Today was Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium. In his honor they played 2 today. OK, they played 2 because of a Saturday rainout, but it wouldn’t shock me if someone, somewhere argued that it was Mother Nature’s way of showing RE2PECT for the Captain.
The main event, of course, was the pregame ceremony before the nightcap. That’s when the Yankees retired Jeter’s number 2. Here’s video of the unveiling:
Jeter gave a speech as well. Among his comments: “. . . time flies, memories fade, but family is forever. And I’ll be eternally grateful to be part of the Yankee family.” He thanked Yankees fans, “for pushing me, for challenging me, for making me accountable, but more important, for embracing me from day one.” He added, “I got a chance to play for a first class organization and in front of the greatest fans in the history of sports.”
Watch his speech here:
Jeter’s career, quite obviously, needs no detailed summary. You know the legend. The World Series rings for each finger of his hand. The iconic moments. The 3,400+ hits. The fact that he never once played on a team that was sub-.500.
You also know the way he has been and likely always will be discussed by fans. Adored uniformly by Yankees fans. Respected by fans of his opponents, even as he broke their back on a regular basis. Universally acknowledged as an all-time great.
Yet, for various reasons, people have always felt it important to call him “overrated.” That probably says more of our times and the nature of sports discussion these days than anything else, even if there is a core of truth to it. Jeter was among the best to ever play the game. Jeter was, by some, overrated. Those two things are not in conflict, actually. But even if it is technically true that he has been overrated by some, it seems sort of beside the point.
For twenty years, Derek Jeter was baseball. There were better players. There were players who were more important to you or your friends or fans of teams that were not the Yankees. But he was, unofficially, The Face of Baseball from almost the moment he burst onto the scene until the day he retired. Because of the difficulty Major League Baseball has had in promoting its younger stars in this far more fragmented age, he may still be the Face of Baseball, actually. Maybe the last one baseball will ever truly have. Whether or not that matters is an open question, but it wouldn’t necessarily shock me if Derek Jeter is the last baseball player who attains his level of fame and celebrity for a long, long time.
I watched Derek Jeter from the time he was in Triple-A in the town where I went to college until his last game in the majors. I can honestly say there was not a single game in which he played in which I rooted for his team and only a handful of games in which I hoped he’d come through at any given moment. I’m not a Yankees fan and, let’s be honest, Jeter didn’t need me rooting for him.
But I can’t help but think anything this evening other than “Hats off to ya, Jeter. You deserve this day.”