With the last swing of his 20-year career, Derek Jeter chopped a ball off home plate and hustled to first base for one of the shortest of his 3,465 hits. Brian McCann, so slow he’s an honorary Molina, came in to run for him, and Jeter stopped at the mound, shook hands with and patted pitcher Clay Buchholz on the arm and left to another ovation.
There was a whole lot of trivia in those couple of minutes: Who gave up Jeter’s last hit? Who waited to field it (Garin Cecchini)? Who ran for Jeter? And a whole lot of relevance.
Said Jeter: “When I ran past (Buchholz), I said, ‘I know this is kind of odd, but I just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed competing against you over the years’ and ‘good luck’ to him. I had an opportunity to speak to everyone on the Boston team (at the pregame ceremony), but not him because he was warming up, so I just took a brief moment to tell him.”
Is there any other player, on that occasion, who would have thought about that, who would have permitted his own compassion to mix with all the adulation? Of course, Jeter loved competing against Buchholz, because he hit .290 against him (9-for-31) and against the Red Sox, because he hit .291 against them in 283 games (he hit only .266 at Fenway).
And, of course, Jeter loved competing, because the Yankees so often won. There may be nobility in the effort, but the joy is in scoring more runs.
Jeter’s Yankees, in the 18 seasons he was the shortstop (not counting 2013 when he was injured), finished a combined 560 games above .500, or an average of 31 games per season. In the average Jeter season, the Yankees won 96 games.
They were even better in the postseason. Jeter’s Yankees, from 1996-2012, were 100-64 in postseason games, winning 19 of 30 series.
Think anybody saw that coming 20 years ago? The 1995 Yankees lost to Seattle in five games in the divisional series, Ken Griffey Jr. dashing for home on Edgar Martinez’s double. The 1995 Mariners had Griffey, 25, in center field; Randy Johnson, 31, the ace of the pitching staff; a two Martinez lineup (Edgar, 32, at DH and Tino, 27, having hit 31 homers); and Alex Rodriguez, 20, the first pick of the 1993 draft ready to take over at shortstop. The 1995 Yankees had Mike Stanley at catcher, Pat Kelly at second base, Bernie Williams in center, Jack McDowell as their ace and Jeter ready to take over at shortstop.
Which one would you have thought was about to embark on the greatest championship run of the free agent era? The one with three sure Hall of Famers and a Hall of Fame hitter? Or the one with Luis Polonia in left field? (It didn’t help the Mariners that they generously donated Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the Yankees for third baseman Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock, let Johnson leave and started Aaron Sele three times, John Halama twice and Paul Abbott in their next 11 playoff games against the Yankees; needless to say, they went 3-8).
The Yankees won three straight World Series and four in five years from 1996-2000, the first three-peat since Oakland won three straight from 1972-74. They won five in all in Jeter’s career, and the Red Sox won three — eight of the last 18 Series have been won by the AL East rivals.
Tuesday when the playoffs begin, they’ll do so without the Yankees or Red Sox for the first time since 1993, before Jeter was a rookie and before the wild card. This presents a problem for Middle America: Without the Yankees and Red Sox, who are they supposed to root against?
Fittingly, Jeter was the last of the champion Yankees to go, following Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte last year, Jorge Posada in 2011 and Bernie Williams in 2006 (Williams played a home run of a guitar solo on Take Me Out to the Ball Game Sunday at Fenway. Link here).
Jeter was asked Sunday what he does now. “I don’t know,” he said, according to the New York Times. “That’s a good thing. I don’t know.”
After the last two seasons, it’s obvious the Yankees apparently don’t either.