It’s become commonplace in Boston Red Sox fandom to hate everything New York Yankees. The sustained success. The rings. The Hall of Famers. The stadium. The owners. In past decades, where the Red Sox brand has boomed and legions of fans have jumped aboard, hatred of our friends 220 miles to the south is a rite of passage.
You can hate the team, but you can’t not respect them.
There’s no franchise in the United States that matches the Yankees. There are the 27 World Series titles and the 40 pennants. Babe Ruth is not only the greatest baseball player that ever lived; he was the greatest athlete of the 20th century (yes, better than Michael Jordan). He revolutionized the way the game was played. He transformed American sport. Then there are names like Lou Gherig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mariano Rivera and so on who are synonymous with pinstripes like autumn is synonymous with playoff baseball — or Nathan’s hot dogs as a bleacher creature might say.
Oh yeah, and a guy named Jeter.
If you want to know what Yankees baseball stands for, look at the left side of the diamond. No, not the guy on the hot corner, but the guy who’s manned short for the better part of the last two decades.
Since 1996, Derek Jeter has reinforced what it means when you put on pinstripes as a player who embodied the qualities that made the Bronx the mecca of the baseball world.
The Yankees have won five World Series titles and seven pennants since ’96. They missed the playoffs just twice in an 18-year span. Their four titles in five years and six pennants in eight years between 1996-2003 is the most dominant stretch by an MLB franchise in the last 50 years.
And it all goes back to Jeter.
He’s the antithesis of the era he played in as a guy who doesn’t self-promote, steers clear of controversy, never displays condescension or narcissism and puts winning ballgames above numbers — financially and statistically.
The numbers tell you he is a great table setter who got on, moved guys along and got the offense going. He’s a good singles hitter, with just four seasons of 35-plus doubles and never hitting more than 24 home runs. He’s a great player but never the greatest, as evidenced by never winning an MVP award.
And for the most part, he was that in his prime years — a great one or two-hole hitter who could hit third. He hit for average, got on base and made things happen.
Above all, he made things happen. And that will be his legacy.
If there was one player you wanted on your side in a big moment, it was Jeter. There was the 2001 flip to home against the Oakland Athletics, or the 2001 walk-off home run that forever earned him the nickname Mr. November, or the circus catch he made in extra innings against the Red Sox in 2004 and so many other moments.
He was the one player from this post-strike era mired in narcissism, cheating and arrogance that you can look to and tell your kid to model his game after. He played the game hard. He played the game right. He played the game honestly. He carried himself with class. He respected the game. He respected everyone from the clubhouse staff to the media to the fans and on and on.
How many superstars — not just baseball, but any sport — in this day in age can you say that about?
In a dark era in baseball history that will be forever highlighted by the actions of players like Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds just to name a few, who turned to synthetic enhancements to put up monstrous numbers, Jeter was the exception.
In an era where the worst of baseball was brought out, Jeter brought out the best of America’s pastime.
It was on display Tuesday night at the MLB All-Star Game in Minnesota, where the baseball world convened to pay homage to the man who has been the face of the game for nearly 20 years. The world tipped its collective cap to Jeter.
If you’re a true fan of the Red Sox and lover of the game of baseball, you tipped yours too.