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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Jeter retiring with class, on his own terms

Published:   |   Updated: February 13, 2014 at 06:57 AM

When he let the world know Wednesday that 2014 will be his final season, he did it on Facebook (leave it to him).

Who didn’t begin rifling through memories?

You don’t need to know Derek Jeter, or have even met him, to have memories.

He is that much of a face in the book that is baseball.

Maybe it’s 1996, that dead calm Yankees rookie shortstop, the one with the sleepy-bear face, going in the hole for the pennant-clinching out in Game 5 of the ALCS, throwing to first to nip Orioles great Cal Ripken, to change the guard, to send the kid’s club to the World Series for the first time in 15 years, where they’d win it all — and then win it in three of four years after that.

Or it’s Jeter sprinting on a July night in the Bronx, diving into the third-base boxes after a foul ball in a game against the Red Sox, coming up bloodied, but also with the catch, as Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez looks on.

Or it’s Jeter, again out of nowhere, a road gray ghost, flying across the first base line in Oakland, grabbing a bad relay throw, flipping it back-handed, a no-look shovel, like he does it every day, all instinct, born to play the game ... to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate to save a playoff win in Oakland.

Or it’s Jeter, after midnight, after October ended, beating Arizona with a walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series. Mr. November.

Or it’s Jeter getting his 3,000th hit, at the new Yankee Stadium, off Rays lefty David Price — a home run, of course.

Always that flair, always in the moment.

There will be plenty of time to remember, to rank it in order, as a well as Jeter’s standing in Yankees history (Seriously, I put him No. 2, behind Babe Ruth).

In an era when baseball was often adrift, Jeter was its beacon, the game’s touchstone.

What would Jeter do?

Here was the Yankees captain, nearly always out there, doing his job, and the right thing, above the fray, above the swamp of cheating and cheaters. I tell you, if Jeter had ever been linked to anything, baseball would have closed shop.

He never went there. He never went anywhere you truly minded, even while he was beating your team. He was that kind of player. Yes, he cared about his image, guarded it, and his privacy, even while world famous, or when he built a hulking mansion in Tampa, his adopted town. I ask you: Who else, in human sports history and the history of Who Elses, could live on the New York broiler plate, that much pressure, that much attention, that much bachelorhood — that much dating! — and come away clean?

Could anyone have pulled off being Derek Jeter except for Derek Jeter?

No. There was one of him.

There will be a news conference soon enough, then a farewell tour, ballpark to ballpark, the long goodbye, people standing until their knees ache, in the name of the game they still want to love, not just No. 2. It was just like that last season for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who deserved every bit. So, in his own way, does Jeter, as much for his grace under pressure as all those hits and rings — and for never letting baseball down when so many did.

The guy’s a Monument Man, even before he gets to Monument Park, or Cooperstown.

What does New York do? Rename a highway or a children’s park? What does baseball do? Make him commissioner? What about part owner, New York Yankees? I think the Steinbrenner family’s blood just congealed.

Jeter said he knows it’s time. Injuries dragged him down last season, all but 17 games.

So, his 20th season will be his last.

He’s probably doing the right thing.

When didn’t Derek Jeter do the right thing?

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