Derek Jeter retires to a crescendo of cheers, especially from the media of New York City, whose job it is to study and probe every celebrity.
Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, wrote that since Babe Ruth in the 1920s, “no one was ever more the face of the Yankees, more important to the brand, than Jeter.”
That seems a bit of an overstatement. More important to the brand than DiMaggio? More of a national celebrity? Jeter had his romantic interludes with attractive young women, each of whom left with a nice – and equal — goody bag.
DiMaggio had Marilyn Monroe.
But that’s not to disparage Jeter’s achievements: a career .309 batting average, 14 All-Star games, five rings. By most sabermetrics he ranks among the 20 most important players of his time.
As for his defensive work, he left us with a handful of highlight-reel stuff, but for the most part he was steady and nothing more. Had he been a bit more of a team player he would have volunteered to move to third base to make room for Alex Rodriguez, a far rangier shortstop than Jeter.
Still, Jeter’s all-around excellence, endurance and poise under pressure assure him of a Hall of Fame plaque.
If Jeter was not as explosive as a few contemporaries – Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz et al, it’s notable that he was never tainted by performance-enhancing drugs. He did it the natural way.
When Lupica praises Jeter for his importance to the brand, he means his public image. The New York Times pointed out that Jeter “has never been caught in a compromising position. He has never embarrassed himself.”
For reporters trying to cover him, including myself, Jeter is a frustrating experience. He maintained, as the Times put it, “a posture of sustained inscrutability.”
You never hear of Jeter being surly to the media. He looked at you, acted interested in your questions. His responses were not total clichés; his wording was at times fresher than you get from most ballplayers. But there was never anything that made much of a story.
“Jeter Expects Yanks to Win Series . . . Jeter Says It Was Just a Loss, Not a Letdown. . , ”
It was never much, but he did at least give you something, and he was pleasant about it. As Yankees captain, he recognized his duty to be the ballclub’s ambassador to the press.
No doubt the media burdens – never mind the Social Media – were much greater on Jeter than they ever were on Ruth or DiMaggio.
Perhaps the closest Jeter came to controversy was when the Yankees four years ago publicly encouraged the aging shortstop to test the free agency market. “To hear the organization tell me to go shop it . . . I was angry about it.”
He does have emotions. He has feelings. But he’s never been one to create drama, to direct undue attention to himself. He always has conducted himself in a professional manner. And has been equally careful in his private life.
You wonder where he goes from here, at age 40. He’ll have more modeling contracts for three or four years. He may be another Jim Palmer, selling underwear at 50.
It’s hard to see him doing television analysis. Then again, he might be more forthcoming working for a network than he was working for the Yankees.