Congratulations, Derek Jeter
Nineteen years ago Shonda and I met a man named Dick Bergeron. Dick had been recently diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
ALS, today, is still 100 percent fatal. However, in the past 19 years Lou’s name has gained notoriety and recognition in many positive ways.
His life story has been written about many times over. This is the best book I’ve ever read on it.
Why is this relevant? For two reasons, really. The first was the nation becoming aware of Lou during the previous decade, when Cal Ripken broke Lou’s consecutive game streak. Cal did it with a blue collar work ethic unmatched in anyone I ever played with. Knowing Cal’s father, it was easy to see how and why he was who he was.
The second reason occurred this past weekend. On a rain-soaked evening in the new Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter lined an opposite-field single for career hit No. 2,722 and became the all-time hits leader for the New York Yankee franchise. The event got some good PR and some decent coverage, but it’s far more significant than the coverage it’s been given, to me anyway. This isn’t the Nationals or Padres we’re talking about, this is one of sports’ oldest franchises and home of the game’s greatest all-time players.
Red Sox fans are pretty much in agreement that Jeter is a player they love to “not like.” I don’t say hate because real Sox fans — dyed-in-the-wool Sox Nation members — can’t hate the guy. You can dislike him immensely, and much of that is due to the pinstripes, but there is nothing we know of that would give pause, rhyme or reason to not having immense respect for what he’s done on and off the field.
His early career was marked by trend-setting numbers at a position defined by defense for the past century. Well, that and four World Series rings in his first week or two in the big leagues, it seemed.
But beyond that there are two things that stand out to me.
Derek Jeter has always been above the fray. As someone who’s wallowed in it, “foot-in-mouthed” it hundreds of times, said dumb things and backed up dumber ones, it’s refreshing. He’s shown up, played, and turned in a first-ballot Hall of Fame career in the hardest environment in sports to do any/all of the above.
That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.
More importantly to me, though, was this. I enjoyed competing against him as much as anyone I ever faced. Derek was that guy who was going to hit his way, regardless, with enough talent to still get hits when you made your pitch and hit your spot. One of my favorite memories was stepping onto the rubber for Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, being as locked in as I’ve ever been, looking into home plate and looking into his eyes, and us smiling at each other, knowing what we were getting ready to experience. By the way, I should never have thrown the fastball away in the seventh inning, I had him if I’d just kept pounding the ball in …
I have no idea how he felt about competing against me, or about me as a player, but I know competing against that guy, for the decade or so we matched up, was what made the Major Leagues the Major Leagues for someone like me.
So, congratulations Derek, you earned every ounce of respect and accolades thrown your way, and you’re one of the few men I ever competed against who is worthy of having his name mentioned with the same reverence and respect as Lou Gehrig.