Derek Jeter did the one thing he seems to hate more than losing on Wednesday morning in Tampa: He opened up and talked about himself, doing it with the grace and dignity that marked his playing career with the New York Yankees.
Jeter, who plans to retire at the end of his 20th season, was a little less guarded and a little funnier than he usually is in his public responses to media questions.
“Because I feel as though the time is right,” he said of his decision. “There’s other things I want to do. I look forward to doing other things. This is a difficult job. I put everything into it each and every year. It’s a 12-month job. It’s not a six-month season. This is 12 months. And I look forward to doing other things — not yet — but the idea of doing other things is something I look forward to.”
What, the Yankees’ captain was asked, were those things? “Did you read my Facebook post?” he asked, to laughter. About that long goodbye on Facebook, he said that he wrote “each and every word.” And he admitted that, although, it doesn’t alway show, he is “emotional. It is kind of difficult because we still have a season to play. I have feelings. I’m not emotionally stunted. There’s feelings there. I think I was just pretty good at hiding my emotions throughout the years. I try to have the same demeanor each and every day. But it’s different. It’s not the end of the season yet. We still have a long way to go.”
There were poignant, if not reflective moments, from the shortstop, who seemed most eager to get out on the field for spring training work. “I feel the time is right,” he said, echoing his Facebook post. “There are other things I want to do.”
Ankle problems related to the fracture he suffered in the 2012 playoffs limited him to 17 games in 2013. While he doesn’t think he can match his stellar, 216-hit regular season of 2012, the ankle, he said, is 100 percent and “I look forward to playing a full season.”
He is realistic enough to understand that not everyone gets to script their goodbye perfectly and, along the way Wednesday, he revealed, in two statements, just what makes him who he is and gave a hint of what the final farewell will be. What, he was asked, is his favorite memory?
“Every time we win,” Jeter, who will turn 40 in June, said, “and I’m not just saying that. You work out the entire year and the ultimate goal is to win. That’s the bottom line. When we win, those are the memories that stand out for me. I’ve done a lot of things personally in my career that I appreciated and mean a lot. But if you ask me what stands out the most, it’s winning.”
And the other statement? Well, he tipped his hand in 2009 when he admitted to Harvey Araton that he’d taken a special souvenir after the last game at the old Yankee Stadium, the Joe DiMaggio sign (“I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee”) from the tunnel leading to the dugout.
“The thing that means the most to me,” he said, “is to be remembered as a Yankee.”
Jeter will be remembered as one of the greatest. ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor puts him at No. 5, behind Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle — exactly where he belongs. Joe Torre, his former manager, told Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News that Jeter was a lot like Bill Russell, whose spot on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore came up in a debate triggered by LeBron James.
“I was just in the car listening to a radio show. They were into that Mount Rushmore thing about pro basketball,” Torre said. “And some guy called and said that Bill Russell didn’t belong, because — this was the guy talking — Russell didn’t have as much talent as the other players they were talking about.
“For me, Derek is in the same position as Russell. Bill Russell may not have been the most talented person. But he made everybody around him better. I’m still not sure that people grasp that.”