Jeter's announcement prompts praise around baseball
Yankees captain's historic career draws awe from former, current Major Leaguers
If a Major Leaguer's career can be measured by the perception of his peers, then the guy wearing No. 2 in Yankees pinstripes the last couple of decades might be No. 1 in terms of universal respect, from team to team and generation to generation.
Derek Jeter's announcement that 2014 will mark his last season elicited responses of reverence for a player whose 13 All-Star Game appearances and five World Series rings tell only part of the tale of how this particular shortstop's influence goes such a long way.
Few around the game today can deliver perspective on Jeter's career better than Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who was the face of the Yankees for years before a certain kid from Michigan arrived and began a road that is destined to end in Cooperstown.
"I remember seeing him the first day of his first Spring Training, [an 18]-year-old kid out of high school," said Mattingly, whose final season in 1995 also marked Jeter's debut in the Majors. "A skinny little kid, but probably the toughest guy I ever saw out on the field. That's not the outside view -- a good looking guy, always doing the right thing, clean-cut. But [he's] one tough customer on the field, competitive. Been winning since the day he got there, and that tells you a lot. He was the leader of that group."
Indeed, Jeter had the good fortune and great talent to be part of the Yankees' "Core Four" -- and a year from now, he'll join Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada in retirement. Jeter's arrival in the big leagues coincided with the Yanks' return to prominence, and he was at the heart of the team's three straight World Series wins from 1998-2000, the last time any team has repeated as champion.
Said Posada, in a statement: "I'm so proud of our friendship and I love him like a brother. Derek was a true champion and the greatest teammate I ever had."
But to many, Jeter transcends the success he and the Yankees have shared, simply because of the way he carried himself not only in the glare of the New York spotlight, but in other ways, such as representing his country in World Baseball Classic play or giving back to the community with his Turn 2 Foundation.
"In the 21-plus years in which I have served as Commissioner, Major League Baseball has had no finer ambassador than Derek Jeter," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Since his championship rookie season of 1996, Derek has represented all the best of the National Pastime on and off the field. He is one of the most accomplished and memorable players of his -- or any -- era.
"Derek is the kind of person that generations have emulated proudly, and he remains an exemplary face of our sport. Major League Baseball looks forward to celebrating his remarkable career throughout the 2014 season."
MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark, who played alongside Jeter and against him in a 15-year career that began when Jeter's began, also hailed the Yankees' captain as an ambassador of the game, displaying "awe-inspiring levels of passion, determination and excellence" throughout his career.
"A champion on and off the field, Derek's impact cannot be understated," Clark said. "Not only does he make the game better, he makes lives better through his Turn 2 charitable foundation. Derek has set the standard that we should all strive to achieve."
Those like Clark who shared the field with Jeter over the years have known to expect only great things from Jeter, and it's clear many have come away believing Jeter did things the right way, a big deal in baseball.
Derek Jeter is my idol, and will always be the example that I strive to follow. It's been an honor to share a diamond with The Captain #2- Hanley Ramirez (@HanleyRamirez) February 12, 2014
"He's been unreal, classy, he's had a great career," said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. "So many people have had the opportunity to look up to him. He's going to leave such a great legacy."
Said Rockies skipper Walt Weiss, himself a former shortstop: "The way he's handled being on a big stage in New York, how he's managed to stay away from negative headlines in that market for that long on that big a stage for me is as impressive as anything he's accomplished."
For crosstown star David Wright, seeing how Jeter went about his business was key to his own development, which includes the honor of becoming the Mets' captain as of last season.
"I was fortunate as a young player in this town to be able to watch how Derek Jeter conducted himself on and off the field," Wright said in a statement. "I had the privilege to call Derek a teammate during the World Baseball Classic and got to see firsthand how to lead by example. I've always been a big Derek Jeter fan for what he has done on the baseball field. I became an even bigger fan after getting to know Derek and learning there is more to this game than what goes on between the lines. Excluding the Subway Series, I wish him all the best in his final season."
Clearly, Jeter's influence on the game spans generations, as those who came before him and watched him emerge as a star know so well. Craig Biggio, who preceded Jeter as a member of the 3,000-hit club, is among those who view the Yankees' shortstop as one the greats of his or any other era.
"His legacy with the Yankees and in baseball is really second to none," said Biggio, who was two votes shy from election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2014. "He's got a long list of things to be proud of. I think the biggest thing is, the most important thing, is the respect he got from his teammates and the respect he got from other players."
Much like Mariano Rivera a year ago, Jeter can expect farewells from around the country with each final stop he makes along the way in 2014. Biggio went through the same thing in '07, so he knows what Jeter should expect out of his final year.
"I just think the biggest thing is to enjoy it, and I think it's such a classy move," Biggio said. "If you know what you're going to be doing, to be able to announce to the fans so they can get an opportunity to watch you play one more time, that's great."
It's a farewell tour that will give not only fans a chance to bid a great player goodbye, but also players.
"He's a very well-respected Major Leaguer and is one of those guys who plays very hard and plays for a very good team that has won a lot of championships," Royals pitcher Bruce Chen said. "Like Mariano [Rivera], he's announced he's going to retire before the season starts, and I'm expecting a big tour when he goes through every single stadium, too, because of all the things he has done for baseball."
The reaction on Twitter from players and former players echoed many of the sentiments shared as players began to arrive in Spring Training camps. From young players looking up to Jeter since childhood to veterans having seen him go about his business for years to former players knowing the influence he had on the game, the respect was flowing.
Might cry when Jeter plays his last game favorite player growing up...did it the right way- Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) February 12, 2014
With the end of Jeter's playing career in sight, it's natural to look back on where it all started, like Mattingly did.
D-backs general manager Kevin Towers, for instance, was a cross-checker for the Pirates when he went to see Jeter play in high school. But Jeter had an ankle injury and it was a rainy day, so the area scout warned Towers he might not see the kid at his best.
"This guy made four or five of the best plays I've ever seen, range plays up the middle, went like 4-for-5, pouring rain, sloppy track, and he's playing like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Towers said. "He made a body-control play, his signature throw up in the air. I remember going back to my hotel room, it was such an easy write. I still have my report: 'If this guy's there, we have to take him.' It was an easy call, and that was with a bad ankle."
And then there's the scout who signed him for the Yankees -- Dick Groch, now a Brewers special assistant. The Yanks snatched Jeter as the No. 6 overall pick in the 1992 First-Year Player Draft, and Groch saw that pick blossom into a legend.
"People tell me, 'You signed a good player,'" Groch said. "But no -- and I know I sound a little bit vain -- I signed a franchise. This is a marquee player, and there are very few. Babe Ruth was a marquee player. All the money that Babe Ruth made for the Yankees more than paid his salary. And now people say Derek Jeter is overpaid, but he was a marquee player and the amount of money he made for the New York Yankees in 20 years more than paid his debt. That's a special guy, and this is the way you want him to go out."
Mattingly, too, can appreciate the big picture of Jeter's career. It's one that began with an 18-year-old stepping on a Spring Training field for the first time, and it will end with Jeter turning 40 in his final season this year. The former first baseman remembers that "skinny little kid" picking up the nuances of the game with each passing day and each passing year.
Mattingly knew Jeter was on his way to great things, and now he is among many around the game wishing Jeter a fond farewell season.
"I'm excited for him," Mattingly said. "Derek deserves to go out on his own terms. He's been so good for so long. I'm glad he can do it the way he wants to do it."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. Reporters Anthony DiComo, Steve Gilbert, Ken Gurnick, Thomas Harding, Dick Kaegel, Adam McCalvy, Brian McTaggart and Phil Rogers contributed to this article.