And then there were none. The Yankees have said goodbye to a litany of legends over the last few years, but now, with Derek Jeter deciding to call it quits after the 2014 season, a golden era in franchise history is finally coming to an end.
The Yankees have had many dynastic eras, and each has seemed to take on the personality of its most prominent player. The emphatic brashness of Babe Ruth was evident during the years of Murderer’s Row, when the Yankees barnstormed across the American League and, in the process, revolutionized the game and established the Bronx Bombers as New York’s most powerful team. Ruth’s braggadocio gave way to Joe DiMaggio’s elegance, which was predicated on quiet efficiency. The Yankee Clipper’s teams were relentless, winning year after year, impeded only by a World War. When it was time for DiMaggio to pass the baton, it ended up in the hands of the magnetic and mischievous Mickey Mantle. During those years, the Yankees were more than just a championship ballclub…they were a road show who hit each town at night just as hard as the opposing pitchers they faced during the day. Finally, in the late 1970s, Reggie Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink, and the entire ballclub reflected his arrogance, especially when the calendar turned to October.
There have been many stars in the Yankees’ universe over the last 20 years, but they all have revolved around Derek Jeter. The epitome of what the franchise aspires to be, the gold glove short stop exuded the same professionalism and dignity as DiMaggio, and his teams followed suit. Also like DiMaggio, Jeter earned the respect and admiration of opponents and teammates alike, and carefully honed an image he imparted to the team. For two decades, the Bronx Bombers were Jeter’s team. After 2014, they will be no more.
Jeter wasn’t the best player to ever wear pinstripes. Some years, he wasn’t the best player on his own team. However, he will go down as one of the most significant figures in franchise history. His on-field contributions speak for themselves and his post season heroics have become legendary, but the role Jeter played in helping to revive and re-define the Yankees’ brand has been just as important to the team’s sustained success. After all, it’s much easier to talk about pride, dignity and class, and portray the franchise as a model of excellence, when you have a poster boy playing short stop.
For Jeter, team goals have always come first, so there can be no better send-off than a championship. However, because of his stature, the Captain’s victory lap will probably overshadow the team’s pennant chase. Jeter probably won’t like it, but for many fans, getting one last glimpse of the future Hall of Famer will mean just as much as, if not more than, simply going to see his Yankees. Of course, that distraction won’t last beyond 2014. What comes after Jeter? Hopefully not the deluge.