The Red Sox said their own elegant and tasteful goodbye to Derek Jeter on Sunday afternoon. They did it with gifts and old captains of their own, and from other sports, and Bobby Orr, the greatest hockey player of them all.
Finally, Bernie Williams stood in the sun, in what was like the ending to all of Jeter’s baseball summers, and played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his guitar.
History will show that Jeter’s career ended in Boston with two more infield hits this weekend, the last a little bit before 2:30 on this Sunday afternoon, a chopper off home plate toward third that stayed in the air a long time. By the time it came down, Jeter, who busted it out of the batter’s box, had safely crossed first base.
He ran as hard as he could because he always ran out balls that way. At least he could still run on his last day. Joe DiMaggio limped away at the end and Mickey Mantle could barely run at all and Willis Reed’s knees were shot. Joe Namath had hobbled off to finish his career with the Rams, and Clyde Frazier, a champion as cool as Jeter has always been, ended up in Cleveland.
Then you saw it all play out on television, the last act for Jeter, almost as fast as he’d had gotten down the line. It was an infield hit, but a hit to end on.
“I got enough of the plate,” he would say on YES when it was over. One last hit, one last RBI.
Joe Girardi was looking out at Jeter, running a hand underneath his chin, asking if he was done; done for the day, for the season, for good. Jeter gave him a quick nod. Brian McCann, who would replace him as the Yankees’ designated hitter, was coming across the infield grass to pinch-run for Jeter.
So that was the way the books were closed. Oh, history will absolutely show that Jeter got his last hit — the 3,465th of his career, the one that put his lifetime batting average at .310 for a big-league career that started in 1995 — at Fenway Park. But we will always know differently in New York. We will always know that the real goodbye for Derek Jeter was said at Yankee Stadium last Thursday night, not just witnessed by the ones lucky enough to be in the ballpark for one of the greatest sports nights our city has ever seen, but by the rest of those who love Jeter’s sport the way he always did, a sport he honored as much as anybody who ever played it, in the Bronx or anywhere else.
They chanted Jeter’s name again at Fenway on Sunday. But those weren’t our chants, just because he wasn’t theirs. He belonged to New York, was identified with the city as much as any athlete ever has been, all the way back to Babe Ruth. The point-missers still think you can quantify who he was and what he meant with numbers. Go ahead and tell that to anybody who was at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the ninth on Thursday night.
I was talking to Dwight Gooden about Jeter on Sunday. Gooden: Who was once supposed to be everything in New York that Jeter became. He played with Jeter on the Yankees, and Jeter caught the last out of Gooden’s no-hitter with the Yankees back in 1996, when Gooden was already moving up on the end of a career that was supposed to be so much more. Of course it was all still in front of Jeter.
“I wish he was my teammate when I was 19,” said Gooden, who would find a darker side to fame in New York City, who would write all the bad headlines on the front and back pages of the newspapers that Jeter never once did.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, (once in) a generation thing where something like (Jeter) could happen,” Gooden said, “and happen like it did in New York.”
You know by now that even though Jeter grew up in Michigan, he used to come and visit his grandmother in New Jersey, who would take him to ballgames at the old Stadium, the one where he made the best memories for himself and for this generation of Yankee fans, on the other side of 161st St. from where the new Yankee Stadium stands. I asked him about those trips to the Stadium once, in his corner of the clubhouse at the old place.
“If you were a kid,” he said, “what better place was there to dream?”
They gave him a proper sendoff in Boston, because the people running the Red Sox do up this kind of occasion better than anybody, even when they’re doing it for a New York Yankee. But the day was like an epilogue. Jeter closed the books on Thursday night, at the Stadium, in the Bronx, N.Y. They chanted his name good and loud in Boston. Just not the way New York did.
He was what we want baseball to be, and sports to be. And he was ours.