was called up in 1995, he made the pinstripes respected again, ushering in one of the greatest periods of winning in major league history.
He was New York, he was the Yankees, and he was baseball. He had drive, he had determination, and he had an unrelenting intensity to just play hard, every day, every year. He was the shortstop, but he also was the captain.
Moments That Will Last a Lifetime
Whenever #2 stepped up to the plate in an important moment, with Bob Sheppard’s voice echoing in the distance, Yankee fans knew that something big was going to happen.
Who could forget “The Flip” in the 2001 ALDS, where he scurried across the diamond, fielded the ball, and flipped it to Jorge Posada to nab Jason Giambi, helping the Yankees to a 1-0 win? Or the home run in the 2001 World Series that gave him the nickname “Mr. November?” The dive into the stands against the Red Sox, leaving him bruised and bloodied. The wild home run for his 3,000th hit.
It is these moments, these fantasy-like plays, that captured the essence of Jeter’s greatness. He may be in the 3,000-hit club, he may have five World Series rings, he may be the Yankees’ all-time hit leader and games-played leader, but these extraordinary stats do not justify who he was as a ballplayer – humble, daring, passionate.
A Storybook Career
Was the story supposed to be written this way for Derek Jeter? Was he supposed to capture the hearts and minds of every young kid out there playing baseball, who looked like him, who played like him, and show them that it can be done? Like Yankees announcer, Michael Kay said after Jeter’s final walk-off at Yankee Stadium, “Did you have any doubt?”
No, we did not.
He simply made baseball fun, he made playing it fun; he made people believe in the power of the sport, just by playing it the right way, just by carrying himself with class and dignity.
Being the face of the biggest, most powerful brand in baseball is not easy, and coupled with the ruthless New York media, these factors never made Jeter shy away from the moment or who he was. He could always be trusted. He could always be counted on. He was simply the clutchest player in the history of the Yankees organization.
Now, we all tip our caps to the kid who did it to us for 20 years.
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