The Book on Jeter

The New York Times

February 12, 2014

By Doug Glanville

Every major league player is deeded real estate in the book of baseball. Some may be granted only one word, others a paragraph. And then there is Derek Jeter, who is closing out, in a masterly way, one of the great chapters in baseball’s history.

It is rare when you can craft both the beginning and end of your entry and also guide the pen in between. The serendipity that marks a life in the game can add pages of unforeseen horror (or romance) to your story. The wayward hand of the larger forces in baseball can act like a toddler’s first dance with a crayon. Wantonly scribbling out previous work, recklessly writing outside the lines without control.

But a major league player has a magic pen, too. In Jeter’s letter to the fans, he expressed a common player belief that this game was a dream, the domain of the supernatural and unexplainable, enduring against all odds. So you tap your dreams, and accept that every once in a while they will be interrupted by a trip to the disabled list or a subpar season. Yet Jeter lived the daily dream of being an exceptional player with an exceptional organization behind him, and he became one of the best of baseball’s dream.

Jeter has built a career on grit and hustle, on an inside-out swing and a jump throw to first from deep in the hole. The ice water in his veins enabled him to expect victory in the most dire circumstances, and doubled as an antidote to the sometimes venomous scrutiny that comes with playing in New York.Jeter has always been daring and fearless, and it takes a lot of courage to pre-empt the inevitable physical decline of a professional baseball player and do what he did this week: declare a self-imposed deadline and submit, finally, to baseball’s history book. The game’s actuarial tables don’t generally put a 40-year-old shortstop in the starting lineup on Opening Day for any contender, so he already enters this season as an anomaly.


Yet no player can completely control the ending. Happenstance is one of baseball’s great gifts and curses. When you are playing 162 games in a season, nearly every single day, anything can happen.

Jeter never gave up until he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was over, and even then, he winked. He is pragmatic and knows the risk of entering a season at this stage in his career without a plan: it’s an invitation to chaos. There would be the inevitable questions about a slow bat or an unhealed ankle, the distractions and self-doubts that come with a slump at 40 versus a slump at 25.

In many ways, Jeter’s declaration not only provided parameters for himself, it spared his teammates and his manager. They will not have to explain his future struggles, they will not have to consider joining a conversation that suggests he think about retirement.

Truth is, he does not know how this year will unfold. We can imagine the impossible — like a standing ovation in his honor at Fenway Park or a game-winning home run in Game 7 of the World Series — because all along he played for something bigger than rivalry and organizational pride. Those priorities earn the respect of anyone who loves the game and cares about its future. Jeter transcended tried-and-true constructs, and it would be fitting if his transition from the game were transcendent.

But even though Jeter’s baseball legacy will be there for all time, the world changes, and how that legacy is interpreted will change with it. This is what is so hard. Even if we end on our terms, we still can’t know how we will be remembered.

We hope there is something immutable about our effort. That we are somehow timeless and forever. But we have to wait and see, and clarity still might not come in our lifetime. As Jeter stated in his letter to his fans, “Now it is time for a new chapter. I have new dreams and aspirations, and I want new challenges.”

His greatest challenge may be those first steps without the pinstripes, without the packed stadium, without the opponent 60 feet 6 inches away. It might arise while he’s sitting on the couch, opening up baseball’s history and seeing his entry complete, with nothing more to be added.

But the good news, as baseball turns to the next chapter, is that it’s a game that looks forward and backward equally, and something tells me that Derek Jeter will be that rarity who will find a way to travel through time and stand in both the past and in the future.

Republished from NY

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press


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