So I’ll start this one off with a little about me. Yes, I’m that selfish. I grew up with the Jays, and when the Jays went back to back in 92 and 93 it was almost on the same level for me as the Oilers (specifically the 1990 Cup because it’s the only one I physically remember watching). I was a huge baseball fan growing up but it didn’t peak until around 1995 when the Yankees and Mariners played what I believe is one of the top 5 best series in MLB history.
I never really got why I hated the Yankees so much, but in thinking about it in the last few days, that series was why. Not because the Yanks did anything so bad, it was because I LOVED that Mariners team so much. Griffey was and still is to this day “my guy”.
That Yanks team had some kid sitting on the bench that series wearing number 2. At that time, Don Mattingly was the Yankees. Donnie Baseball, he was Jeter at that time. Not as big, but he had been the man in New York for a long time, and after that series against the M’s, Mattingly abruptly retired. It didn’t take long for that kid wearing number 2 to take over for the departing Tony Fernandez at shortstop, and take over for Mattingly as the face of baseball’s most famous team.
Rookie of the year in 96 and a World Series title. Another 3 World Series in 98, 99, and 2000. Don Mattingly will never be forgotten by Yankees fans, but Jeter was on another level. I remember the 99 World Series being broadcast on NBC, and Bob Costas doing the play by play, having a discussion with Joe Morgan about how the 99 team may have been better than the historic 125 win 98 Yanks team because Jeter had really taken over as the leader of the 99 team. 25 years old and considered the leader of one of the best teams in baseball history….not bad.
I hated that team, at least at the time I did. I told people that I hated the Yankees more than I liked any other team, and at that time because of the A’s having the Edmonton Trappers as their AAA affiliate I loved both the Jays and the A’s. In 2001 of course the Yanks going for their 4th straight World Series matched up against those A’s in the ALDS for the 2nd year in a row.
I still say Jeremy Giambi was safe….at least I want him to have been. And for years I refused to appreciate how awesome that play was. What never gets told (at least not in the last few days), is that play changed that series. The Yankees were done going into that 3rd game in Oakland, and Mike Mussina was pitching his ass off to give them a chance against a locked in Barry Zito and terrific A’s lineup. If Jeremy Giambi is called safe (as he was), the A’s likely win that series.
But Giambi was called out (never know why he didn’t slide), and the Yanks won that game, crushed the A’s in game 4, and came back from an early deficit to take game 5 in the Bronx, of course not before Jeter made another highlight reel play where he fell into the stands catching a foul ball with Tom Brenneman asking “Did he get it?! Did he get it?! Did he get it?! He got it! He got it!” (believe it or not, I remembered that call spot on before searching for the play on youtube)
The Yankees dynasty finally came to an end in those playoffs in Phoenix after an epic 7 game showdown with the Diamondbacks, but that run was easily the most memorable of all their runs because it was coming off 9/11. They came back against the A’s, they knocked off the Mariners who had a Major League record 116 wins that season, and then the 3 World Series games in Yankee stadium along with the 7th game of the World Series were unbelievable. And I know that term gets tossed around far too often, but there will NEVER be another World Series that has back to back games go down to the last out with home runs hit to tie both games. That series doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in baseball lore.
Tino Martinez ties game 4
Scott Brosius ties game 5 (from 0:55 until 2:11 nothing is said until Tim McCarver says what everyone was thinking that moment)
And just when you think this has turned into a “Yankees dynasty” piece, I bring it back to Jeter who was nicknamed Mr. November in game 4 of that series. I remember that dude with the sign fondly and the FOX camera’s kept showing him holding it up as Jeter batted in the bottom of the 10th in game 4. It literally hit midnight, November 1st, 2001 AS HE STEPPED TO THE PLATE! If he doesn’t hit the game winning home run in that AB, who knows if the nickname sticks. But only for Jeter would it play out so perfectly like that.
Everything played out like a corny movie in this guys career. He was in a way the Forrest Gump of baseball in that he just always seemed to be in the right place at the perfect time. The 3,000 hit was a home run, and did it on a day where he went 5 for 5. He was 2 hits away with 2 games to play at Yankee Stadium before a long road trip afterwards.
So Thursday night when David Robertson was blowing the 9th inning the first thing I thought was “I bet he’s due up”. And once Jose Pirela singled you just KNEW how it was going to play out. No word of a lie I pressed record on my PVR as Brett Gardner laid down that bunt. Not a doubt in my mind, and THAT’S what made it so cool, so unreal.
Of course a lot of talk lately, kind of spearheaded by Keith Olbermann, has been if all this love in for Jeter has gone too far overboard. Maybe. Everything Olbermann said in his rant was spot on. People are treating the guy like he’s the greatest baseball player of all time, the greatest Yankee of all time, and he’s just flat out not.
But I got talking about it with a few of my buddies, and here is what it is. It’s the greatest career of all time. There have been better players for sure, but nobody has had a better career. Think about it. 5 rings, all the money, all the endorsements, clean cut off the field, consistent, never a bad word spoken about him by teammates or opponents, as clutch as can be and played for 1 team his entire career. He is one of these guys that you simply can’t help but love even if you hate the Yankees, which I still do (though not as much when they’re not winning).
Then we got into comparables, I came up with these 6. Tom Brady and Roger Staubach in the NFL, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan in the NBA, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic in the NHL. That is pretty elite company, and for Jeter he did it on the biggest stage where only Magic Johnson really could compare to him there.
It’s been an amazing run, and it really sucks that the hour glass has to run out of sand like it always does. For those who wonder why the media has gone so nuts over this farewell tour, this piece should allow you to realize why. Guys like Jeter just don’t come around often, and in a sports world filled with so much wrong, we had better embrace the one guy who got it right.
Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups