I’ve had the worst dilemma over the past 20 years. I learned to despise the Yankees at an early age. They stood for everything that was wrong and unfair about baseball in my mind. They won because they bought free agents. They won because they have the largest TV market. They won because they could make contract mistakes and simply absorb them. They weren’t a model organization. They just spent money and bought championships.
But, my dilemma: Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
I love those guys.
How can I despise their organization and pull for these guys as players? This has kept me up at night for two decades!
Now, with the announcement from Jeter that 2014 will be his final season, the Yankees will soon be without two of the most iconic players they’ve had in my lifetime. Rivera, of course, ended his career after last season.
Rivera and Jeter embody everything that is actually right with the Yankees.
Here’s what I’ve learned from them and what I will miss when neither is in the game.
1. Act like you’ve been there before. Let’s be fair…it’s easy to act like you’ve been there before when you really have. Rivera and Jeter won championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009. They were “there” more than anyone. Yet, before they even won that first one, these guys were professionals. And they continued to be, year after year. Jeter’s simple fist pump after moments of great success. Rivera’s jog in from the bull pen. Do your job. Go home. Come back tomorrow. Act like you’ve been there before.
2. Hustle. At one point in his career, Jeter was a good shortstop. That was long ago. In the past decade, he lost more and more range and made fewer and fewer plays. This, however, is overshadowed by the storyline of his hustle. That play he made to flip the ball to Jorge Posada against the A’s in the 2001 ALDS. The time he dove into the stands to catch a foul ball and bloodied his nose. All the highlights of his jump throw from deep in the hole at short. That’s why people love him. He hustled. He played hard. Every day. Hustle. It just might get you somewhere.
3. Keep it in-house. I find it pleasantly ironic that Jeter is retiring before he is forced to play again with Alex Rodriguez. Good for him. Never once did either Rivera or Jeter air the Yankees’ dirty laundry to the press. Never once did they call out a teammate publicly. Never once were they accused of being a clubhouse cancer. They kept everything in-house. They knew the value of not being a distraction to a team, unlike the guy Jeter will never play with again.
4. Work to perfect what you do best. It would be virtually impossible to teach young players to hit like Jeter or throw like Rivera. Jeter’s inside-out swing is somewhat unorthodox. Rivera’s cutter, by his own admission, was a gift from God. Jeter never tried to do anything but get hits to the opposite field. It’s what he did best and he nearly perfected it, to the tune of over 3,300 hits so far. Rivera had one pitch, and became the greatest relief pitcher of all time. One pitch, perfected. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Thank God for what he’s given you and work hard to make the most of it.
5. Be all in. It’s somewhat unfair to say that it was a chore for these guys to buy into being a Yankee. After all, New York’s American League team is the one most free agents dream of. When guys get there, they’re “all in,” and are well compensated for it. Yet, there was something different about Jeter and Rivera. They embraced the Yankee way, never sought to make themselves bigger than the franchise, and did their best to earn their money and the respect of the fans. Perhaps they were indeed at the pinnacle of baseball franchises, but surely, toward the end of their careers, there was temptation to play somewhere else simply for a little extra money or an additional year on the contract. They refused to even consider it. They were all in with the Yankees and are legends, in part, because of that.
Now that both these guys will soon be out of the game, my disdain for the Yankees can return to full form. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I almost pulled for them because of Jeter and Rivera. Almost.