“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…”
When I hear that lyric from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” I think of a time when our sports’ heroes were as genuine as you could possibly find. Baseball has always been the most pure sport in the history of sports in my opinion which is why it was so difficult to see the steroid era come.
The point in time wrecked baseball forever for a lot of people and some have never returned to it the way we hoped they would. I can’t blame them one bit either.
Later today, another New York Yankee will play his final game in Yankee Stadium 63 years after the Yankee Clipper played his last game in pinstripes. Derek Jeter will end his home career as Yankee after 20 years with the Bronx Bombers.
That 1951 season in New York ended with the Yanks defeating the New York Baseball Giants in six games for the World Series title. While it was also DiMaggio’s final season, it was also the first season for young kid from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle.
As I write this today I cannot tell you that there is another player on the Yankees current roster who will fill Jeter’s shoes the way Mantle did with DiMaggio but who knows? Perhaps that player is in the minors right now awaiting the call.
I’ve mentioned before that Jeter would not likely be what he is had he played for any other team. The Yankees are majesty after-all and as much as I despise them I cannot deny what they mean to baseball. Consider that when the Yankees retire Jeter’s number two jersey, the Yankees will have retired every single-digit number worn in their history.
The relevance and importance of Jeter goes beyond being a Yankee though that certainly does help. There is no player who has conducted himself more professionally from day one of his career through today the way Jeter has.
Jeter never referred to late Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner by anything other than “Mr. Steinbrenner.” It didn’t matter how many titles Jeter had brought to his owner either, that level of respect never changed.
In an era where players hit routine ground balls and rarely get to first base before heading back to the dugout, Jeter ran out every ground ball and every pop-fly. Through 20 years, his two significant injuries, a shoulder and an ankle, both occurred while attempting to make a play.
We will never know what kind of career Derek Jeter would have had had he played in Detroit or Cincinnati or San Diego but common sense tells us it wouldn’t have been as sparkling.
Was he as talented as Ken Griffey, Jr or Barry Bonds? No, I don’t believe he was. Those guys would have instantly made their teams contenders whomever they played. Jeter was the perfect player at the perfect time for the Yankees who were really not built with superstars.
Their five titles during his career were built on good players who played great when it mattered and Jeter was the star who shone most brightly. He is the end of an era in New York and while there are certain to be more, the question is when.
Jeter was the guy who guided purists through the dark ages of the steroid era and that is why there is so much respect and admiration for him.
As he puts on the pinstripes for the final time, I join millions in tipping my hat to him while asking “Where have you gone Derek Jeter?”