I was never a Derek Jeter fan. Before I became a reporter, I was a fan of the New York Mets and during that era, Mike Piazza was my man.
Jeter? He was for those who rooted for the other side of town. He was their guy and not ours.
However, no matter how infuriated he made you by his play, you could never hate him.
First of all, he did everything correctly and never, ever had a problem on or off the field. (Matt Harvey should take note.)
As the face of the Yankees, Jeter was the perfect role model. The Mets David Wright one told me that every young player in New York could learn something from watching the way Jeter conducted himself. Even with all the clutch hits and World Series rings, that record may have been the most impressive.
Yet, on the field you wouldn’t think Jeter was a Hall of Famer just by looking at him. He wasn’t the biggest or strongest. He never won an MVP and frankly for the first nine years of his career, he wasn’t even the best shortstop in baseball. His “buddy” Alex Rodriguez took home that honor.
But Jeter was a winner. The tighter the situation, the more he bared down and rose. He could come up with the clutch moments when the situation dictated it the most.
Oh, and did he like to do it against the Yankees biggest rivals. Against the Red Sox, a .291 batting average with 26 homers and 138 RBI, the most homers against any team. When he played the Orioles, Jeter hit .296 with 24 homers and his best 144 RBI.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, what he did against the Mets was cruel. A .364 batting average with 13 homers 44 RBI and that was with a fraction of the at-bats compared to the Sox and Orioles. He loved Queens, even though the Flushing Faithful didn’t like him.
It’s that type of clutch play that made him revered in the Bronx and grumbled at by other fan bases. It’s also why this is the first number retirement of the late 1990 teams, which no one should question.
“There isn’t a person or player I would trade places with that’s playing now or ever,” Jeter said to the sellout crowd of Yankee fans at the on the field ceremony. “And the reason why I say that is because I got a chance to play for a first-class organization and in front of the greatest fans in the history of sports.”
A cynic would say the Yankees retired Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams just to sell tickets the past few seasons. They were great players, but none of them will get into the Hall of Fame.
Mariano Rivera will and his No. 42 should be retired, but that was hung up the last home game he played at Yankee Stadium and there wasn’t a ceremony for it. In fact, he played three games in Boston after getting honored.
But with Jeter, you knew this day was inevitable, just as his Hall of Fame induction in a few years. His 3,465 make him an automatic. It was the most hits of any New York Yankee and that includes some of the greatest players in history.
Events like today allow for hyperbole. Some Yankee fans think Jeter is the greatest Yankee ever. His isn’t and maybe not even in the top five. Some would like to see Jeter’s No. 2 get honored like Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, but that’s silly, because Robinson went through hell when he started out and paved the way for players like Jeter. The only booing Jeter heard was because of the uniform he wore and not the color of his skin.
But even with those roll your eyes moments, everyone can agree Jeter deserves this day. Clutch to a fault and a leader by example, No. 2 earned his place in Monument Park.