Re2pect: Thank you, Captain
Growing up in the 70s, my Yankee heroes were Catfish, Goose, Guidry, Jackson, Munson, Murcer, Nettles and Piniella. The late 70s had a lot of great moments for the boys in pinstripes. Some tragedy too, but some great, great memories.
Then, in the 80s, it was Mattingly, and also Randolph, Winfield and Rickey too. Aside from those guys, though, these were bleak years for the Yankees. Also, during those same 80s, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the likes of Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, as I caddied for them on a Long Island country club.
I wondered what it must have been like to witness these guys playing—to actually witness baseball legends in the field and batter’s box, to actually see players who fans still talk about so many years later. To that point, I merely knew of the careers of such legends via the few highlights available, reading stories about them and hearing my parents talk about seeing these greats play, along with the likes of DiMaggio and Berra and Rizzuto, in the 40s and 50s.
Well, the 90s started off as bleakly for the Yankees as the 80s had ended. Then the Yankees got some key veterans (Key, Cone, O'Neill, etc) and then some young guys started to hold their own, and for the first time in 20 years the Yankees entered another glorious phase.
Among those young players of course was Derek Jeter. Like Rivera who retired last year, neither was deep into their career before I knew I was watching someone special, someone who indeed would be talked about years later. Sure, the Yankees have a way of keeping alive the memory of even middling players with their Old Timers Days pomp and circumstance. But, 20, 30 and 40 years from now, I’ve little doubt there will be Yankee fans wondering what it would have been like to watch Jeter play live—whether hitting dramatic home runs in October and November, or making flips to home plate from across the first base foul line, or running full speed and head first into the crowd and emerging with a bloodied face and a ball in his glove.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, there were better statistical shortstops for stretches, but I can’t think of any one shortstop who played so long and so well on one team, who did it with his hustle, who played with his smile, who interacted with fans the way he did and who enjoyed the post-season success he did. I don’t need a glorious WAR star. I’m just glad my team had Jeter.
And I no longer have to wonder what it is like to see a legend play, because I saw Derek Jeter play.
Thanks for the memories, Captain. Re2pect.