Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thoughts On Jeter's Retirement Announcement

By now we've all had time to read and digest yesterday's somewhat shocking announcement by Derek Jeter.  I say shocking because while I believed that this would be Jeter's last season, I definitely didn't see him going the Mo route and announcing it before the season and I definitely definitely didn't see him doing it via a pretty personal message posted to his Facebook page.

I said yesterday when I first posted the story that I needed time to gather my thoughts on this, and to be perfectly honest I'm still not sure how to go about writing about it.  Derek Jeter has been my favorite baseball player and favorite professional athlete period since his rookie season in 1996, the season that I first remember really paying close attention to the game of baseball and the first season where I could truly say I was a Yankee fan.  He's the greatest Yankee I'll ever see in my lifetime and some of my greatest sports memories are Jeter plays.  The Flip, the home run in the '01 World Series, the dive into the stands, the 3,000th hit.  I can remember those plays and where I was when I first saw them more vividly than I can remember what I did last Sunday afternoon.

I've also taken a much more objective stance in how I've viewed and written about Jeter in the last 2 years, almost to the point of being anti-Jeter at times.  I came right out and said I wanted him to retire in September because I didn't want to see him hobble through another lost season in 2014 and have those last 2 years be the final images of him that I'd remember.  So it was a bit of a clash of emotions yesterday when I read his message and started thinking back on all the Jeter memories I have, good and bad.  I'm already rambling here, and I don't think there's any way I can try to weave all of what I'm going to write into one coherent narrative, so to make it easier I'll just break it up into bite-size chunks and at least get some of what's been going through my head out there.

- The first thing that stood out to me about the announcement was Jeter's admission that last year's injuries affected him and his decision so profoundly.  One of Jeter's defining characteristics as a player has been his never-wavering desire to play and be on the field and the defiance he showed to anything or anyone that tried to prevent him from doing that.  We've heard a million stories about Jeter being hurt, sick, or tired and talking his way into the lineup and I thought for sure we were going to get back to that this season with all the injuries behind him.

- I can't help but wonder if there's something that Jeter felt or noticed in his game as he's been working out at the team facility in Tampa over the last week or so that influenced this decision.  Maybe the ankle is still bothering him.  Maybe he doesn't feel that same spring and strength in his legs that he used to even after a regular offseason workout schedule.  I don't want to start any unnecessary worry or conspiracy theories, but it did strike me as odd that he would choose now, when he's out there busting his ass to get ready for the start of the season, to come out and say that it's going to be his last.

- As for how that will play out over the next 7 and hopefully more months, I think there's obviously going to be some level of honor and tribute paid to Jeter by other teams when the Yankees are on the road this year.  But to those people who are already throwing up their hands and saying, "Jesus, we have to do this shit again?!?  We just did it for Mo last year!", I'd advise them to pump the brakes before complaining too much.  Jeter following Mo's lead and making the retirement announcement early in the year does not automatically mean he's going to follow Mo's script completely.  Jeter's not really the type for personal accolades and I don't think he'd want to have a big pregame ceremony at home plate every few days.  Jeter's not Mo.  He's a different guy and he's looked at differently by baseball fans.  Mo was and is universally loved.  Jeter is more universally respected, begrudgingly by most.  I'm not sure that equates to the type of season-long celebration that Mo got and I don't think Jeter would want that.

- That said, the ceremony at Yankee Stadium for his final home series this year is going to be BANANAS.  I don't know how or if I can find a way to get to The Stadium for that, but one of the first things I did yesterday when the story broke was email my buddies who went with me to the Red Sox series in September and say we had to try to do that again for Jeter.

- Even if we don't make it for that, I should still get to see him for 3 days in May when the Yanks come to Milwaukee.  Thank you, new interleague play rules!

- On the topic of Mo and his possible influence, I definitely think there's something to that.  Jeter had a lot of time to watch Mo during his final year last year and he got to see Mo do what most pro athletes don't get the chance to do and go out on his own terms.  Not only that, he got to see Mo go out still at the top of his game, which I have to think someone as prideful as Jeter would like to do as well.  I think he's smart enough to realize now that he'll never be the player he was in his prime, but if he can still hit and play enough this year to finish strong offensively, that's a helluva lot better than going out banged up and on the DL.

- I'm curious to see how this announcement will affect the team's motivation this year, if at all.  Sure everybody wanted to send Mo out on top last year, but there wasn't a chance in hell that was going to happen with the product the front office put on the field.  This offseason they made a much bigger effort to improve their ballclub, and if a few things happen in their favor the Yankees could find themselves back in the postseason.  Jeter's always been all about winning, it's really all he talks about when he does say something of substance to the media.  What could be better than sending one of the greatest winners in team history out with another ring?

- It probably won't happen, but I'd love to see an opposing team give him a big gift basket as their retirement present before a game.  That would be awesome.

- Getting back to the pride and defiance thing, I wonder if this will change any of Joe's plans for how he wanted to handle playing and resting Jeter this season.  I've been assuming all along that there are going to be a lot more DH days against lefties and regular days off than we've ever seen before, but if Jeter tells him he's feeling good and wants to play short, will Joe cave and let him do it knowing it's his last season?  Maybe.

- Looking bigger picture than that, does this change the team's stance on signing Stephen Drew now?  I think it has to.  Drew still makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways, and an infield of Teix at first, Roberts/Johnson at second, Jeter at short, and Drew at third is a lot better than one with Roberts and Johnson as everyday players at second and third.  And like I said over the weekend, signing Drew gives the Yanks insurance for Jeter at short this year and a ready-made option to replace him next year.

- Seeing as how the post about his all-time great pimping skills is still the most viewed post in AB4AR's 4+ year history, I'd be remiss if I didn't touch on the topic of The Captain's long line of ladies and how that list could grow exponentially in his final season.  He just dumped Hannah Davis so he's back on the market, and he did say in his message that he wants to settle down and start a family at some point.  The Derek Jeter one night stand retirement tour this year could be even more impressive than the on-field retirement tour.  Lucky bastard.

- Lastly, I think part of why this is such big news and strikes a chord with all Yankee fans is that it makes us take a step back and look at our own lives.  It forces us to consider our own age and our own mortality, however old we are, and who we are as people now compared to who we were as people 20 years ago.  Jeter's finally realizing and accepting that he can't do some of the things now that he used to be able to do 5, 10, 15 years ago.  He's come to terms with the fact that time catches up to all of us eventually and that's something everybody can relate to in some way.  I can't sit around and get high all day like I could in college 10 years ago.  I can't go out to the bar 4 nights a week and pop out of bed at 5 AM fresh and ready to go to work like I could 5 years ago.  If I strapped on my old lacrosse pads and went out to play a game, I wouldn't be able to run as fast, jump as high, or hit as hard as I used to.  That's what happens when you get older and for the first time it seems, Jeter is facing that reality.

We all go through phases in life and there always comes a point where one phase ends and you have to move on to the next one.  Sooner or later, Father Time comes calling and when he does it's better to be prepared to face him and move onto your next phase at your own pace rather than be blindsided and forced into the next phase before you're mentally ready.  Jeter has reached that point, he knows it's time for the next phase, and I applaud him for being smart and mature enough to make this decision.  It's going to suck not seeing him out there anymore.  It already sucks thinking about it.  But we've still got 1 more year to enjoy him while he's still around and I, for one, am greatly looking forward to it.

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