You may have heard that Derek Jeter will be retiring at the end of this season. His brilliant career resume will no doubt gain him entrance to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, but it's no secret that his farewell tour is leaving a lot to be desired. That is, it's not a secret to anybody but Jeter himself apparently.
Excellence on and off the field has been the calling card of Jeter's nearly two decades in the big leagues. While no list of all-time great shortstops is complete without him, what made him the player that defined his generation was how he handled it all. New York City has a bit of a track record when it comes to derailing the careers of young, highly successful athletes. It easily could have chewed up and spit out Jeter too, just 26 years old by the time he had won his fourth World Series ring, but by all accounts he was a model citizen.
His many rumored relationships were drama-free, his charitable donations were frequent and abundant, and his vices were seemingly non-existent. Better yet, he was the ultimate team player. Thanks to a calm demeanor, he instilled confidence in his peers, many of them experienced veterans. He was quick to deflect praise and place it on his superiors, he never complained publicly, even to umpires, and he preached winning above all else. Basically, he was the epitome of selflessness when most people in his position wouldn't be, and that's why he was named Yankee captain in 2003.
That's also why Jeter's farewell season seems so curious to some people. He can't hit anymore, his fielding, which was never great to begin with, continues to be poor, and his once reliable base running has even been shaky at best. By any measure he's been among the worst shortstops in baseball and hurting his team, yet he's still playing everyday and batting second nonetheless. One can make the case, and Howard Megdal did earlier this week, that Jeter is now acting selfishly by continuing to stay in the lineup everyday when his team has better options behind him. Especially now that the Yankees are entering must-win territory just to stay alive.
However, Jeter's not the first future Hall of Famer whose body has quit on him before his mind was willing to. It's also not entirely fair to call a player in that situation selfish. There's little doubt that he truly believes he's still the Yankees' best option to play shortstop and bat second, just as he had been for his entire career up to this point. If that's the case from Jeter's perspective, then from that same perspective the selfish act would be calling it quits and letting his teammates down. The pride, drive and determination that allowed him to be an elite player until he was 38 years old just doesn't fade that quickly, the gift eventually becomes a curse. Sad? Unfortunate? Absolutely. Selfish? Not exactly.
Which brings us to Derek Jeter Day. Today the Yankees celebrated one of the greatest players in franchise history with their trademark pomp and circumstance. In front of a packed house they showered him with compliments, gifts, and praise. He deserves every bit of praise that he got today but the timing of it all is extremely disappointing. Jeter resting on his laurels when there's still work to do is just about the last thing you would expect out of him. This is a guy who has preached winning and teamwork above all else now allowing the focus to get away from that when it's needed most and placed squarely on him. Even if the Yankees' playoff chances are in the snowball in hell range right now, you'd have to believe that Jeter, as captain, more than anybody else, still believes. It certainly would have been within his power to say thanks, but no thanks to this type of thing because it would put his needs ahead of the team's. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. It's his action, or lack thereof, here that seems a bit selfish and incredibly unlike the Derek Jeter we all know and love.
To make matters worse, Jeter and his teammates will now play out the rest of the season wearing a patch to remind them and their opponents just how great their captain was. Even as a young player, he was never the type to flaunt his personal achievements, only his rings, which were a team effort. Now he'll be making up for lost time. Sure the Yankees did the same for Mariano Rivera last year, but at least they waited until the last homestand of the season which kept the exposure of his patch to a minimum. Three weeks worth of the Jeter patch just seems excessive and again, un-Jeterian.
So how should the Yankees and Derek Jeter have handled this situation? How about his very own day next year complete with a monument dedication and number retirement ceremony when he's, you know, actually retired. Then he could have sat back and enjoyed a game at Yankee Stadium as a spectator with friends and former coaches and teammates. That probably would have been the classy move. The type of move that we've all grown to expect from Mr. Jeter.