Reflecting on All That Derek Jeter Was

Gary Phillips@@GPhillips2727Contributor IISeptember 28, 2014

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter waves to fans as he walks around the infield after driving in the winning run against the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, in New York. The game, which the Yankees won 6-5, was Jeter's last home game of his career. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

On Thursday night, the crowd at Yankee Stadium erupted time and time again.

DER-EK JE-TER... DER-EK JE-TER... DER-EK JE-TER!

It was Derek Jeter's final game in the Bronx, the last time he would don his iconic No. 2 pinstriped jersey. The fans were desperate for one more memory.

Boy, did Jeter deliver.

With the game against the Baltimore Orioles tied in the ninth, Jeter, with a man on second, stepped up to the plate. Just as he had done so many times in his career, Jeter shot one the opposite way. It was a walk-off single for The Captain in his final night in the city where he had played ball for the past two decades.

Jeter than went out to shortstop to get one more look from what has been his office for those two decades. Throughout the game he was choked up, and it showed when he waved goodbye to the fans as well. It showed during his press conference.

After 20 years of keeping his cool and never letting anyone in, Jeter let the moment get to him.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

On Sunday, Jeter played the last game of his career on the road at Fenway Park. Unfittingly, he will not be going to the playoffs for only the third time in that span since his first full season in 1996.

Hopefully, Jeter relished that night at the stadium as the adoration of his hometown fans and the baseball world came pouring out.

He may not be playing in October in his final season, but there should be no regrets for Jeter as he rides off into the sunset. Hollywood could not have written a better story or come up with a better character. Jeter provided one more perfect moment, had the perfect career. In the eyes of many, he was in fact perfect.

"I'm not perfect; no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. I think you try to learn from those mistakes."

The Person

Growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jeter dreamed of playing for the Yankees as a child. In 1992, the Yankees made that boy's dream come true, drafting Jeter with the sixth overall pick of the Major League Baseball draft.

Since then, Jeter has carried himself with the utmost professionalism, always keeping in mind that his actions were not only a reflection of himself, but the team as well. It's safe to say the Yankees have not sent many complaints Jeter's way over the years.

A class act all the way, Jeter has miraculously managed to stay out of trouble despite being perhaps the biggest star in the brightest city for the past two decades. Never one to seek attention, Jeter has maintained a balance between his private life and the spotlight. 

Jeter has never let his fame and fortune distract him from helping others. A true philanthropist, Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation has been helping youth across the country since 1996.

Jeter has always had a soft spot for kids. Throughout his career, he would often chat up a wide-eyed child in the on-deck circle or throw any variation of equipment over the top of the dugout. Home or away, Jeter always showed as much love for the fans as they did for him, signing autographs for hours on end.

Jeter was a great ballplayer, but his character made him someone that people could look up to.

"Your image isn't your character. Character is what you are as a person."

NEW YORK - JUNE 30: NY Yankee Derek Jeter and Ben Grant - 10 year old boy from Starlight Foundation attend NY Yankee batting practice at Yankee Stadium on June 30, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for Iconix Brand Group, Inc)
Joe Kohen/Getty Images

 The Role Model

Staying out of trouble was just one factor that made Jeter such a great role model.

Aside from his off-the-field excellence, Jeter did everything he was supposed to when the cameras were on him. He always hustled, always sprinted down to first base. He was an exemplary teammate, always the first guy out of the dugout to embrace a fellow player.

Never considered the most talented player of his generation, Jeter's name became synonymous with hard work, showing up to the field early and putting in the extra effort. 

Whether you rooted for the Yankees or not, you had to respect what Jeter did and stood for. He was the guy you wanted your son to play like and your daughter to date. 

He played the game the right way and has lived life in the same regards in a time where society, not just sports, hardly sees such a thing. 

That is why the Yankees named him captain in 2003, even when he did not want the title. He was the example his fellow players, kids and even adults could follow. 

No matter what it is you do, Jeter perfectly illustrated how to live a successful life—by having confidence, working hard, keeping out of trouble, being good to others and doing what you love.

"There may be people who have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do—and I believe that."

The Player

There are a few plays in Jeter's career that sum up the player he was.

The Dive showcased his hustle. The Flip highlighted his smarts on the field. His signature jump-throw deep in the hole at shortstop symbolized his stardom. His ability to excel on the biggest of stages, whether it be a home run on his 3000th hit or to walk-off Game 4 of the 2001 World Series in the 10th inning, proved how clutch he was. That single on Thursday was just another demonstration of his flare for the dramatic.

RON FREHM/Associated Press

It was not just those moments. Jeter embodied those characteristics on a daily basis since he came into the league in 1995. He always ran hard. He always had his head in the game. He knew where to be and when to be there.

He was consistent too, playing under 120 games in just two seasons since he became the Yankees' starting shortstop in 1996. Speaking of starts, no one in baseball has made more at the position than Jeter. That mark was set earlier this year when Jeter surpassed Omar Vizquel for the all-time lead.

Not much of a power hitter, Jeter had a trademark "Jeterian Swing" that made him an opposite field threat. Come to think about it, that swing was a metaphor for Jeter's game; unselfish and sacrificing. By choosing to go the opposite way, Jeter gave up his own power for the betterment of the team.

That swing would produce some incredible numbers over the years. With everything under wraps, Jeter finishes with 3,465 hits, 4,921 total bases, 544 doubles, 260 home runs, 1,311 RBI, 358 stolen bases and a .310 batting average.

Yet Jeter was never about his stats. What really set him apart from the rest of the players around him was his desire and determination to win.   

"If you're going to play at all, you're out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose."

The Winner

Just a 21-year old kid in 1995, Jeter was permitted tby then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter to travel with the team as an inactive player for the postseason. Showalter believed that sitting in on those games would give Jeter some experience and, more importantly, a hunger to succeed.

Jeter has always thanked his former skipper for the opportunity, one he says helped him heading into his first full season in 1996. Since then, Jeter has made an almost annual run into October, racking up a fistful of rings in the process.

The first one came in that rookie season under newly appointed manger Joe Torre. From there, a dynasty was born. The Yankees went on to win it all again in 1998, 1999 and 2000. They would make trips to the Fall Classic in 2001 and 2003, but fell short to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins, respectively. In 2009, they were once again at the top, trouncing the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Jeter was at the forefront of each championship and every playoff run the team made. In total he made 16 trips to the postseason, setting records with 158 games played and 734 plate appearances. He scored 111 runs and recorded 200 hits, also postseason records. No one in baseball history has more total bases (302) and doubles (32) in October.

He had a knack for rising to the occasion, hitting game-changing home runs throughout his playoff career. In total, he finished with 20 dingers in postseason play, good enough for third in major league history. His .308 average is not too bad either. Neither is the World Series MVP he won in 2000, when he hit .409 with two doubles, a triple and two homers against the crosstown rival Mets.

After 20 years, Jeter's name is just another alternative for winning. With his skills and talent, Jeter would have still been a great player, but the championships, the rings and all of the trophies helped turn him into an all-time legend.

"We just want to win. That's the bottom line. I think a lot of times people may become content with one championship or a little bit of success, but we don't really reflect on what we've done in the past. We focus on the present."

The Legend

Take each previous section of this piece and add it together, and what you get is the legend that is Derek Jeter.

Combine his class and professionalism with all of the accomplishments of his illustrious career and what you get is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.

With his career now over, Jeter ranks sixth on the all-time hits list and is 20th in offensive wins above replacement with a 95.3 mark. He is New York's franchise leader in games played, plate appearances, at-bats, hits, doubles, stolen bases and times on base.

On top of the five World Series Championships, Jeter also has 14 All-Star selections, five Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards to his name. 19 years ago he won the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year.

In five years, he will be enshrined in Cooperstown.

What makes it all so much more amazing is again, he did it all with the Yankees. A quiet but confident person, Jeter handled baseball's biggest stage with unprecedented ease. 

Of course, his love and respect for the game should not be overshadowed by all of the achievements and success. He appreciated the game just as much as it appreciated him, and that is why Jeter's legendary career will go down in baseball history with that of the best.

"In my opinion, I've had the greatest job in the world. I've had a chance to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees and there is only one of those. I always felt my job was to try and provide joy and entertainment for you guys, but it can't compare to what you brought me. For that, thank you very much. I've loved what I've done. I love what I do. More importantly, I've loved doing it for you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you very much."


No Derek, thank you. Your journey has truly been a pleasure to watch.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

 All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference.com.

Question or comments? Feel free to follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.

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