When Derek Jeter announced his retirement before the beginning of this season a lot of fans took the opportunity to reflect on the superstar's career. Brands like Nike have built campaigns (RE2PECT) around Jeter and his retirement. Grantland has found a cult following in their excerpts from a personal diary written by Jeter himself, "the baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary." (A diary that talks about finding rotting rib leftovers in his hotel room with a personal note from Bud Selig, MLB Commissioner. If you haven't checked out this diary yet, then I highly suggest you do so soon.) And it seems the Yankees can't play one road game without fans showing homage to Jeter and what he has brought to the game.
What has Jeter brought to the game?
I have asked many of my fellow ball fans over the past couple weeks what they think Jeter's legacy is. The most consistent answer I heard was obvious -- class. So I thought I would delve into the top three responses I consistently heard.
Nike touched on this in their new Jeter commercial -- but when people think of number two they think of class and respect, the consummate professional. But being classy isn't new, or mutually exclusive to Jeter. Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki, Chipper Jones, etc. are all players who are known for being good men, well respected in the league.
Jeter, who was born in Pequannock Township in New Jersey, grew up as a Yankees fan. He went to games with his grandparents and idolized Dave Winfield. Jeter is the epitome of the American Dream; he is the son of two immigrant families who was able to grind and hustle his way to achieve his dreams. With his success and spotlight, Jeter was able to give back to the community through his Turn 2 Foundation and as an ambassador for the Weplay organization. Both organizations give back to the community that Jeter grew up in and is now a pillar of.
Another common theme I heard was Jeter's consistency. From Rookie of the Year in 1996 to this year he has tallied five Golden Gloves, five Silver Slugger Awards, two Hank Aaron Awards, two MLBPAA Yankees Heart and Hustle Awards, a Babe Ruth Award, Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award and dozens of other prestigious awards. He has the most World Series rings of any active player in the game today, and has been a league All-Star 13 times in his 20 years in the MLB. If you remove the stats from 1995 (Jeter only played 15 games) and 2013 (seven games) then we see some incredible consistency across the spectrum of stats. He averaged 618 ABs a season, a very impressive .314 BA and .382 OB% and averaged a .448 SLG%. The stats, and the rings speak for themselves -- there is not another active ballplayer who can claim that type of consistent success.
You don't get the nickname, (and associated apparel) 'Captain Clutch' if you aren't a clutch player. Speaking mostly of his post-season performances, Jeter has proven time and time again (especially in his five World Series Championships) that he can be heroic under pressure. His lifetime World Series batting average is an unheard of .351. He currently holds the record for most postseason games played in the MLB.
It is easy to look back and find players who perhaps had higher batting averages, or more stolen bases, or even have done more philanthropic work. But what Jeter leaves behind is his ability to do it all. He is the whole package; offense, defense, leadership, community, etc. He is the captain on one of the most highly scrutinized organizations in the MLB, and led the team to the playoffs all but two years in his 20-year career (2008 and 2013). Jeter was never reckless with his fame or his talents and he was never cocky, only confident with his abilities -- a true professional.
Jeter announced his retirement at the end of this 2014 season back in February and will go out on his own terms. It is safe to say that tickets to Jeter's final regular season game (which looks like it could be his final game ever as the Yankees are currently 3.5 games back from the Wild Card spot) on September 28th at Fenway against the Red Sox, will be full of emotions, celebrations and sentiments.