Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle–all historic New York Yankees and celebrity icons that have names so memorable that even those with no taste for baseball would recognize them instantly. What else do they have in common? They were all out-hit by Derek Jeter, the modern-day equivalent in Yankee lore who announced he would be done after the 2014 season.
Because Jeter plays in an era where larger-than-life celebrities are commonplace and constant invasions of privacy are expected, his legacy will perhaps not outshine Yankee heroes of previous generations. They played the game when baseball was the country’s unrivaled sport of choice, and their black-and-white photographs have a long-ago, almost mystical feel to them. Unlike old-time Yankee greats, every play of Derek Jeter’s baseball career is readily available in a video archive, much of it in HD, and hundreds of thousands of fans watched his career unfold in front of them live on their TV from the comfort of their own home. While he may not share that same romantic feel that his earlier peers have, his accomplishments in pinstripes were no less impressive.
He banged out over 3,300 hits. He stole over 300 bases. He has exactly enough World Series rings to cover an entire hand’s worth of fingers. He grossed over $250 million over the course of his career, which now figures to span from a brief cameo in 1995 all the way to 2014, an even 20 years of owning the spotlight playing for a storied franchise that annually draws among the highest attendances in the sport.
In fact, Jeter is unmatched relative to his Yankee peers in many career categories. He sits atop the franchise leader board in games played, plate appearances, hits, stolen bases, times on base, and even less flattering categories such as strikeouts and double plays grounded into. He should also have a shot at overtaking Gehrig as the franchise leader in doubles; he currently needs nine more, a number that is almost guaranteed if his health permits him to play regularly enough before being done after 2014.
Just a few short years ago, the Yankees and the team’s captain were at an impasse. The aging star had reached the end of his current contract with the team, and by rights was welcome to test out the free agency market and finish out his career somewhere else–anywhere that gave him the amount of money he was looking for. It was unfortunate timing for both parties, as Jeter was then 36 and coming off what was easily his worst full season since breaking into the league. The team struggled to come to terms with its franchise cornerstone, as offering too little could be forever damaging and offering too much could put them on the hook for a player who may have been close to finished.
The two sides would eventually iron out a three-year, $51 million deal with a player option for 2014, a contract that theoretically ensured Jeter would spend his last days with the franchise that drafted him. That agreement has since been fulfilled, and when Jeter signed a one-year extension worth $12 million back in November, it may have foreshadowed the announcement that was to come a few months later.
The end is approaching for a player who deserves his place among the elite in Yankee history. He was criticized at times for suspect defense, annoyed fans who grew tired of the constant media hype surrounding him, and certainly did not hit for the kind of power other Yankee legends did. Even so, Jeter played with unwavering effort and unparalleled consistency in an era that sees few players stick with one team their entire career. Arguments among statistically-inclined fans over his true value set aside, now is the to time to see a treasured part of baseball history before he gracefully departs forever. After all, Derek Jeter is done after 2014.
By Spencer Hendricks