Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Derek Jeter is gold standard of being a Yankee

By Mike Lupica
May 14, 2017

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This is what you must always remember about Derek Jeter, on the occasion of No. 2 being retired at Yankee Stadium: As much winning as he did as the most important Yankee of his time and one of the most important of all time, in those years when he was the leader of the team that made the Yankees the Yankees again, Jeter even managed to win when he and his team lost.

We have talked all week, the way we will talk forever, about that flip play against the A’s in the 2001 playoffs, when he came from shortstop to cut off that throw and made the baseball equivalent of a no-look pass in basketball to Jorge Posada at the plate, before Posada tagged out Jeremy Giambi.

Out of everything that Jeter ever did as a Yankee, perhaps this was the play that best symbolized what he meant:
Because he was there when the Yankees needed him the most that night in Oakland.
Really, though, it had been that way since he first ran out to shortstop for good in April of 1996, about to become the face of everything that was about to happen to the Yankees, whether we knew it at the time or not. Here came this new kid bringing all his old-Yankee grace and old-Yankee values with him. We didn’t know about all that at the time, either, because we didn’t know that much about him. We sure found out over the next 20 years.
But as much as Jeter and those teams mattered, it really is worth remembering today when they mattered as much as they ever had: In three home World Series games in 2001 at the old Stadium, in the shadow of Sept. 11, while the rescue work went on in lower Manhattan; when people in the city looked forward as much as they did to the Yankees against the Diamondbacks in the World Series. Not because those games would change what had happened, would change anything that had happened downtown, really. Just because for a few hours, that far uptown, the world would at least look and sound the way it had on Sept. 10 and Sept. 9 and all the other days in New York before the planes hit the buildings.
It was Joe Torre, a few months later, who would smile and shake his head and talk about the condolences he’d been receiving from Yankee fans since the Yankees had finally lost to the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7. Torre talked about the way the Stadium felt and sounded on those three nights when the Yankees kept coming back to beat the Diamondbacks, until Jeter finally became “Mr. November” and won Game 4.
“You tell me how we lost,” Torre said to me at a party in Manhattan one night.
The Diamondbacks were ahead by two runs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4. But then Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer to tie the game. Jeter finally came up in the bottom of the 10th, right after the clock had struck midnight at the Stadium and it became the first of November. Then Jeter hit one over the right-field wall, not so terribly far from the place in the outfield where Jeffrey Maier had once reached over with his glove in a playoff game against the Orioles in 1996, and Jeter’s ball became a very famous Yankee Stadium home run.
Then Scott Brosius tied Game 5 in the 9th when he hit one off Byung-Hyun Kim, and the Yankees again won in extra innings again. They would never win another game in the ’01 World Series. They got blown out in Game 6 in Phoenix and then Mo Rivera couldn’t get them through the bottom of the ninth after Alfonso Soriano had put the Yankees ahead in Game 7.
Still: For those three nights in October and November of 2001, Jeter and the Yankees meant more than they ever had. So it was inevitable that he would give his team and his fans a moment the way he did with the home-run swing that evened the Series at two games all. Jeter was there that night when it wasn’t just the Yankees who needed him, but his city did as well.
You look back on it all now, on the occasion of the retirement of his number, how he spent 20 years as a star of his team and his city, and how he remained that kind of star even when his skills began to fade. Jeter managed this without scandal or real controversy or becoming the kind of tabloid poster child that Alex Rodriguez would become when he came from Texas to play alongside of Jeter. In so many ways, and we have spoken of this so much over the years, he did become his team’s DiMaggio. It was never about what he said. It was about what he did, and how he did it, and the way he carried himself.
“It wasn’t about how I thought Yankees were supposed to act,” he told me once in front of his locker. “It was about the way I was raised. My parents taught me there was a way everybody was supposed to act.”
Oh, there was the time when there was a “Party On” headline in this paper he didn’t like, after George Steinbrenner suggested that he didn’t much like hearing that Jeter had been out at 3 a.m. after a birthday party one time. He became a story late in the game over his last contract with the Yankees. But then those headlines were gone, and he was still Jeter, not the player he had been when he was young, but carrying himself and conducting his business the way he always did, all the way until he won one last game for the Yankees at the Stadium, with a single to right against the Orioles.
Didn’t hit one over the wall in right. That single to right came at end of a season when the Yankees missed the playoffs again, which always meant a losing season to Derek Jeter. Wasn’t Jeffrey Maier or The Flip or Mr. November or the 3000th hit being a home run. Just helped the Yankees win one more game at Yankee Stadium. The winning didn’t just keep going and going for him. He did. He wasn’t just the Yankee kids wanted to be. He was — and is — what everybody wanted the Yankees to be.

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