Let’s all gather around the pinstriped cake and wish Derek Jeter a happy birthday.
The Captain turns 42 today, and is currently enjoying his second year of retirement after an incredible career that left Yankees fans feeling a bit spoiled for having been able to witness the endless supply of memories. From his Rookie of the Year season in 1996 to his unforgettable game winning sendoff in his final home game, the moments will forever live on in Yankee lore.
However, there were painful images along the way. It is hard to erase from memory the sight of a grimacing Jeter laying on the infield dirt in agonizing pain after suffering a fractured ankle in Game One of the 2012 ALCS.
While the ending was tragic, and downright depressing, it is important not to overlook just how great and Jeter-esque that 2012 season really was. After two mediocre years (for his standards), Jeter turned back the clock in 2012 and swung the bat like it was 1999 again (RIP Prince).
At 38 years old, when most experts begin writing a player’s career obituary, Jeter finished the regular season batting .316, and led all of baseball with 216 hits. Yes, even more than Miguel Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown that year.
Age and decline in production was a concern surrounding Jeter entering the season, and those concerns were effectively silenced. What is remarkable is that Jeter eclipsed Ty Cobb for most hits in a season by a player entering the year with 3,000 or more hits, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The only expectations he likely didn’t shatter were his own. Jeter always was the kind of competitor who expected the absolute best out of himself, even when dealing with injury.
Always the man hustling to save a run or avoid an out, Jeter suffered a bone bruise down the stretch of the 2012 season, when the Yankees were clinging to a slim lead in the division. He was forced to leave the game on September 12th in Boston, which raised panic flags throughout the clubhouse. If Jeter leaves a game, it must be serious.
Still, to nobody’s surprise, Jeter insisted he was fine and wouldn’t talk about injuries, while helping the club clinch the division. In a tight ALDS with the Orioles, which went the full five games, Jeter batted .364, carrying the team to a series win with help from a heroic Raul Ibanez.
It is remarkable to think about the production he provided given the severity of his injury, which Jeter later admitted he shouldn’t have been playing on, though he still didn’t regret it. That was Jeter in a nutshell.
Everything was for the game and for the win. It wasn’t always an attribute that was understood to those that don’t possess that same intensity and fire, but it was always something that could be respected and appreciated.
So when his weakened ankle finally snapped, and the heart and soul of the Yankees could no longer play through it, the team was swept away by the Tigers in four games, leaving Jeter to rehab an ankle that had “broken in half.”
It is hard to think about 2012 without reliving that horrible moment in extra innings at the Stadium. When the calendar flipped to October, there was nothing short of a broken ankle that would keep the Jeter out of the lineup. He basically played the 2001 World Series on one leg, and probably would have limped out onto the field for game two of the 2012 ALCS if he could.
Instead of picturing Jeter being carried off the field when we talk about 2012, let’s remember Jeter carrying the team in a resurgent season, finishing seventh in the MVP voting when many expected mediocrity at best. The 2012 season was really an embodiment of what Jeter represented his entire career. He gave it his all until it was physically impossible to give any more.
The 2012 season may have been the beginning of the end for Jeter’s amazing career, but the season itself should not be remembered for the moment nobody wants to think about. It should be remembered for all that was given leading up to that moment.
(Above: Highlights from Jeter’s 2012 season)