, Newburyport, MA

February 13, 2014

His last season in pinstripes

On Baseball
Tim Lima

---- — His rally-killing, midair throw to first base while falling toward third and leaping into outfield grass is something that Red Sox fans will no longer have to stomach. His run — while valiant — is coming to an end.

It’s an announcement that will please Sox fans, but should it? Derek Jeter told the world via Facebook on Tuesday that at the conclusion of this upcoming season, his career in professional baseball will end.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it was time to move forward,” the post reads. “ ... Now it’s time for the next chapter.”

Listen, I get it. As long as a someone rocking pinstripes steps to the plate at Fenway, they won’t be well-regarded. But, can’t we make an exception?

Jeter has long been in a short class of athletes who represent not only themselves or their organization, but their sport in a positive manner. While many ball players have been made better by their sport, Jeter’s sport was made better by him — such was the case with Mariano Rivera who finished his career last season.

So while the thought of the Yankees minus their famed captain may be intriguing, it’s guys like Jeter who have kept the league’s reputation afloat in this era of syringes and capsules. Rather than getting a big head — literally and figuratively — over the course of nearly two decades in the spotlight, Jeter held himself to a higher regard. While often tempted to lose his composure, he didn’t, and while superstars became self-promoting, he remained humble.

Baseball, not money symbols. Batting practice, not chemicals. Pride, not arrogance.

What many should begin to question is not why but when this announcement has been made. In an age of up-to-the-second information, Jeter’s announcement comes more than half a year early. Famed athletes rarely finish a season — or start one — before announcing the end of their career anymore.

Brett Favre’s retirement announcement was an annual preseason tradition. Mariano Rivera’s final season was enjoyed and celebrated for months. Now, Jeter’s final regular season will culminate with an afternoon game at Yawkey Way on Sept. 28 — which is already leaving people scrambling to mark their calendars.

Because of that, we lose raw emotion. We lose the nostalgia of a last-at-bat that isn’t viewed live around the world and broken down for weeks. Baseball is a business, but a concluding career of one of the game’s best should be less of a marketing ploy and more of a memory. Looking back on a final season — final game — final at bat would be far more rewarding than looking forward to them for months.

Though spring training hasn’t yet begun, we already have a major storyline scribbled for seven months down the road. Jeter’s final season will be appreciated, he will get the standing-O’s and perhaps the parting gifts from each of the Major League teams, and he should.

When it becomes nauseating, think of what Jeter has meant to the league, and consider the alternative — cellphone numbers on baseballs for the cute blonde in the first row, Supreme Court trials, asterisks and lawsuits.

He will be missed.