Derek Jeter didn’t catch the final out of the 1996 World Series. Charlie Hayes did.
But to a generation of New York Yankee fans that were starved for a championship (at the time), Jeter might as well have been responsible for every hit, run, and out during that title run and the four others that followed.
That same generation saw Jeter end his 2012 season lying on the infield dirt with a fracture in his ankle after completing a flip to second base in the American League Championship series against Detroit.
Deflated after the injury the Yankees lost that series and Jeter would have surgery and months of rehab ahead. He returned for one game and four at-bats nearly two weeks ago. The result was a Grade 1 right quad strain, and the 39-year-old is back on the 15-day disabled list after an MRI showed no improvement. The soonest Jeter can return is July 27.
After this news was announced, a story on Friday by blog For The Win compiled tweets from baseball fans pushing for Jeter’s retirement. Most of them started with a preamble to Jeter’s surefire trip to Cooperstown, but ended with a dispirited “retire already” because they didn’t want to see him battle through injuries anymore.
And that’s the unusual crux of the problem. We watched Jeter's incredible rise over the past two decades, but now we can't bear to watch him deteriorate in a time when public breakdowns by celebrities and athletes are commonplace.
The revelation is similar to the first time we realize that our parents are not invincible and are capable of mistakes. Instead, what we want is for Jeter to stop for our sake. Not his. And the truth is we’re being selfish.
It’s been a pleasure, even a privilege, to watch a career as far-reaching and unique as Jeter’s. We should instead force our selfishness in another direction, and squeeze out every last second we can get of Jeter on the diamond. Even shove him back onto the field if we have to.
Think of everything he has accomplished, and you’ll ask for more. Over the course of 19 years, Jeter is the only Yankee with more than 3,000 career hits. He has five World Series rings, 13-All-Star Game appearances, and came to embody the very best of New York. He was gracious in the face of success that most athletes would have used as an excuse to act like the brats and rap-sheet padders we’ve become accustomed to.
We’ve seen players wither before our eyes plenty of times, and Yankee and baseball fans want Jeter to stop now. Stop the stints on the disabled list, the rehabs, and the gut-wrenching anxiousness in our stomachs that builds up while we wait for his return.
Yes, he made millions upon millions, and has been handsomely paid by one of the richest organizations in all of sports with every beer, program, and ticket purchased by fans.
But we forget luck plopped Jeter into our laps in the 1992 amateur draft. Five teams (Houston, Cleveland, Montreal, Baltimore, and Cincinnati) passed on Jeter in the first round. Three years later he made his debut and played in 15 games, before earning the starting shortstop position for the next 17 years. Other than a shoulder injury in 2003, Jeter routinely played 150-plus games a season, and fans certainly got their money’s worth.
Maybe he could have been just as great someplace else. But no fan base could have embraced and loved Jeter more than New York.
The current situation is the exact one Yankees management envisioned before they signed Jeter to a three-year contract extension in 2010. The exasperated Captain didn’t understand why negotiations took so long and neither did fans, but the club didn’t know when he would eventually breakdown, especially at a position as taxing on the body as shortstop.
Still Jeter’s success and sway with fans guaranteed a longer stay in the Bronx, even if Yankee faithful and management were worried about a public breakdown of Jeter’s body.
His success has afforded him the comparison to such greats in other sports like Michael Jordan and John Elway. Both had their defining moments to step away on top. Jordan with his shot and pose over Bryon Russell in Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals, and Elway his career-ending victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
For Jeter we remember the Flip, and the Dive, and the day two years ago when he reached the 3,000-hit milestone. Not to mention how much the city rallied around Jeter and Yankees after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Yankee Stadium became a unified church for millions of New Yorkers in the first two months following that horrific day, and Jeter stoically led us in the cathartic ritual of baseball.
I’m asking Yankee and baseball fans to keep the retirement talk on the bench for now and give him more time. More games, more plays, more at-bats, and certainly more of your patience.
We can say it’s more time for Jeter, but it’s really for us. Enough time for one more moment.