Halftime Sports

In Jeter’s Shadow

September 26, 2014

This will be the last season for one of the most loyal players in the Major Leagues.  This American League captain proudly donned his pinstripe jersey through thick and thin.  It has long been decided that his club will retire his number.  I’m talking, of course, about Paul Konerko.

Derek Jeter’s farewell tour has created a media whirlwind, placing Konerko and many others firmly in the periphery of the public eye.  These men are quietly playing out their last games in Jeter’s shadow without theatrical ceremonies or extravagant gifts.  I do not mean to diminish Jeter, who has rightfully been the face of professional baseball for the past twenty years. This is simply a plea for the unrecognized heroes and a celebration of their careers.

Since Jeter announced his retirement in February, ten players have followed suit.  The list includes a former National League Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove winner, a couple of Silver Sluggers, several All-Stars, and a World Champion.  Despite these accomplishments, none of these other players have been the point of conversation as of late, let alone the stars of a television commercial.  There is simply not enough room in the limelight.

It goes without saying that none of these other players come close to the five-time World Champion, fourteen-time All-Star, World Series MVP Jeter.  But, under different circumstances, they would be receiving the attention they deserve.  The reality is that most people, even dedicated fans, are completely unaware that other players are finishing out their careers.

Konerko actually announced his retirement before Jeter.  That being said, he was only the center of attention for a few short weeks.  The six-time All-Star, World Series Champion is about to complete his own farewell tour, albeit much quieter than Jeter’s.  Konerko served the White Sox for fifteen years, continuously electing to stay with the team despite more glamorous offers to jump ship.  Jeter and Konerko have been the anchors of their respective franchises, but some teams make loyalty easier than others.  Since Konerko joined the White Sox, they have only reached the postseason three times.  Since Jeter made his start for the Yankees, they have only failed to reach the postseason three times.  The two franchise players may have a lot in common, but they’ve had completely different careers.

It’s safe to assume that a handful of players will make the decision to hang up their spikes after the end of this season, passing up on their own personal farewell tours.  Early retirement announcements have recently become the source of controversy.  Neither Jeter nor Konerko has ever been accused of vying for attention, but why not wait until after the season?

According to USA TODAY, Konerko reacted to Jeter’s retirement by saying, “‘Perfect!’ I’m not a big fan of being the whole focus of attention.”  But, if that’s the case, why place yourself in the spotlight to begin with?  Even Jeter and Konerko themselves must admit that the farewell tours were avoidable.  A simple statement following the season would have sufficed, and the two of them would have been able to finish up their last few games in peace.

There are some reasonable explanations for the early announcements.  Beyond giving their teams time to prepare for their departures, the early announcements have allowed Jeter and Konerko to be open with their goodbyes to friends, teammates, and even favorite ballparks. The ability to reminisce in public has certainly been a form of catharsis.  Furthermore, early announcements are beginning to become the norm.  Jeter could simply be following in the footsteps of his longtime teammate Mariano Rivera.

These are all legitimate explanations, but none of them are particularly compelling.  For years, it was commonplace to wait until after the season to make the announcement.  Early notifications are still a very recent development.

Since the announcement, Jeter merchandise has been flying off the shelves.  The Yankees are definitely cashing in from the farewell tour.  There are many considerations that go into making an early announcement, and economics is certainly one of them.  Are teams pressuring players into one last favor?  Are the announcements really directed at the fans, or at Gatorade?  Who knows?

Jeter deserves to be celebrated.  He deserves all the gifts, all the goodbyes, and all the ceremonies.  But the whole farewell tour seems somewhat out of character.  And he has not been the only person affected by the decision.  From the Yankees box office to Eric Chavez and Joe Blanton, Jeter’s retirement has dominated the season.

The last week of the regular season should not be seen as Derek Jeter’s last few days as a pro.  The end of the regular season is the exciting conclusion of a close playoff race, and that has become obscured by the farewell tour.  All of this attention gets in the way of what is truly important: the baseball.

Photo: Derek Jeter’s Facebook Page

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