Growing Up Jeter: Looking Back to Look Ahead

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I’m getting this column out a little early. It would normally be posted some time in October/November, but I’m predicting that I’ll have…something going on then that would prevent me from giving this particular piece the due attention that it deserves. So we’re running it a little early.

Derek Jeter announced this week that this upcoming MLB season will be his last playing the professional sport of baseball. No more October glories. No more leaping throws to first. No more singles dumped into right field with scientific precision. No more articles about his lack of defensive prowess. Well, actually, those aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’ll breed like roaches after the apocalypse. Sorry, Internet.

It would appear that Jeter saw the season-long hero’s tribute that Mariano Rivera received last season (rightfully so; the man was hands down the greatest closer the game has yet seen), where as the Yankees traveled from city to city, Rivera was treated like Napoleon passing through the Arc D’Triomphe, receiving gifts of plenty and beneficence from dignitaries and opposing teams alike. It was particularly unreal, something that seldom happens in sports because of our tendency to vilify everyone and everything under the sun. (The NFL season is too short for a farewell tour, basketball’s greats tend to hang on until the last minute before retiring (three times), and hockey is apparently a sport that’s popular in Canada.)

If you thought last season’s six-month tribute to Rivera was crazy, wait until you get a load of what Jeter’s farewell is gonna look like this year.

The accolades are plentiful; one of the greatest Yankees of all time, greatest shortstops of all time, most iconic players of all time, guaranteed Hall of Famer who won’t be unanimous because steroids ruined everything and he had the defensive range of a flagpole, etc. You’ll be seeing columns like this for MONTHS. Literally, somewhere, someone is going to write about Derek Jeter’s legacy and what his retirement means.

That’s why I’m getting this out of the way early. I’d rather just be done with it so I can watch the man play baseball one more time.

Jeter’s career coincided, rather neatly, with 74% of my natural life on this earth. (The other 26% comes from my ages 0-7, which hardly count in my mind because A) Jeter wasn’t an athlete, B) I can barely remember much of my life from 0-5, and not much of interest happened from 6-7, and C) I could barely control my bowel movements for much of that time. #FarewellCaptainOvershare). Because of this, it’s easy for me to tie in all of Jeter’s career with much of what was going on around me and in the world at large. Much of my life, I’ve maintained an irrational hatred of Jeter simply because he plays for the Yankees, and I was raised to hate the Yankees above all other things. In recent years, I’ve since come around to appreciate Jeter’s magnificence, something made easier to do as the rest of the AL East gets tired of being beaten down all the time and rises up. Also, A-Rod plays for the Yankees now, serving as a perfectly acceptable scapegoat. Or Centaur…

Rather than talk about Jeter’s individual accolades, let’s look back at his lengthy career.

1995 – The Rookie Year

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Well, to be fully honest, he started playing professional ball in 1992, the year I started kindergarten. After 447 Minor League games, Jeter was called up to the Yankees in 1995. That was the year that the Atlanta Braves won the World Series, the crown jewel in their dynasty that would be soon replaced by the kids from the Bronx. Worth noting: in those three and a half years of minor-league ball, Jeter only hit 16 home runs. Jeter was drafted straight out of high school…and almost by the Reds, which always raises the question in my mind: Jeter or Larkin? The answer is Jeter, but I was raised on Barry Larkin…I loved/love Larkin…but if Jeter’s on the team, maybe Paul O’Neill isn’t traded. Maybe somehow, the Reds, and not the Yankees, duel the Braves for supremacy every year…maybe…

(Alex’s Note: If Jeter hadn’t decided to go to the minors he would have gone to the University of Michigan. This means Travis would have had to love/respect two Wolverines in Larkin and Jeter. The world mourns for what could have been.)

Oh, 1995 was the year Braveheart won Best Picture at the Oscars. Remember that? Clueless came out this year. People have always told me that I’m essentially Paul Rudd’s character from this movie. My response is usually something along the lines of “Holy pants, Paul Rudd is older than I thought.”

1996 – The Dawn of the Dynasty

The World Series in 1996 was well fought, with the Yankees coming back against the Braves and the pitching of Messers Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz to win their first championship since the ’70’s. (The Indians have never won a Series and suffer. The Yankees go 18 years without a title? STOP THE PRESSES) I was in 3rd grade and later 4th, learning the basics of cursive writing and how to dick around on a computer playing Oregon Trail. Bob Dole ran for President. Counting Crows released their second album. The English Patient was a movie that won Oscars. (There’s a big gap in the 90’s where Best Picture winners are…lacking. Forrest Gump? Braveheart? English Patient? It’s not for lack of quality movies, not with Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, and Saving Private Ryan all released during the 90’s. Just another indicator that Oscars are silly.

Oh, yeah, Jeter his .314/.370/.430, played a solid shortstop, won Rookie of the Year, and collected 183 hits. This would be his lowest hit total until 2003. Jeffery Maier caught his “home run” in Baltimore. In some alternate reality, he never catches that ball, it’s an out, the dynasty is never established, and Jeter becomes just another player. I wonder if Jeter ever sent Maier a gift basket…

1997 – Missed Year

It’s hard to repeat as champions, something the 1997 Yankees and (eventually) 2001 Yankees would prove. Jeter regressed all the way to a .291 average with 125 strikeouts, the most he would ever strike out in a season. Titanic happened, I finished 4th grade and moved onto 5th grade, where it became apparent that I reeeeeeeeeally didn’t fit in with my classmates. Something about dance classes, loving the Beatles, and being able to name the starting lineup of the Big Red Machine. Apparently, Puff Daddy was a thing. More importantly, the sky was gold.

1998 – Return of the Champions

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This was the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved baseball, or at least, I recall. Try and look it up now, and all you’ll find is a giant dark patch in the shape of an asterisk. Come on, people. I was there. You were there. That shit was amazing.

The Yankees won their second championship in three years. By now, the core was present. Jeter. Posada. Bernie Williams. Pettitte. Mo. O’Neill. Tino Martinez. The list goes on. Meanwhile, I moved onto middle school, I saw my first R-rated movie (Shakespeare in Love, a very awkward movie to watch with one’s parent), and Clinton “did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

1999 – Re-Return of the Champions

The Yankees of the 2000’s would become a collection of high priced free agents (Giambi, Clemens, Mussina, etc. where everyone was available at a price) with a payroll bloated beyond reasonable proportions. However, I look back at the Yankees of the 90’s as a team of scrappy, Bronx-based players who were either savvy veteran pickups or homegrown talent. Those Yankees teams had an identity all their own, one held together by Jeter, the once and future Captain. It’s easier to remember them fondly with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, they were just Yankees. Now, they’re the tough, winning team of my past. Kind of how we remember the early 2000’s Patriots. They were just a solid team. In 1999, Jeter had his best season ever, hitting .349/.438/.552 with 24 home runs, 102 RBIs, and 19 stolen bases for 8.0 WAR…and he lost the MVP to Pudge Rodriguez. Not knocking Pudge, who’s a top-10 catcher all time. Just…Pudge.

1999…well, this happened. And this woman hadn’t lost her shit yet. And it turns out Clinton may in fact have had sexual relations with that woman. The Matrix blew our minds. Oh, and I made first chair in the 7th grade honor band. Had no idea what that meant, but I got a write up about it in the paper.

2000 – Re-Re-Rereturn of the Champions

Yankees win World Series. Jeter wins World Series MVP. Rinse, lather, repeat. Gladiator was a movie that happened. Before the next season, Jeter signed a ten-year $189 million contract, making him the second highest paid athlete in all of sports, just behind that A-Rod guy. I joined the high school marching band (because our band was initially so small, it needed the 8th graders to bring it up to size). Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was awesome. And we were so innocent.

2001 – The Greatest World Series Ever

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Everyone knows where they were when 9/11 happened. Everyone remembers George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at the Series (a strike, by the way). We were all there. We all know what the normality of baseball meant.

Having said that, even without the weight of the world watching, the Series that year between Arizona and the Yankees was the best I’ve seen in my lifetime. 7 games. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in their prime. Jeter and the Yanks. Byung-Hun Kim blowing all the saves. Jeter becoming Mr. November. Mo somehow blowing a save in the worst of moments. Everyone in America was supposedly rooting for the Yankees (i.e. New York), but somehow, I missed that memo. Because I knew the Yankees were evil, I rooted for the D-Backs, because I figured that their winning meant that America was winning. And it felt great.

Two other things important happened this year concerning Jeter. The first was the fact that he elicited the loudest cheers of the night at the Concert for New York (Seriously, Opera Man sounds like he’s going to explode as he screams Jeter’s name). Second, this play happened. Nothing more need be said.

2002 – The Year that Things Happened

I mean, Jeter had a good year (career high 32 stolen bases!) but the Yankees lost in the ALDS to the eventual champion Anaheim Angels. I finished my freshman year of high school and became a sophomore. Lord of the Rings was at the peak of its potency. The prequel trilogy…well, let’s not talk about that.

2003 – More Marlins? DAMNIT

Opening Day 2003, Jeter dislocated his shoulder. The apparently indestructible shortstop missed 36 games, but came back to hit .324. Steinbrenner named him the first captain since Don “Sideburns” Mattingly retired in 1995. The Yanks lost to the GOD DAMN MARLINS in the 2003 Series, despite having all of the payroll. I kissed a girl for the first time. I joined a Christian ska band, playing trumpet. (We all do strange things, right?)

2004 – Whoops!

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Well, things happened this year. Jeter got off to a pretty bad slump, but rebounded so well that it doesn’t even show up in his season stat-line. (Well, kind of – he only hit .292) This happened. A-Rod joined the Yankees, playing 3rd base, and allowing for Jeter to cheat to his left, his weak spot defensively. Coincidentally, Jeter won a Gold Glove this year. And then the Yankees’ mortal enemies, the Red Sox, came from three games down to complete the greatest comeback ever…against Jeter’s Yankees. The Sox went on and won the World Series. Ugh. I started my senior year of high school. I performed in my first straight play. (Diary of Anne Frank – I was the dentist. I remember at one point my pants fell down onstage. Ugh.) I began to apply for college.

2005 – Another Year, Another 200+ Hits

I graduated high school, started my own crappy garage band, toured Europe in a jazz ensemble, started college, and drank alcohol for the first time. Meanwhile, Jeter continued to do Jeter-like things, except for winning the World Series. Doubts began arising that they would ever win again, after five years without a title. (Indians fans just sobbed in the corner)

2006 – A-Fraud

The Yankees made the postseason (again) but lost to the Tigers in the ALDS, owing to lackluster performances by essentially everybody but Jeter. A-Rod got dropped to 8th in the order. Meanwhile, Jeter continued to do Jeter-like things, missing out on a batting title by .004 to Joe Mauer, who will probably be a Hall of Famer someday in his own right. In addition, Jeter got his 2000th hit. Of any years that Jeter has an argument for MVP, this should have been the year that he won. Unfortunately for Jetes, he lost to Justin Morneau, continuing a trend of Jeter’s losing MVP trophies to hitters with lots of homers and ribbies. Meanwhile, I worked at an amusement park (just like Adventureland!), switched my major, and met my best friend and Recorder co-mate Alex. In related news, a Chipotle finally opened in Bowling Green, OH, where I went to college.

2007 – Revenge for Cleveland!

Well, kind of. The Yankees lost to the Indians in the ALDS, but they were avenged by the Red Sox…well, this year might not have been the best year for the Yanks. What’s really important, though, is that this is the year that Alex and I belted “Ruby Tuesday” at the top of our lungs after seeing Children of Men, an event which should take its rightful place as one of the pinnacles of human existence. You’re welcome, mankind. In addition, this year, I moved into my own apartment, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Into the Wild, and countless other movies came out in one of the best years for movies ever, and I became notorious at the Chipotle in Bowling Green.

2008 – The Lost Year

While Jeter set a record for most hits all-time at Yankee Stadium (anytime you break a record set by Lou Freakin’ Gehrig, you know you’ve done something right), the Yankees missed the postseason for the first and, to-date, only time in Derek Jeter’s career when he played a full season. (This discounts 1995 and last year) Meanwhile, I got a job at the Cookie Jar and More in Bowling Green, directed my first play, and continued to frequent Chipotle at an alarming pace. Iron Man came out, launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the best summer of my life.

2009 – The Once and Future Champions

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The Yankees finally won their long awaited (eight years, you jerks!) title, beating the Phillies in Joe Girardi’s second year as manager. Jeter thrived in a new role as the leadoff hitter for the Yankees (he had been batting second for quite some time), putting up more MVP caliber numbers while becoming the Yankees all-time hits leader.

Let me say that again: on a team that has employed Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and countless other greats, Jeter is the all-time hits leader for the franchise. Let that say something.

This was a World Series I remember being disgusted over, if only because I hated that A-Rod/A-Fraud/Centaur Alex was now a World Series champion. Ugh. Still makes me mad. In related news, the Chipotle in Bowling Green was able to create my desired burrito as soon as I walked in the door, without my having to order it. I began to suspect I had a problem. I directed my first Shakespeare play, lost twenty pounds, and then lost a further fifteen when I contracted mono. (Don’t worry, I gained it all back shortly thereafter…thanks, Chipotle!)

2010 – First Signs of Decline

This was the year people began to whisper that Jeter might be getting older. His numbers started to dip (.270 average), though he rallied at the end of the year. He also became part of the first trio of teammates to play together for 16 consecutive years (along with Jorge Posada and Mo Rivera). Somehow, Jeter won a Gold Glove. Meanwhile, I graduated college, and Chipotle mourned my passing from the city limits of Bowling Green. I moved to New Jersey to complete an internship before moving home to save up money for a move to Chicago.

2011 – Second Signs of Decline

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For the first time ever, Jeter was a free agent. In spite of Jeter being one of the greatest Yankees ever, and on the verge of his 3,000th hit, negotiations became tense, because why not. Eventually, he signed for a 3-year/$51 million deal with an option for a 4th year. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) During the season, he finally reached 3,000 hits on July 9th on a home run off of David Price (the soon to be megamillionaire, possibly for the Yankees!). Other records that fell that year included most career stolen bases for the Yankees and most games played as a Yankee (breaking records held by R. Henderson and M. Mantle). In other news, I acted in several plays in Ohio before moving to Chicago, while the last Harry Potter movie came out, bringing that cycle to a close as well. I’ve yet to find a Chipotle, however, that knows me well enough to have my own burrito created every time I walk in.

2012 – Holy Toledo!

Jeter rebounded in 2012 to collect 216 hits, batting .316/.362/.429 with 15 homers, and moving into 10th place on the MLB all-time hits list, passing Willie Mays. Unfortunately, during the ALCS against the Tigers, his ankle fractured, leaving him too injured to even walk off the field. Subsequent rehabs would stretch into the next year. In other news, this was the year that we founded The Addison Recorder, and I continued to live in Chicago, with a brief travel to San Francisco and to Oregon. The Avengers came out, and much money was spent to rejoice at comic-book heroes punching CGI aliens. Whee!

2013 – The Utterly Lost Year

Derek Jeter was only able to play in 17 games last year, and when he played, he was never really able to hit his stride. Without him, the Yankees suffered, failing to win 90 games and missing the playoffs entirely. In addition, they had the fallout of A-Rod’s suspension/Biogenisis fight to deal with, which made for an absolutely WONDERFUL clubhouse for the Yanks. It was after this season that Jeter realized that his body wasn’t responding to treatments and rest as it had done in the past. The decision began to ferment in his mind.

2014 – The Decision

Which brings us full circle. Jeter will be retiring after this year, leaving one last blank canvas on which to sketch out a baseball season. Will it be successful? Will it be a loss? Will it be Jeter burning out or fading away? Whatever happens, he must assuredly be complemented for making the decision to retire on his own terms. There will be no blackballing him from the Yankees. There will be no forced retirements due to injury. There will be no postseason decisions to leave. Jeter is going out on his terms. While I’m sure that those terms include going out as a champion, Jeter must ultimately know how unlikely that is (the Yankees, even after their offseason spending, don’t look very good right now). Even if he goes unfulfilled, Derek Jeter has done nothing throughout his career to suggest any manner of shame. The numbers, trophies, and accolades speak for themselves. The time has come for all fans of baseball to celebrate the departure of an all time great.

Welcome to the Year of Jeter.

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#FarewellCaptain

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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