Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Those four men, in order, became the respective faces of the New York Yankees, without question the most storied franchise in Major League Baseball and arguably the most storied, revered and hated franchise in all of professional sports.
Let’s add another name that list of all-timers: Derek Jeter.
Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop for the past two decades, has announced he will retire at the end of the upcoming season.
He’s going out on top, on his terms, with his head held high and proud and with his standing intact as one of the game’s greatest players.
Think about the four men whose ranks he’s already joined. Ruth didn’t play his entire career in New York; he started out as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, had his greatest years as a Yankee, then was traded to the Boston Braves. Still, does anyone doubt he belongs as the charter member of the Yankee pantheon? Hardly. Gehrig played his entire career with the Yankees, alongside both Ruth and DiMaggio, who came along near the end of the Iron Horse’s stellar career. DiMaggio fashioned his own standing among the Yankee greats over 15 seasons. Then came the Mick — the guy I grew up watching. He was star-crossed, injury-riddled, but still managed a career that would be the envy of virtually every player who’s ever suited up.
Derek Jeter’s career numbers already reflect stratospheric status in hits, games played, at-bats, runs scored.
And he did it all with class and grace, becoming the Yankees’ captain and the go-to guy in the clubhouse.
Pretenders would come along to become the next great Yankee hitter, only to fall short. Alex Rodriguez, the disgraced third baseman who’s going to sit out the 2014 season as punishment for his use of performance enhancing drugs, has more home runs over his career. He’s now been sent to the sidelines, possibly never to return to the game. Let’s not forget that relief pitching ace Mariano Rivera retired at the end of the 2013 season and he, just like Jeter, is headed for the Hall of Fame.
All that said, Jeter will get to take the bows on his own, without the shadow of his cheating teammate — A-Rod — looming in the background.
That, too, is as it should be.