Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced via Facebook Wednesday that he is set to retire after the 2014 season, signaling the end of the career of an all-time great shortstop but also an era of Major League Baseball.
Jeter’s accomplishments throughout his career are well documented. He has compiled 3,316 hits, making him the only New York Yankees player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. He has also won five career World Series championships in 19 seasons of play thus far — all of which he has spent with New York — and has been largely acclaimed for elevating his level of play in the postseason.
His impact went far beyond his performance in the box score, however. He is well known for being one of baseball’s great leaders, and an all-around good guy. His hustle to catch up to an off-line throw and shovel it home to catcher Jorge Posada in game three of the 2001 American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics has become synonymous with the type of player he was throughout his career.
On a larger scale, Jeter’s retirement marks the last of the “clean” stars from the steroid era. The majority of the great players from the early ‘90s to mid-2000s have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens for example — but Jeter was one of the few who maintained a clean reputation.
Jeter is also the last of group of stars which includes recent retirees Chipper Jones, Todd Helton and longtime Yankee teammate Mariano Rivera. These players are held in high regard for playing through an era where the great players were often using performance-enhancing drugs to get ahead, instead resisting the urge to cheat to keep up.
The only reason I could find to groan at this announcement was the fact that it came before the season began. This most likely means another “farewell tour,” like the one Rivera got in 2013, complete with on-field ceremonies and gifts from each team. I am all for honoring the career of a great player, but I don’t feel that an impending retirement needs to be a season-long extravaganza.
Still, Jeter’s career deserves to be celebrated. He has faced his fair share of criticism, largely stemming from the sometimes-inflated reputation he often got from the fans and media. He was not nearly the defender that he was known as, and advanced statistics show he did not deserve the five Gold Glove awards he earned. He also probably didn’t deserve all of his 13 All-Star appearances either.
But there is no doubting that Jeter’s durability, consistency, and leadership put him among baseball’s all-time greats. He is probably in the top two or three shortstops ever, and joins legends such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle as one of the greatest players to don the pinstripes as well. His career will surely make him a first-ballot Hall of Fame member, and possibly the first-ever unanimous inductee.