I agree that Derek Jeter’s “farewell tour” has been overhyped (although I enjoyed seeing it in Texas, just like I enjoyed Mariano Rivera’s “farewell tour” last year). This was largely due to the overcommercialization of it (last night they were already collecting dirt from the Yankee Stadium infield at short … remember the shift, guys … get that dirt, too) and the excessive analysis, some of which explains the unwarranted extreme backlash comments of Keith Olbermann and others (of course, Olbermann was getting over his Goodell rants, so maybe he forgot to change gears). Moreover, one would be clueless to think that Jeter himself was not aware of this and even contributed to it (exhibit A: the ads). And yes, other guys are departing the game with less fanfare, although they were classy and memorable in their own way.
All of this is true.
And yet you can’t take away last night. Indeed, last night, complete with the crowd chants, Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s decision to pitch to Jeter, and Jeter’s own memorable (if, indeed, flawed) game performance suggests that had people just let things play out, we’d still be left with a moment many of us will recall fondly, with a smile and a tear. Certainly Jeter was moved, and it was good to see that. He had also delivered in the moment, and it was good to see that.
For me … the last time I remember a walkoff hit like that in a meaningless regular season game made memorable by circumstances? August 6, 1979. That was another game against an Orioles team headed for the postseason, where an Orioles pitcher decided to pitch to a Yankees hitter wearing #2, with a result that brought a similar explosion of cheers, tears and yells. Jeter himself said last night that this year has been like a funeral. Back in 1979 the team had just attended one for another captain whose number is now to be found at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Some things are intangible. This is especially the case with Mr. Intangibles. No, he’s not one of the top five Yankees, although I think he’s easily in the top ten (the top five are 3, 4, 7, 5, and 8 from St. Louis). So, for that matter, is Rivera. And one can cite all sorts of numbers pro and con. But something about Derek Jeter transcended all that, much like something about Joe DiMaggio made him so much more than the sum of his parts. In Jeter’s case I’ve always thought it was a combination of his effort, his intelligence, his style, and his humanity (I’d argue that Jeter’s greatest skill was his ability to be calm in clutch situations, and last night he admitted that didn’t come easily). His postseason body of work is what counts for most of us, and five rings ain’t bad in today’s game. He always worked hard and tried to do his best. Who can ask for more?
We don’t need the hype. The reality last night was amazing enough. To borrow from someone else, I could not believe what I just saw … and yet, as Yankees announcer Michael Kay put it, fantasy became reality. What we could not have anticipated we nevertheless expected. It is at the heart of our joy of sports, and it will last as long as memory endures. Enjoy.