Derek Jeter has announced that he will retire after the 2014 season, bringing an end to his nearly 20-year career with the New York Yankees.
It's impossible for anyone to play 20 years in New York without having a big impact in Boston as well. He has been the face of the enemy in so many ways over these past two decades--or at least the one Yankee fans would like to put forward ahead of one Alex Rodriguez. As such, his reputation in Boston is a complicated thing. To the general baseball world, Jeter is one of the greatest stars of modern baseball, combining on-field performance with a persona that made him a media darling. He's one of those guys whose name seems to go hand-in-hand with "class" and talk of playing the game the right way.
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In Boston, however, he's the leader of those damned Yankees. Frankly, it's surprising that, through all the years, he didn't manage to provide a moment traumatic enough to earn his way into the middle name club along with Bucky ___ Dent and Aaron ___ Boone. Even without that moment, though, his contributions to so many Yankee wins and the relentless, inescapable doting from the media made it hard not to grow bitter, particularly during those years before 2004.
In recent years, though, it's been different with Jeter. Particularly over these last four seasons, the one-time great just hasn't been the same. That bat which once wreaked so much havoc has gotten quieter and quieter. He was old. He was less effective. And then, finally, last year, he was broken.
Already by that point Jeter and his contract status with New York had long since become a punchline for Red Sox fans. He was the poster boy for the financial madness and inability to escape the past that was leading our greatest rivals down a path to ruin. When they signed him for three years before 2011 at $17 million a pop, we laughed. When they tacked a few extra million onto his final year in November, we laughed harder still. It's an odd world where Red Sox fans would hope that Derek Jeter would keep on forcing the Yankees' hand so long as his status as a "True Yankee" allowed it, but that's honestly the world we've been living in.
Even so, seeing him leave will be a strange thing. Not welcome, but at the same time not unwelcome. For so long now, Derek Jeter has simply been baseball. And as much as I've resented that, it's also become comfortable. Whether it was railing against the constant praise he received for his poor defense as if to somehow mitigate his undeniable quality as a player, or using him as the butt of a joke about the ancient Yankees and their overpaid veterans, Jeter has always been there. The game will be different without him. I don't know if that means better, worse, or something in between. But there's no way such a large piece of the puzzle can vanish without leaving a noticeable hole behind.