Derek Jeter Says He’ll Retire at End of 2014 Season
For the past several weeks, Derek Jeter has been doing what he has long done as the Yankees’ redoubtable shortstop for two decades: getting a head start on spring training by working out almost daily at the team’s complex in Tampa, Fla.
But Wednesday was different. Before he began his usual morning routine — fielding grounders, taking batting practice and waiting for more of his teammates to join him on the field in the coming days — Jeter called the Yankees’ majority owner, Hal Steinbrenner, to say he had come to a fateful decision: The 2014 season would be his last in the major leagues.
Steinbrenner, still in New York, having attended the inaugural news conference for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday, was about to board a plane to return to Tampa. But before he could, Jeter, 39, gave him the news that neither Steinbrenner nor any other member of the club’s front office had seen coming.
Hours later, Jeter made his decision public by posting a 14-paragraph statement on his official Facebook page that began with a simple thank you.
“I’ve experienced so many defining moments in my career,” he went on to say. “Winning the World Series as a rookie shortstop, being named the Yankees’ captain, closing the old and opening the new Yankee Stadium. Through it all, I’ve never stopped chasing the next one. I want to finally stop the chase and take in the world.”
Jeter’s brilliant major league career, which began in 1995, includes 5 World Series rings, 13 All-Star Game selections and the distinction of being the only one of the Yankees’ many greats to break the 3,000-hit barrier as a member of the team.
He has been admired virtually universally, both by fans who root for the Yankees and by those who desperately cheer against them, all of them deeply respectful of the way Jeter has consistently played through minor injuries, conducted himself in a way that did not embarrass his team and come through in big moments more times than anyone could possibly remember.
Jeter is a near-certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, a player who forever punched hits to right field, chased down pop-ups in left and made soaring pirouettes from deep short to throw out runners at first base.
But Jeter is also coming off the most disappointing season of his career, one in which he never really recovered from an ankle fracture he sustained in the 2012 American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.
He reinjured the ankle in spring training in 2013 and encountered more problems in his efforts to get back on the field and stay there. In the end, he had only 63 at-bats last season and hit .190, more than 100 points below his career average.
Still, he signed a one-year contract with the Yankees for the 2014 season and exhibited his familiar no-big-deal determination as he set out to prove that he could put his physical problems behind him and again play at a high level — in a season in which he will turn 40, in June. He still may do so, although, in an unusual admission for him, his statement acknowledged that things that always came easily to him “had started to become a struggle.”
“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward,” he wrote.
However he performs, this season will be cast in poignant terms, probably not all that different from the season-long goodbye awarded to another Yankee, Mariano Rivera, last season.
Yankees officials had been led to believe that Jeter was not interested in that sort of farewell, but by making his announcement now, he is creating that precise situation for himself. He seemed to acknowledge that in his statement, saying he wanted “to soak in every moment of every day this year so I can remember it for the rest of my life.”
Exactly what Jeter, who is famously single, intends to do after his playing career ends is unclear, but he offered some professional and personal hints near the conclusion of his statement, saying, “I have new dreams and aspirations, and I want new challenges.”
“There are many things I want to do in business and philanthropic work, in addition to focusing more on my personal life and starting a family of my own,” he added. “And I want the ability to move at my own pace, see the world and finally have a summer vacation.”
To some extent, the sentiments in the statement were foreshadowed by his announcement, in November, that he would start a publishing imprint, Jeter Publishing, in partnership with Simon & Schuster, with a wide range of offerings, including nonfiction books for adults and books for children learning to read.
Jeter’s decision to make 2014 his last hurrah elicited statements of tribute from Major League Baseball, the players union and the Yankees’ hierarchy, with Steinbrenner saying he thought it was “great that he was letting fans know now so they will have a chance to say goodbye to him.”
Hank Steinbrenner, Hal’s brother, weighed in, too. “As far as being Mr. Yankee, he is in the same class as Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle,” he said in a telephone interview. “He will always be the No. 1 representative of those great teams of the ’90s, just as those other guys were for their great teams. That’s his legacy.”
The Yankees’ regular season opens at Houston on April 1 and concludes, appropriately enough, on Sept. 28 at Fenway Park against Boston, the team that has always stood as the foremost rival of Jeter and the Yankees.
It was against the Red Sox, after all, that Jeter once threw himself headlong into the Yankee Stadium stands after a successful effort to grab a pop-up, a play that left him bloodied and came to forever symbolize the intensity of the rivalry and the resolve with which Jeter played.
His last regular-season home game in 2014 is scheduled to come three days before, on a Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles. Write A Comment When Rivera played the last home game of his career in the fall, Jeter and Andy Pettitte, who was also about to retire, went to the mound to remove Rivera from the game in an improvised and emotional moment.
How Jeter will ultimately depart will draw more attention as the season plays out and prices for those final games escalate. Whether his goodbye will ultimately extend into October, and a final postseason fling with the only team he has ever played for, also remains to be seen.
But true to form, Jeter ended his statement by saying he wanted “to help the Yankees reach our goal of winning another championship.” On a day when he soberly acknowledged his own mortality as a player, that sounded like the Jeter everyone has come to know.