New York Yankees legendary shortstop Derek Jeter is nearing the finale of a remarkable career, but with his age and string of recent injuries, is it possible that the Yankees are better off without the 20 year veteran? 2014 caps off the final season for Jeter, and while he’s been somewhat hindered by injury, the pinstripe faithful will forever remember him for jaw-dropping moments like when he cut across the pitcher’s mound in the 2001 ALCS against Oakland, snagging a throw from right field that missed the cutoff man and flipping the ball home narrowly beating Jeremy Giambi for the out. Or when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning in the 2001 World Series to the sounds of the midnight bells ringing throughout Yankee Stadium, and drove a hanging slider from Byung-Hyun Kim to the opposite field, clearing the wall and sending Yankee Stadium into pandemonium. It’s moments like these that make legends, and moments like this that will put him alongside a flurry of pinstripe legends like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio.
What happens when a player gets older and his body begins to fail him? The knees buckle, the quads tighten, and no matter how determined, father time inevitably throws you a wicked curveball that’s unhittable. More and more time is spent riding the pine, sitting in ice-baths and watching the game from the first step of the dugout. Nobody wants to see their favorite ballplayer grow old and become a shell of what they once were, but Derek Jeter is not just any ordinary player. If Lou Gehrig was “The Iron Horse,” then Jeter is “The Man of Steel.”
A lot can be said about the intangibles that true leaders bring to the ball field, and nobody in the history of baseball sums it up better than Derek Jeter. Love or hate the Yankees, Jeter has been the one common denominator that drips class, and he plays the game the way it was meant to be played. Sure, he’s eclipsed the 3,000 hit mark, been dubbed “Mr. November,” and has the record for most hits by a Yankee, but it’s his mighty moments, ones that don’t make the stat sheet that will be played on every MLB highlight reel until the end of time. Plays like “The Flip,” or his willingness to dive into the first few rows of seats like he did in the 12th inning against their dreaded rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in 2004, that separates him from the rest. There’s a past. A great past, but now there’s the present. Sure, he’ll never be on the same level that he once was, but does that mean that the Yankees are better off without him in the lineup? Statistically? Probably so. He most likely will not bat anywhere near his career average of .312, or be able to cover the ground that he has in the past, but his presence on the diamond still goes way beyond stats, and way beyond big highlight reel plays.
Every Yankee fan wants to see their knight ride off on his white horse into a somewhat smoggy Bronx sunset, but perhaps a slow and gentle strut into the sunset is better suited. The New York Yankees are a team that will always be relevant. They’ll always be able to secure good players, great players for that matter, but to ever assume that they would be better off without Derek Jeter in the lineup is like saying that they’d be better off trying to hit a major league fastball with a Wiffle Ball bat. At his very worse, number two will be more important to the Yankees than any other overpaid up and coming star that steps between the lines. He’s a leader in every sense of the word. Love him, hate him, boo him, cheer him, and do whatever you’d like, but respect him and cherish the fact that we have witnessed one of the best baseball players to ever play the game.
Commentary by Johnny Caito