New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter waves as he arrives to work out at the baseball team's minor league facility this week. (Chris O'Meara / Associated Press)
They are joined — Jack Chesbro, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Mariano Rivera — and now Derek Jeter.
A century plus 10 of immortal Yankees.
Rivera’s farewell tour in 2013 was fireworks and tears, presents and cheers. Baseball America dropped to its knees in adoration. New York drooled. In every city where the Yankees played, Rivera was saluted. Opposing players lined up on their dugout steps to join in the rousing applause.
Alas, imagine what sort of ceremonies the Yankees are going to cook up for Jeter’s last voyage around Major League Baseball. The final act of the grand passion play: The Glorification of Derek Jeter.
Imagine the marketing bonanza; “Get you Derek Jeter memorabilia right here”!
Forever in pinstripes!
Jeter – approaching age 40 and hobbled last season – declared the other day before the Yankees opened their spring camp that 2014 would be his last season. His ballclub did not issue a press release. He did not gather the sports journalists – the writers and radio people and TV personnel – around him and tell them this is it, it’s all over after the coming season.
Instead, Jeter told the world about his impending retirement in the modern way. He announced it on his Facebook page.
Past his prime
Derek Jeter was – emphasis on the past tense – a magnificent ballplayer. He was never the greatest shortstop and he was not the greatest hitter. But he could make plays in the field that other shortstops never could make.
His backward flip from the first-base grandstand railing to nab a runner at home plate goes into my book as the most sensational defensive play in the history of baseball. He made other plays diving into the seats behind third base at Yankee Stadium.
He was a timely batsman. A home-run hitter when the Yankees needed a home run.
All of it in the past tense.
Like so many star ballplayers, players assuredly headed to the Hall of Fame, Jeter is sticking around beyond his time.
Ruth hung around too long and pitifully moved from the Yankees to the Boston Braves – before he gave it all up two months into the 1935 season.
A stricken Gehrig could barely move when he played the first several games of the 1939 season – before ending his career and his consecutive-game streak of 2,130 in Detroit.
History hints that Jeter might realize sometime during the 2014 season that he is no longer the skilled, magnificent ballplayer he was when the Yankees dominated baseball in the 1990s and a bit more in this century. Last season, laden with injuries, Jeter managed to appear in 17 ballgames. He could post only an embarrassing .190 batting average. He hit just one home run.
He spilled out his feelings in his Facebook notice:
“As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and had always been fun started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward.”
These words are so revealing we must speculate that Derek might opt to retire at any time.
Forever in pinstripes!
In other towns throughout baseball it is fashionable to hate the Damn Yankees. Lots of the fans’ hatred should be attributed to jealousy.
Transcended the 'Big Apple'
Nonetheless, Jeter is the most popular player in the game. Beyond New York.
When he does go, I just hope Derek does not follow Gehrig’s lead – and announce his retirement in Detroit. For some odd reason, Jeter is heavily, and disgracefully, booed at Comerica Park.
It more mystifying because Detroit is booing one of Michigan’s own. He grew up in Kalamazoo although he was born in New Jersey. He starred at Kalamazoo Central.
As a kid, he would listen to Ernie Harwell broadcast the Tigers’ games. There were times he would go into Detroit for games at Tiger Stadium.
He was briefly a student at the University of Michigan in 1992 before leaving to play professional baseball.
Forever in pinstripes!
Well, not quite.
My list started with mention of Jack Chesbro.
He was the first famous player for New York’s American League franchise when the game was young. Chesbro pitched for the New York Highlanders in the first decade of the 20th century.
It was 110 years ago that Chesbro stood at the pitcher’s mound at Hilltop Park in the far north of Manhattan. He was spiffy in his New York uniform, navy blue with the collar wrapped around his neck, the N below his right shoulder and the Y below his left. He was juicing up the baseball.
The spitball was legal then and Chesbro won 41 games for the Highlanders that season of 1904. The 41 victories in a season remains a Major-League record all these years later.
That was the beginning of the longest running history story in American sports. Chesbro pitched in Hall of Fame fashion before the New York club was renamed the Yankees. He pitched in the vintage uniform, a tab collar around his neck, before the classic pinstripes. He pitched nearly a generation before Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees and revolutionized offensive baseball. He pitched two decades before the opening of the first Yankee Stadium. He pitched before the Yankees’ multiple championship dynasties.
Jack Chesbro never received a farewell tour. The Yankees released him on waivers. But he was first in this Yankees legacy.
The historic legacy that Derek Jeter has joined.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column on Sundays at detroitnews.com.