One Last Hurrah for Jeter: The Captain Walks Away Unscathed

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report 

When it was over Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, it felt scripted.

Derek Jeter's next stop is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Derek Jeter’s next stop is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Derek Sanderson Jeter, the elegant shortstop with the rough-house hockey player’s name, lined the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth of his final home game in the Bronx to put an exclamation point on the most extraordinary Yankee career since Mickey Mantle called it quits over 45 years ago.

That Jeter’s euphoric swan song came on the 41st anniversary of Willie Mays saying goodbye to America was somehow apropos in degree of love. There are some sports figures, regardless of statistics, that are bigger than life, so easily identifiable that they become ingrained in the culture, breeding reactions one way or the other.

Jeter has always been such a figure.

While pundits and lover-haters argues where the Captain belongs in the pantheon of New York sports legends, there was no debating two points.

* The last 20 years should be known as the Jeter Era in New York sports and….
* No Yankee everyday player ever went off into the sunset so gloriously and yet unscathed as the Pequannock, N.J. product.

Some were better. A handful won more often. But in the ultimate irony, for two decades one of the ultimate Yankees was the quintessential Artful Dodger, staying out of trouble, maintaining his poise and earning enough respect to be appreciated by a large portion of non Yankee fans.

Think about some other great Yankee everyday players.

There was no tragic ending like Munson or Gehrig. No aloofness or injury like Joe D. No prima donna theatrics like A-Rod or Reggie. And no unhealthy lifestyle underlined by a degree of sadness like Mantle or Ruth.

It wasn’t perfect, but like DiMaggio’s swing and stride it was the epitome of grace.

Oh, there could have been an even better ending with his team missing the postseason for a second straight year. After so much early glory, the Yankees won only one world title in Jeter’s final 14 seasons and missed the postseason in three of his final seven.

Some have picked on his defensive deficiencies (including a negative career defensive WAR) and noted that he might not have been the best or most important Yankee when they won four world titles from 1996-2000. With this ammunition, any analysis would leave him off the list of top five players in franchise history and any top 20 list of all players.

But other numbers tell another story and in Jeter’s case, the whole always seemed to exceed the sum of its parts; he was the guy you didn’t want to face with the game on the line in the late innings. Unlike his talented es-teammate Robinson Cano, October was his time with some 200 career postseason hits, many of them memorable and important.

Many have criticized the over-the-top nature of his farewell tour (remember that Mays retired only five days before his night, while Mantle called it quits in Match). But is there ever any good way to say goodbye to our heroes?

The light of their glory, while bright, always shines too briefly. With this sentiment for a moment Thursday night it felt like the 2001 World Series again with Jeter’s game-winning homer earning the unique moniker of Mr, November.

And yes, since it was his first walk off hit in seven years, one couldn’t help but wonder if he was served up a meatball like Denny McLain delivered to Mantle in the closing days of 1968.

But such is so often the legacy of great ones; so many things go right that we often wonder if their path is scripted. They see things we can never see and hold the keys to kingdoms of which most of us can only imagine.

So it has been for the Yankees’ unscathed captain, who Thursday night added one last special chapter before stepping away into our collective memories.

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