Looking at the sports landscape in New York these last few years, it’s been a train wreck to be kind. So much losing. So much disappointments from recent stars. So many coaches and general managers coming and going. So many stars leaving since they weren’t made to play here. We haven’t celebrated a championship parade since 2012.
We seek hope that better days are ahead to this day. It can’t get any worse, right? RIGHT?
In the meantime, no one can take away our past. Yes, the past where everything felt so good in New York sports in the 90s. The golden age of sports. Our nirvana. We thought it would last forever and ever that we took it for granted. Now, we appreciate it more than ever.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter being elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame on the first ballot Tuesday reminded us of what it used to be around here. Wins, championships, class, excellence, dominance, buzz, mystique and aura. He defined those things that happen to New York sports. It seemed like it left when his best days were behind him.
Jeter reflected the heartbeat of the Yankees and New York sports during the winning days. He knew how to shine in big moments. The moment found him. He was a guy the Yankees and Yankees fans trusted in big games.
The Yankees star performed on the field that can’t be taught such as that flip play he made in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series that turned out to be a difference maker in the game and series, which he threw Jeremy Giambi out at home that could have given the A’s the lead in what could have been a Yankee elimination game. How about when Jeter hustled to get the ball for the out and dived into the stands to hold on to that ball in a regular season game against the Red Sox in 2004? Who can ever forget him being Mr. November when he hit the game-winning home run off beleaguered Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim after fouling off so many pitches?
Who would’ve thought he was on the verge of doing something special in Major League Baseball when he served notice by hitting a home run of Cleveland Indians starter Dennis Martinez, extending the Yankees’ lead to 2-0 en route to a 7-1 victory on Opening Day in Cleveland in 1996, his rookie season.
He made it look so easy. Playing for the Yankees and in this market can’t be for everyone. Too much pressure from impatient fans who want everything now. Here’s the best thing that can be said about him: He had fun playing the game. He played baseball like every game was his last. He understood the meaning of being a Yankee. He looked at playing in New York as a responsibility.
Jeter expressed no personality. Soundbites from him never existed since he said nothing. Fans didn’t care about that. They only cared about his performance, and his performance spoke for him in the name of 3,465 hits, .310 lifetime batting average, .871 OPS (highest of any shortstop in the Hall of Fame and most importantly, five championships.
Despite Jeter saying nothing, he actually gave a story for writers to write about with his performance.
We miss all of this now. We don’t have a pro athlete that is like Jeter around these parts. We grow to appreciate him even more as the years go by. It shows that it’s hard to get a player like that. There are not many men like Jeter out there. We don’t know if we will get an athlete like that. Those types of players become rare and rare.
In the end, everyone was spoiled here. We never appreciated all of this while Jeter played in his prime. Sure, we enjoyed it, but we expected this by him every game. He set the bar so high.
Outside of Jacob deGrom, I can’t come up with a pro athlete today that can lead a New York team to a victory all by himself. Yankees fans are so hoping Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar would be their next Jeter. The rest of the teams in town search for that guy as of today.
No doubt baseball wonks and Yankees fans will reflect the next few days about Jeter being good for the game in light of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and players taking steroids.
For me, it would be what it used to be around here.