Derek Jeter is the undisputed captain of the New York Yankees. He is the face of the franchise. He is more than just a player — he is an institution. Since 1995, Jeter has given Yankees’ fans something genuine to cheer for. He is a leader. A professional. A Yankee. For almost 20 seasons, the shortstop from Kalamazoo, Michigan has played every game like it was his last. Now, at 39, Jeter’s last games may actually be upon us.
There is no doubt that Jeter can still play the game. He was supposedly becoming too old to play after the 2011 season, only to return in 2012 to lead the league in hits (216). His fielding ability may have diminished along with his legs, but as fans saw when he wasn’t on the field last season, he is still more reliable than many of his possible replacements.
If Derek had played last season like he did in 2012, I would not be writing this today. But, the fact of the matter is that 2013 was a disaster of a season for the captain. An ankle injury sustained at the end of the 2012 season caused him to miss Opening Day. Then, a series of other injuries plagued him throughout the course of the season. Jeter said himself that the season was a debacle. He was only able to appear in 17 games, and his absence was definitely felt by his teammates.
I say the 2014 season will be the last for Jeter based on the type of ball player that he is. If he returns in 2014 and plays at a high level, he will be able to say he went out on top. He left it all out on the field and has nothing to regret. He played the same way from his first days as a Yankee in 1995 until his last in 2014. That will mean a lot to Jeter, and it may be enough for him to justify retiring.
On the other hand, if Jeter returns and struggles in 2014, he can attribute it to age and the simple fact that his body just can’t perform at the level it used to. As much of a competitor as he is, he can’t stomach another season like 2013. Jeter isn’t the type of player to be content with just sitting in the dugout as a possible backup or pinch hitter. If he can’t play at the level he expects from himself, anticipate him to walk away at the end of the season.
Regardless of the outcome of 2014, it is probable that it will be No. 2’s last in pinstripes. It will be the end of an era. A changing of the guard. After 20 seasons and five World Series, the time has come to bid the captain farewell.