Yankees great Derek Jeter goes out his way -- without a fuss

TAMPA, Fla. Yankees great Derek Jeter held his retirement press conference in the free standing hall adjacent to George M. Steinbrenner Field that will likely forever be known, at least to the writers, as “The A-Rod Pavilion.” It’s where the great Jeter’s frenemy Alex Rodriguez first told us about “Boli,” the “loosey goosey days” of Texas and his cousin the culprit.

No shocker, nothing Derek Jeter did or said earned a new name for the banquet hall. Jeter isn’t about press conferences, off-field moments or distractions. Nearly his entire game was played out on the field, right before out very eyes, which is quite the rarity in New York.

He has had 19 years of in-game highlights, with one more to go, and he promises nothing less than usual. As for his press conference, it was less, much less. In other words, the usual. He said he figured he needed to cut the extras for the sake of “sustainability.”

Man, did he ever. Save for a starlet or three who made her way into his life for a little while, Jeter never did anything to enhance his celebrity or call attention to himself. He did it his way.

As for his big sendoff, he did what he does at these things. He spoke and dressed casually (warm-ups for him), and he said nothing for the headlines. He was occasionally coy, and at a time or two, he threw in a quip or two.

The Yankee employee who whispered to me afterward, “Man, wasn’t that boring?” misses the point. That is practically the goal!

At the very least, it is to stay under the radar. On that score, no one did it better. Jeter beat the paparazzi as badly as he trounced the Orioles, Indians and Royals and other assorted patsies over the years.  

Jeter, 39 and heading into his 20th season, put almost as much effort into making sure he was as unmemorable off the field as he was memorable on it. He doesn’t pat himself on the back much but he did take credit for being pretty good at “trying to hide my emotions.”

No kidding. When I asked him if he was as unemotional on the inside as he appeared to be on the outside, he replied, “You trying to make me cry?”

If I was, it didn’t work. Not a tear was shed.

“Yeah, I have feelings,” Jeter claimed in the same answer.

“I’m not emotionally stunted,” Jeter insisted.

As for highlights, that was about it. And that’s OK.

The joy was in watching him play. Nobody wanted to win more, and few did as much to further the cause. And that’s plenty.

He got it from the get-go.

In a discussion shortly after his ascension to the Yankees team, he and another prospect were responding to someone saying New York was a long way from Columbus, Ohio, where the Yankees’ Triple-A team played then. The other fellow started to calculate the mileage. Jeter understood what the phrase actually meant, even at 18. And he never went back.

He is what he is (that’s a New York phrase if there ever was one). He is a guy who came from Kalamazoo to play and win. That never changed from the moment of the conference call following his selection as the No. 6 overall pick (from Phil Nevin to Chad Mottola, the first five, all college kids, will live in unlucky infamy). That was the call where a young Daily News beat writer dared to ask whether Jeter would remain a shortstop in the pros, and the scouting director who drafted him, the curmudgeonly Bill Livesey, gave the kid an earful.

Yes, he’s a …. SHORTSTOP. Darned right he was.

Jeter, the lanky kid who was hidden away in the cold at Kalamazoo Central, will go down as one of the five or six greatest shortstops of all time. He will also go down as one of the five or six greatest Yankees ever. The Yankees themselves provided the most amazing statistic, courtesy of Elias, which is that of the 2,602 regular-season games in which Jeter appeared, he played in only game in which the Yankees were mathematically eliminated. Let that sink in: one meaningless game in September (2008).

No Yankees great can match that, but Jeter doesn’t care about comparisons. When asked what comes to mind when that subject of all-time Yankees comes up, he answered with one word “bored.”

Jeter was all about the play, and the plays. The highlight reel could fill a story, even an endless Internet story. He only answered that he’ll recall the wins when asked to name his most memorable plays. Since he needed a little help, the most memorable plays were, in order, 1. The Flip. 2. The Dive. (When he came up bloody after going headfirst into the third-base boxes) 3. The “Mr. November” Home Run. 4. The Jeffrey Maier Home Run. 5. The Home Run That Sunk The Mets  (a leadoff shot in the Sunway World Series).

For those who say his numbers weren’t that great, well, he’s one of two players to top 3,000 hits, 250 home runs, 300 stolen bases and 1,200 RBI. The other is Willie Mays.

For those who claim he wasn’t such a great defender, well, he did win five Gold Gloves. (Hey, that’s not all on rep.)

For those who claim there’s no such thing as clutch, well, check out those postseason numbers. Facing only the best pitchers in the worst conditions, he put together what would have amounted to a typical season, only with a little more power:158 games, .308 batting average, 111 runs, 20 home runs.

It takes a great player to produce the invisible Hank Steinbrenner, and he was there today along with most other known Steinbrenners, tens of Yankees officials, all of his teammates, and a couple hundred more folks. Of course after about 10 minutes, Jeter apologized for keeping them so long, while suggesting they all get back to something more important.

No one moved, of course. They stayed to hear him say he expects to “compete” like always, and to “help the team win.”  He also said he feels “great,” denied his decision had anything to do with his health and explained that he just started to feel like the game became a job last year and how there are “other things I want to do."

Typical of him he didn't exactly wax poetic on those “other things,” but only mentioned that he wanted to do more work with his Turn 2 Foundation, and also to start a family. (He didn’t say whether he had a certain starlet in mind.)

Jeter made the original announcement on Facebook, and he did it before they all got here so as not to distract his teammates all year with questions about his future. In keeping with secondary goal to winning of not creating a fuss, he staged a press conference to upstage no one, including A-Rod, who, by the way, couldn't make it this time.

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