It’s not too often that I write about the “Evil Empire.” And no, I do not mean the Sith Lords of the Dark Side from “Star Wars.”
I mean the New York Yankees.
Since technically not a Brooklyn diocesan team, I don’t feel compelled to cover the happenings in the Bronx, unless directly related to our sports scene. Plus, as many of you know, I consider myself the diocese’s most avid New York Mets fan.
However, I can appreciate greatness on the baseball diamond, and when it comes to Derek Jeter, greatness is an understatement.
After waiting a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeter was finally inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sept. 8 in Cooperstown, N.Y. He joined All-Star outfielder Larry Walker, slugging catcher Ted Simmons, and revolutionary executive Marvin Miller as part of the Class of 2020.
As a Mets fan, I cringe when thinking about Jeter — not because I don’t respect him as a player, but more so it’s a bit of jealousy. Why couldn’t my team draft and develop this superstar, clutch shortstop known for rising to the occasion on the biggest stage?
Why couldn’t my team have a 14-time All-Star who played his entire career with the same team? Why couldn’t my team employ a five-time Gold Glover who recorded more hits (3,465) and more runs scored (1,923) than any shortstop in history?
Yet most importantly, why couldn’t my team win five World Series titles in a 20-year timeframe with an iconic player front and center?
All of that and so much more is what Jeter meant to the Yankee franchise. From his acrobatic jump throw deep in the hole, to his memorable playoff “flip play,” to a walkoff hit in his final at-bat, this guy simply thrived when the pressure was on.
“The guy never gave up,” said Father Michael Louis Gelfant, pastor of Blessed Trinity parish, Breezy Point. “For the 20 years that he played, it was always a pleasure to watch him. He never got into the rowdiness of being a star. He was always humble in what he did.”
“He’s a big part of what it means to be a Yankees fan for me,” said Father Christopher Bethge, diocesan vocations director and an adjunct faculty member at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst. “You look back at the great history of the New York Yankees, and it was very clear that the next member of that history would be Derek Jeter.”
When I got my hopes up in 2000 that the Mets could actually defeat the Yankees in the Subway Series World Series, one man stood in my way: Derek Jeter. Well technically, all 25 Yankees stood in my way, but Jeter was the catalyst of the series for the Bronx Bombers and went on to earn MVP honors.
In Yankees history, there have only been 15 team captains. Other than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, those before the modern era are names that aren’t recognizable to even the most passionate baseball fans. The others are Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, and Don Mattingly. That’s some impressive company, and yet Jeter is the only Hall of Famer of the bunch — regardless of your thoughts on Mattingly’s candidacy.
This is not the Kansas City Royals we’re talking about here. It’s not the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, or Houston Astros. This is the New York Yankees — the greatest, most-hallowed sports franchise of all time — and Jeter is the only modern-era Hall of Fame captain. Now that’s saying something.
“He was my, and almost everybody’s, favorite player growing up,” said Father Bethge, who proudly donned his Jeter jersey Sept. 8 as he attended that night’s game at Yankee Stadium. “He was the most clutch and most reliable one we had.”
Someday, the Mets will have their own version of Derek Jeter. David Wright was outstanding for the time he was on the field, but sadly injuries derailed his career. Fingers crossed that Pete Alonso can be that guy for the Amazins’ for years to come, but he’s not even a fifth of the way to what Jeter was for the Yankees.
In the pantheon of New York sports legends, Jeter is among the very best. He now takes his rightful place in Cooperstown alongside the very best to have ever played the game.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.