I grew up in Waltham, Massachusetts, a stone’s throw away from Lexington, where the American Revolution began in earnest. Thus, it is at least slightly ironic that my hometown team, the Boston Red Sox, were mortal enemies with that team from the Bronx, the New York Yankees. And oh boy, was that a true rivalry. Cal and Stanford talk trash occasionally, but you get the sense that the students on both campuses would rather be changing the world than squabbling over an axe mounted on a plaque. Red Sox-Yankees is more akin to two rabid squirrels fighting over a stash of nuts year after year since the beginning of time (circa 1900, when organized baseball became a reality).
Over the years, the iconic moments of the rivalry have generally involved the Bronx Bombers one-upping their rivals, whether it was the infamous trade of a certain George Herman Ruth that spawned the legendary Curse of the Bambino that took almost a hundred years to exorcise, the Bucky [expletive] Dent game, the rise of the Yankees dynasty in the late ’90s and of course the numerous postseason clashes between the Red Sox and Yankees that I myself remember vividly, with Aaron Boone’s gut-wrenching walk-off home run in 2003 coming readily to mind. Although the Red Sox broke the Curse the very next year, my brother and I still shudder spasmodically when we think about the emotions of all those years playing second fiddle to a team that just pretty much owned us when it mattered.
Emblematic of that ownership and control was “The Captain” himself, the legendary Derek Jeter, who has finally tipped his cap and ridden off into the sunset, retiring two weeks ago to moving tributes from both Yankee and Red Sox fans alike. The tabloids report that he might possibly be getting married very soon; if so, congratulations to him, and I wish him the happiest in his post-baseball life. Jeter is the rare player who is just so darned hard to hate, even as a Red Sox fan. Even though his absence will probably help my Sox win some games and (hopefully) help the Yankees lose some, I am still sad to see the dude go.
When you talk about Jeter, the first word that comes to mind is class. From his at-the-plate mannerisms to the purity of his batting form to his fundamentals at shortstop, every subtle motion Jeter makes just seems classy. This extends off the field of play as well, as Jeter has long been one of the most well-spoken elder statesmen in the game of baseball: always in control, always diplomatic and somehow through it all exceedingly humble. With other players, their love lives have become true fodder for the tabloids; for a perfect example of this, consider Alex Rodriguez, another player with a similar career arc to Jeter’s, who finds every move of his under immense scrutiny. Jeter has had a slew of significant others, each drop-dead gorgeous, and yet his private life has never seemed to be a sideshow or a circus act, never interfering with his consistency on the field.
A rare one-team athlete in a generation filled with player movement and attrition, Jeter holds nearly every club record for the Yankees, including all-time hits, doubles, games played, stolen bases and at-bats. He finished his career with 3,465 hits, is the 28th member of the 3,000-hit club and was a 14-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove awardee and a five-time Silver Slugger awardee.
You don’t just receive the nickname “Captain Clutch” or “Mr. November” from Yankees fans; you really do have to earn it, and Jeter has done that time and time again. On the biggest stage, under the brightest lights, Jeter delivers, holding MLB postseason records for games played, plate appearances, hits, singles, doubles, triples, runs scored and total bases. He holds a .309 batting average in the playoffs and a ludicrous .321 batting average in the World Series, both subtle but significant upticks from his regular season marks. And most importantly, he is a five-time World Series champion.
It is remarkably fitting that Jeter’s final game in Yankee Stadium came with another bravura moment, as he singled home the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth again against a playoff-bound Baltimore Orioles squad. Ever the clutch player, he delivered when the chips were on the line, capping off a disappointing year by his standards with one last moment of greatness at home. I watched that postgame carefully, as Jeter was greeted by a number of Yankees legends and friends, before walking back out to that small patch of area just between second and third base, crouching for a bit and gathering up a small patch of infield dirt before steeling his face and making for the showers. Another legend bids America’s pastime farewell, and we are all the worse off for it. Enjoy the civilian life, Derek Jeter, and go Red Sox.
Vignesh Venkataraman’s editor, a Yankee fan isolated on the West Coast, cringed upon reading that last line, but he’ll let it slide. Send all your Red Sox hate mail to Viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.