A Final Farewell to the Captain
It was a busy Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees and Astros played a single-admission doubleheader, with a ceremony for Derek Jeter between games where his #2 was retired, and a plaque in Monument Park was unveiled for him.
The Yankees won Game 1 11-6 thanks largely to a base-clearing triple from Chase Headley that gave them the lead in the the seventh inning. However, they lost Game 2 by a score of 10-7. Masahiro Tanaka got shelled to the tune of eight runs through 1.2 innings. With the split doubleheader, the Yankees lost three out of four to Houston and moved to 22-13 on the season, good for first place in the AL East.
The story of the night was not the games, though. It was Derek Jeter.
After Game 1, Jeter’s former manager Joe Torre talked to the media and had, of course, high praise for the Captain. After Torre, former teammates Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada, and Tino Martinez all spoke about Jeter.
After those press conferences, you could feel a palpable buzz around the Stadium in anticipation of the ceremonies. For 20 years, Yankee fans showered Jeter with love, and Sunday night was no different.
The Yankees are no strangers to these ceremonies, and they delivered another fantastic one to honor Jeter. After playing some of Jeter’s tribute commercials and highlight videos, the main event arrived. On the scoreboard, Jeter was shown surrounded by loved ones as he unveiled his retired number.
Then, various guests took the field for the ceremony. In addition to the five men mentioned above, guests included Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Hideki Matsui, Gerald Williams, David Cone, Joe Girardi, Gene Michael, and others. After Jeter was given gifts by the Yankees, he finally had his chance to speak. After being showered with love and appreciation all day, it was Jeter’s turn to return the favor.
He gave a genuine, seemingly heartfelt speech that lasted for about three minutes, and he said was unprepared. He thanked everyone involved including the Yankees, his family, the guests, and of course, the fans. Full audio of the speech, and all other audio, is attached below. Overall it was a great night, for a great person and a great player.
For two decades, Jeter was a beacon of consistency, and a role model for fans to emulate on and off the field. For as much as Jeter always did the right thing on the field, he also did and said the right thing off the field. He gets so much credit for how great of a person he is, that people often forget just how great of a player he was.
He has the sixth-most hits in baseball history and the most in Yankees history (3,465). He is a 14-time All-Star, a 5-time Gold Glover, a 5-time Silver Slugger, and most importantly, a 5-time World Series Champion. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1996, and although he never won an MVP in 20 seasons, he finished in the top-10 of the voting eight times, and in the top-13 ten times, which is half of his career. That is consistent greatness.
It’s not just accomplishments that define Jeter’s greatness, the stats do as well. His career slash line is .310/.377/.440. Performing at that high of a level, on average, over 20 seasons, is remarkable.
For anyone that spews nonsense saying he isn’t a truly great player, how’s this for a stat? There have been tens of thousands of players throughout baseball history. Of them all, Derek Jeter is the only one with at least 3,400 hits, 250 home runs, and 350 stolen bases. So, you can argue that he’s not an all-time great, but you’re wrong.
Perhaps more so than his stats and accomplishments, Derek Jeter is defined by his moments. I would argue that no player in the history of sports has as many memorable moments as The Captain. The first moment that comes to your head could be different for everyone. There’s the flip play, the 3000th hit, the final game walk-off, the dive into the stands, and countless clutch hits and homers in the playoffs. MLB.com even put together a “Jeet 16” tournament of his greatest moments. What other player could have something like that done with 16 legitimately great moments? Nobody except Derek Jeter. So as great as his stats were, he is moreso defined by these moments, his flare for the dramatic, and his ability to deliver in big spots time and time again. We’ll remember him for his stats and his accomplishments, but we’ll most remember him for his moments
On a personal level, like all Yankee fans my age, Derek Jeter will always be a special part of my childhood. For 20 years, I did not know what Yankee baseball was like without Jeter. Most baseball memories from my childhood involve The Captain in one way or another.
I had the privilege of meeting Jeter in a St. Louis restaurant when I was 9 years old. I had traveled with my parents to see the Yankees play the Cardinals for the first of many Yankee road trips. We went into a restaurant that we were told opposing players like to dine at in St. Louis. Sure enough, when we walked in, we saw Derek Jeter and a handful of other players sharing a table. I remember being nervous as can be getting their autographs, and I probably looked ridiculous in my outfit that consisted of a collared shirt, a Yankees cap, and an A-Rod sling bag. Still, they signed for me and were extremely nice. We ended up sitting at the table across from them, and the lasting memory I have of that night is looking up at their table and making direct eye contact with Jeter. He just smiled and watched the spaghetti hang from my mouth.
Jeter is also responsible for the greatest sports moment I’ve ever witnessed live: his 3000th hit. I went to the game with my dad and cousin, and he was two hits away. I remember the 2,999 hit vividly. A single through the left side. At that point it was loudest I had ever heard Yankee Stadium. It was of course even louder after his next at bat. I recall seeing the ball hit off the bat and knowing it was going to do it. I remember my dad turning to me and saying, “He did it!” as the ball soared over the left field fence.
Last night I was fortunate enough to cover the event for us, something I’m of course grateful for. Jeter’s jersey retirement felt like the official end of the era of Yankees baseball that I grew up watching.
Now, Derek Jeter will likely come back for Old-Timers Days, and he will of course never be forgotten; he’ll remain part of the Yankees family forever. However, last night certainly had an element of finality to it. The Derek Jeter era is officially over.
It’s fair to say that it feels like Jeter has had countless farewells, but last night was special. It was a final farewell to the Captain.
All the sound from the night is attached in the link to this SoundCloud playlist. Audio includes:
-Derek Jeter's full speech to the crowd
-Derek Jeter's full press conference
-Joe Torre's full press conference
-Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettite's full joint press conference
-Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez's full joint press conference
-Clips from Joe Girardi and Chase Headley talking about Jeter