TORONTO – The single digits are about to be no more in New York Yankees lore. As of today, we’re less than a month away from the end of baseball’s regular season. And barring a stretch push that allows the Bombers to claim the second wild card, it will be the end of the line for The Captain.
We don’t get enough nicknames in baseball anymore, but the Yankees have always had them. The Babe, the Iron Horse, Joltin’ Joe, the M&M Boys, Yogi, not to mention the non-single digits like Whitey and Scooter.
But with apologies to the late Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly, to modern-era Yankees fans there is only one captain.
Derek Jeter will be here tonight to open his final series in the Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays. The folks from the 716 always make their presence known when the Yankees are in town, so you can pretty much expect huge cheers every time Jeter comes to the plate, and a bring-the-house down moment from fans of both sides in his late-inning at-bat Sunday afternoon.
When he had his No. 6 retired in Yankee Stadium last Saturday, former manager Joe Torre turned to the dugout to salute Jeter. He pointed to Monument Park in center field as he spoke and said, “There’s one single digit left out there.”
As soon as his career is over, Jeter is going where the legends go. Look at the list he is going to join. Every number from 1-9 is going to be retired in the Bronx.
There’s Billy Martin (1), who’s probably getting fired and rehired in heaven over and over by The Boss. Do Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4) and Joe DiMaggio (5) need any further explanation? Torre (6) joined the club last week, a space of rare air also occupied by the M&M Boys – Mickey Mantle (7) and Roger Maris (9).
No. 8 is the only one retired in duplicate, first given to Bill Dickey and then to Yogi Berra, because the team recognized Yogi would be special as soon as he came aboard in 1948.
And now there will be Jeter, a generational player who spans the eras for the Yankees.
They had gone 18 years without winning a World Series until they won in ’96, and no coincidence it was his rookie year. They won three more in his first five years and were two outs away from a four-peat before things got away from Mariano Rivera in Game Seven in Arizona in 2001.
Jeter is 40 now, which seems pretty much impossible. He announced he was retiring in February so everybody knew the deal ahead of time. He spread the news on his Facebook page, a website that was still nearly nine years from being invented when he played his first big-league game.
His range at shortstop has been iffy for years and his bat is pretty much a non-factor these days, so it’s certainly time to go. It was just two years ago that Jeter batted .316 with 216 hits, drove 15 homers and had a reasonable .429 slugging percentage, but the broken ankle he suffered in the 2012 ALCS sapped him of most of his power and the chance to keep playing to get 4,000 career hits.
Jeter is batting .267 this season, but 109 of his 127 hits are singles. His slugging percentage of .317 is the third-lowest of anyone in the big leagues who qualifies for the batting title. After hitting .289 in July, Jeter has been atrocious in August with a .226 average and a sickly slugging/OPS line of .290/.538.
New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff wrote Thursday that it should be paramount in manager Joe Girardi’s thinking to get Jeter out of the No. 2 hole in the lineup, but the skipper seems bound by tradition more than analytics.
Hard not to submit to that because we’ve all seen the greatness like the Jeter flip in Oakland in 2001. I was in the house for the Mr. November walk-off homer in Game Four of the World Series that year and the first-pitch home run off Bobby Jones in Game Four that squashed the Mets’ momentum in the 2000 Subway Series.
Same with Jeter’s first Opening Day start in 1996, a win in Cleveland that saw him belt his first career homer over the wall in left off veteran Dennis Martinez. Afterward Jeter was interviewed on the field by Hall of Famer and venerable Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, who gushed over him by closing the chat with “us shortstops have got to stick together.”
Jeter has been honored in 14 parks this year, with his final ones coming this month in the AL East haunts. The Yankees will hold Derek Jeter Day on Sept. 7 in the Bronx and the schedule ends for Jeter on Sept. 28 in, of all places, Fenway Park.
The gifts have come fast and furious on the road. Former President George W. Bush, the ex-Rangers owner, was a surprise presenter in Texas as he gave Jeter a set of cowboy boots and a framed photo of the two of them from his presidential library. It was taken the night of Bush’s famous first pitch at old Yankee Stadium prior to Game Three of the ’01 Series, the throw preceded by the thumbs-up measure from the mound just a month after the 9/11 attacks.
Bush, as the story goes, warmed up in the Yankees batting cage before taking the field and Jeter gave him some Captainly advice: “Don’t bounce it; they’ll boo you.” The president responded with a perfect strike to uplift a nation.
Some other highlights of Jeter’s haul?
This week in Detroit, playing in his home state, Jeter got drawings depicting him in high school in Kalamazoo as well as at Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park, plus vials of dirt from each place. The Cubs gave Jeter a No. 2 from the manual scoreboard at Wrigley Field. The Angels gave him a giant pinstriped paddleboard, the Indians a pinstriped guitar.
The loot is going to Jeter’s 30,875-square-foot island mansion in Tampa that the locals have dubbed “St. Jetersburg.” And he wants to be an owner in the next phase of his life.
Jeter is likely to follow his final-series-in-a-town itinerary that the Yankees have established for him this season. He’ll meet the media in a dugout news conference tonight, and then accept some gifts from the opponent before the final game of the series Sunday afternoon. The bet here is he sits on Saturday, a day game after a night game on the Blue Jays’ unforgiving turf.
So if you’re heading up the QEW, make sure you take plenty of looks at that number on the back of that traveling gray jersey. Never going to see one like it again when the Yankees come to town.