Standing Room Only: Farewell to Jeter

Standing Room Only: Farewell to Jeter
February 13, 2014, 9:15 am
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Yesterday afternoon on Facebook (amidst a sea of baby pictures, inspirational quotes and updates from that girl you met for five minutes at a bar in 2004), Derek Jeter announced his retirement from baseball.

But not yet!

It’s not effective immediately. Instead, Jeter’s Facebook post was basically an extended heads up. More or less, an Evite to Jeter’s yearlong going-away party.

It will start sometime next week, when the Yankees shortstop arrives in Tampa for his LAST spring training. From there, the festivities will move to Houston for Jeter’s LAST Opening Day (April 1) and then to the Bronx for his LAST home opener (April 7). From there, it’s on to Minnesota for Jeter’s LAST All-Star Game (July 15), followed by his LAST visit to numerous stadiums and groupies around the league. On September 25, he’ll be home for his LAST regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. And then finally, on September 28, Jeter will take the field at Fenway for the LAST regular-season game of his career.

Depending on the standings, it could be his LAST game of any kind.

Along the way, assuming he’s healthy, the whole thing will be considerably drawn out but also heart-felt and emotional. At every stop — even and especially Boston — Jeter will be showered with standing ovations, special gifts, tribute videos and a non-stop wave of adulation from every corner of the baseball world. “You rule, Derek! Yeah, Jetes! Oh captain, my captain! Oh just gag me with a spoon!”

But whatever, he deserves it. Especially after what the league went through for Mariano Rivera. If they did Mo like that, then they now have to follow the lead of thousands of women countrywide, and do Jeter. And they will.

And here in Boston, we will. We have to. Regardless of anything else, it’s impossible to deny the magnitude of what No. 2 accomplished on the diamond. Even the most ardent Sox fan has to tip his cap and acknowledge Jeter as a true legend of the game; a more than worthy adversary. And within the Sox/Yankees rivalry, that’s about as complimentary as it gets.

In all, Jeter will have played 20 seasons in the big leagues — all of them with the Yankees — and that will put him some historic company. In this case, Jeter will become only the 19th major-leaguer ever to play at least 20 years and do it for exactly one franchise.

Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox) and Brooks Robinson (Orioles) are tied for the all-time record with 23 years played for their respective teams. Al Kaline (Tigers), Stan Musial (Cardinals) and Mel Ott (Giants) played 22 years for one team. George Brett (Royals), Walter Johnson (Senators) Ted Lyons (White Sox), Cal Ripken (Orioles) and Willie Stargell (Pirates) all played 21 years. Finally, Luke Appling (White Sox), Craig Biggio (Astros), Red Faber (White Sox), Tony Gwynn (Padres), Mel Harder (Indians), Alan Trammell (Tigers) and Robin Yount (Brewers) all played 20 years for their teams. 

That’s a historic club right there; some real exclusive company. Of the 17 players on the list, 15 are already in the Hall of Fame. A 16th (Biggio) will be there soon enough. And so will Jeter. For all the uncertainty that lies ahead over the next handful of years, one thing we know for sure is that Jeter will visit Cooperstown sometime during the summer of 2019. During this visit, he’ll stand at the podium and tell the world how proud he is of everything that he achieved in baseball. Above all else, how proud he is to be a Yankee. And here in Boston, we’ll cringe. We’ll respect the hell out of Jeter and everything he stands for. But we’ll cringe. The same way we will for most of this yearlong celebration of Jeter’s career. 

Part of that simply stems from the simple fact that he’s a Yankee. For so long, we’d been conditioned to hate Jeter, when the truth is that (other than his uniform) there was never a good reason to hate him. He played the game the right way. He played his best on the biggest stage. He was consistent. He was a good teammate. He lived a pretty blessed life, on and off the field, and I guess that can be annoying. In that sense, Boston hated Jeter for many of the same reasons that other fans hate Tom Brady. In a weird way, cheering for and understanding a player like Brady only helped us understand and accept a guy like Jeter

For Sox fans of a certain age, Jeter’s farewell tour and eventual Hall of Fame acceptance speech will also serve as a sad, cringe-worthy reminder of what could have been (and what was supposed to be) with Nomar Garciaparra.

For anyone who grew up in the '90s and found themselves constantly arguing at the center of the Jeter/Nomar/ARod debate — this was supposed to be Nomar’s story. He was supposed have this career. He was the next great Red Sox legend. He was supposed to be exactly where Jeter is right now, and exactly where Jeter will be in the summer of 2019. You can’t help but turn this celebration of everything Jeter accomplished into a reflection on all that Nomar never did.

Then again, the three rings Boston won over this last decade (compared to Jeter’s one), and the currently tepid state of the rivalry, have certainly made all that Nomar stuff a little easier to swallow. It’s ultimately helped Boston put Jeter’s career in better perspective. It’s given us time to take a step back and appreciate Jeter for the player that he is and was, without being blinded by jealousy and rage.

And now it’s time to say goodbye.

Well, eventually.

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