Friday morning at 4:25, Turner Classic Movies is airing the classic baseball film, “The Pride of the Yankees.” It’s the story of Lou Gehrig.
It could be the story of Derek Jeter.
Jeter, who announced this would be his last season, represented the pride of the storied baseball franchise as well as any player ever did who wore the pinstripes. And he did so when it wasn’t easy to have pride. He did so in an era of no shame, a time when legends are exposed and embarrassed.
This may be his greatest accomplishment – he managed to play 19 seasons and now, at the age of 40, entering his 20th season, Jeter represented the pride of the Yankees the entire time.
“I’m being inducted (to the Baseball Hall of Fame) in July,” his former manager, Joe Torre, told ESPN radio. “And if it wasn’t for the fact that he was one of my players, I doubt if I’d have been in that situation.”
Doubt? There is no doubt that Torre – Jeter called him “Mr. Torre” — would never have been to Cooperstown as anyone but a visitor if it wasn’t for Jeter, who was in his second season when Torre took the Yankees job.
In fact, there are no four World Series championships from 1996 to 2000 without Jeter. He, along with Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera, were the core of those great Yankee teams.
“He is unquestionably one of the greatest Yankees ever, “Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said. “He has meant so much to fans, the organization, my father and our family. I’m glad we have this year to celebrate everything he has meant to us and all the great things he still stands to accomplish.”
His father? Here’s what Jeter represented to the Steinbrenner family, the reason why George Steinbrenner should never be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was the anchor of that core of home grown players that likely would have been traded while developing as minor leagues if George Steinbrenner had not been banned from baseball.
From 1990 to 1993, George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball by commissioner Fay Vincent for paying a gambler named Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, who was in a dispute with the Yankees over a donation to his foundation.
During that time, general manager Gene Michael and manager Buck Showalter, free from the Steinbrenner interference that ruined the Yankees in the 1980s, were able to build that core group of young players – including drafting Jeter in 1992 – that led to the four World Series titles.
He represented everything that George Steinbrenner wasn’t. He represented the best of the Yankees.
He is in the top five of all-time great Yankees. It is one of the baseball arguments – the greatest Yankee. Babe Ruth is generally acknowledged as the Babe of all-time Yankees, followed by Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. It is the fifth spot that is ripe for argument.
Yogi Berra has occupied that position, one of the great home run hitting catchers of all time, and is often referred to as “the greatest living Yankee.” You could make the case now, that Jeter, with 3,316 career hits entering his final season (averaging 206 hits a year for 19 seasons), and a career .312 batting average, is worthy of that fifth spot.
Perhaps the greatest measure of his legacy is the level of respect opponents had for him.
There is no greater rival for the Yankees than the Boston Red Sox. The hatred between the two franchises runs deep, back to the day Babe Ruth was traded from Boston to New York, and goes from the stands to the field to the front office.
Yet the hottest 2014 Red Sox ticket is not Opening Day, when they will present the team with their World Series rings and raise their championship banner. No, it is the last game of the year at Fenway Park – Jeter’s last game.
“This last Jeter game is now a tougher ticket than the Opening Day ring ceremony,” Jim Holzman, CEO and president of Boston-based Ace Tickets, said, according to ESPN.
He had conducted himself with such class and competitiveness that it trumps any and all petty animosities. In the TMZ era of scandal, no one has laid a glove on him, even in the biggest fish bowl of them all, New York.
Perhaps this is the best way to describe the legacy of Derek Jeter – he was everything Alex Rodriguez was not.
The Pride of the Yankees II.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com