The Derek Jeter story is not about his stats. They’re impressive, but others have even better ones. His story is not about his championships. Five is great, but others have more. Jeter is second only to Babe Ruth as the ultimate Yankee because people still believe in the adage actions speak louder than words. They take comfort in it when one of their heroes lives it to the max.
Tradition is a fragile commodity. It doesn’t survive without re-enforcement. Even the great Yankee tradition was on the rocks when Jeter arrived. Fewer than 17,000 fans were in the old Yankee Stadium for his first game there. The Yankees weren’t what they used to be. No one understood that better than Jeter, even as a teenager. He had always dreamed about playing shortstop for the Yankees, a dream he said in his retirement announcement, “I’ve never had to wake up” from.
He was Rookie-of-the-Year in 1996 and the Yankees won the World Series for the first time in 18 years. That’s a long drought for a tradition. Four more championships followed. He had help, of course, but he was the defining constant in one of the national past time’s best restorations. He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t criticize other players, he didn’t taunt them and he never blamed something else for a poor performance. And while others were grabbing headlines and money by cheating, he never took steroids.
The greatest leaders, whatever their pursuit, see their role as part of something bigger than themselves. For Jeter, this wisdom and humility seemed to come naturally. And it rubbed off on many of the others around him. He is the consummate role model for the legion of kids that adore him.
His farewell tour this season will probably make him uncomfortable. He’s never been one to toot his own horn. His fans won’t let him go quietly. They believe too much in him, and too much in actions speak louder than words.
The writer is former sportscaster who’s been a Yankee fan for 50 years.