On Friday night, September 26, 2008, Derek Jeter played in a baseball game that didn’t matter. The Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 19-8 that night and up until this week’s All-Star break, it was the only one of Jeter’s 2,685 regular season games where the Yankees had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
2,685 baseball games played and only one that didn’t matter. One.
Jeter took his All-Star bow last night at Target Field and it was nearly perfect. From his taped introduction from the voice of God to the thunderous ovation from everyone in the stadium before his first at bat. National League pitcher Adam Wainwright provided a nice touch by placing his glove and ball on the mound and stepping off the back to join in the applause and stretch the moment to the appropriate length.
Jeter finally settled into the box and as the FOX announcers let the moment bathe in natural sound, a nit-wit fan (Was it A-Rod? Who let him in?) was clearly heard yelling, “overrated” twice. Jeter obviously didn’t hear him, but you’d swear he did as he shut the clown up by lacing a double to the opposite field. You have a criticism of Jeter? You’re wrong, and he’ll prove it quickly.
In the “twitter can make a mountain out of any molehill” world we now live in, Wainwright was bashed for suggesting he’d piped a couple of pitches for Jeter. Many took to the twitter pulpit immediately as if Wainwright had bet on the outcome of the game and shot up steroids while doing so. “Wainwright has clearly stained the sanctity of the game and should be burned at the stake!”
Intrepid (and oh so young and pretty) reporter Erin Andrews played her part, attaching a grave look to her face when she questioned Wainwright about why he’d killed that man, rigged the election perhaps gutted a couple of fastballs to Jeter.
When it all got back to Jeter postgame, he gave a short response that nicely encapsulated why he’s Derek Jeter.
“He grooved them? I don’t know man….if he grooved it, thank you. You still have to hit it.”
Above the fray and out of the nonsense, just like always. That’s Derek Jeter.
Another opposite field single and another goose-bump inducing moment when he exited the game after taking the field in the top of the fourth. Jeter saluted the National League dugout before tipping his cap to the crowd and then hugged every player in the American League dugout. (And these were real hugs, Jeter hugs, not A-Rod hugs where he was already looking glassy-eyed past the guy he was embracing. You almost expected each player to get a gift basket after Jeter moved on to the next guy.)
Oh, and the American League won, of course. Derek Jeter was on their team, so they won, that’s how it works.
Jeter arrived in MLB in the mid-90’s along with Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, as a trio of superstar shortstops. They were the progression of the position that Cal Ripken had started: shortstops who could not only field, but hit like stars. Miguel Tejada soon joined them. When all the dust settles, Jeter might be the only one of them in the Hall of Fame.
A-Rod became infamous. Nomar and Miggy became Almost Famous. Jeter? He’s cool man, trust me, I’ve seen him and he’s cool. WAR doesn’t measure how cool somebody is and Jeter’s as cool as any cat that ‘s played baseball since George Brett.
Let’s get this part out of the way: He never won an MVP. He never won a batting title. He never hit 25 home runs. He only reached 100 RBIs once. Now let me repeat this: There’s no stat for cool. There used to be a stat for clutch, but Jeter broke it.
If you want to tell me that Jeter’s zone coverage analytic declined over the last decade, go ahead, but I’d ask that you put down your protractor and go look at pictures of Minka Kelly, Jessica Alba, Adrianna Lima and Jessica Biel.
Derek Jeter won five rings. Derek Jeter has more hits than any other New York Yankee ever. He’s the longest-tenured captain of the greatest franchise in the history of sports. Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve was quoted this week as saying, “He’s not just the captain of the Yankees, he’s the captain of baseball.”
Here’s one for the stat-heads: Jeter is one of only two players to have over 3,000 hits, 250 home runs, 300 stolen bases and 1,200 RBIs. The other is Willie Mays.
No stage was ever too big. The bigger the game, the better Jeter got. He worked his ass off and got everything he could possibly get out of his talent. At 40, he’s clearly not the player he once was, but did you think he’d let anybody down last night in his final All-Star game? With the entire sports planet watching him and hoping for the best, he went two-for-two and made a fantastic fielding play. The lights were the brightest imaginable and Jeter came through. That’s what he does.
“The flip” is perhaps his most famous play, and some have deemed it as overrated over the years. It’s not. Who backs up a cut off throw down the first base line? A guy who’s paying attention to everything around him, that’s who. Go watch the clip again, Jeter takes off the second Shane Spencer uncorks his throw because he knows it’s sailing over the head of the cutoff man and ending up in no man’s land.
Jeter spent a lot of time in no man’s land. Five rings. No scandals. More beautiful girlfriends than George Clooney. For god’s sake, Jeter let go of the only woman on earth who didn’t want to marry Tim Riggins.
No sports fans on earth hate something as much as Red Sox fans hate the Yankees. But even Red Sox fans are going to get misty and mumble “Derek freaking Jeetah” under their breath when the captain plays his last baseball game, which is scheduled to be Sunday, September 28 at Fenway Park.
It will be nearly six years from the day that he played in the one game that didn’t matter.
But of course it mattered. Derek Jeter was playing in it.
– Bill Hubbell