Steinbrenner 'surprised' with Jeter's decision to retire
Managing general partner expresses his gratitude, didn't try to change captain's mind
TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter's announcement went to voice mail. Hal Steinbrenner's phone lit up late in the evening last week, and when the Yankees' managing general partner did not recognize the incoming number, the call was ignored.
It was Jeter on the other end, reaching out to give Steinbrenner and the Yankees a preview of what he planned to post on Facebook the next day. The world got to read it for themselves soon after: Jeter had decided that 2014 would be his final Major League season.
"I didn't recognize the area code," Steinbrenner said on Wednesday. "I didn't check the voice mail until the next day. It said Florida, but it was some crazy area code. My bad. Usually somebody texts me, and that's what he did the next morning. I called him right away."
Steinbrenner said that he thought Jeter was calling to talk about the team's chances for the upcoming season, something that the captain has done occasionally in the past. Instead, they had a conversation that caught Steinbrenner off guard.
"I was surprised," Steinbrenner said. "He told me this was going to be his last year, gave me some thoughts about how he wanted to get the message out. I said, 'Whatever you feel is appropriate, we're with you.'"
Steinbrenner said that in the call, he expressed his gratitude for everything that Jeter has done for the organization and did not try to talk Jeter out of his decision.
"No, I respect when an individual makes a decision like this, because I know how much time and thought they put into it," Steinbrenner said. "It's not my place to second-guess."
The timing also surprised general manager Brian Cashman, who said that he didn't expect Jeter to make any sort of announcement at this time -- especially as he works to return from a 2013 season that was almost completely lost to injury.
Cashman said that amongst members of the front office, the coaching staff and even Jeter's teammates, "No one saw this coming." Jeter's career with the Yankees will end after 20 seasons, highlighted by at least five World Series titles and a current total of 3,316 hits.
"Those are the things that you dream about, finding somebody that's going to be with your franchise for as long as he's been," Cashman said. "A Secretariat, so to speak, that you can run in as many races as you can and win a lot. He's been that type of player for us."
Members of the Yankees' hierarchy are quick to pinpoint their favorite Jeter moment -- Cashman's, for example, is the 2001 "flip play" -- but Jeter is not looking at the 2014 season as some sort of greatest-hits tour. Jeter's mantra is to win, and the Yankees expect him to play at a high level.
"We need him to play shortstop," Cashman said. "We need everything Derek Jeter can provide, like we have for the past as many years as he's been here. Now more than ever, I know he's looking forward to giving everything that he's got."
Jeter briefly paused Wednesday's media availability to tell manager Joe Girardi that he should get the team back on the field for workouts; as Girardi told Jeter, the pitchers and catchers had already completed their tasks for the afternoon.
"I thought he did great," Girardi said. "I think it's to Derek's personality; he does not want to be a distraction. He always thinks about the team. Telling us to get out and go to work? That's who he is."
Whether Jeter likes it or not, teams around the Majors will certainly be planning sendoff ceremonies to honor his final visit to their cities -- something that Girardi and the Yankees saw last season on Mariano Rivera's last tour of the league.
Girardi said that the attention may make Jeter uncomfortable, but he hopes that Jeter will be able to enjoy it.
"I think it'll be hard for him, I really do," Girardi said. "I think maybe he'll sit back a little bit at times, like when you talk about the last day of Spring Training, he'll maybe sit down and kind of soak that in, or the last time you go to a city for the year. So he might soak it in a little bit, but I don't think that's his nature. His focus will be winning, like always."
With Yankees position players in camp and set to have their first workout on Thursday, Jeter's final spring is about to officially get underway. Steinbrenner said that he is looking forward to seeing what the team looks like and believes that the Yankees have the kind of roster that will send Jeter out as a winner.
"Right now, it's kind of surreal and it's strange to think about the Yankees without him in the lineup, but we're not there yet," Steinbrenner said. "I'm just excited about this year. I'm excited that he's healthy. He told me on the phone it's the best he's felt, ever. It's going to be a good year."