Last Thursday I exchanged emails with my longtime reader and friend Hye Sun Canning, who’d been a little surprised I hadn’t written a column about Derek Jeter’s tying (at the time) Lou Gehrig’s Yankee hit record.
I told Hye Sun that I hadn’t commented because I like to avoid redundancy, and it seemed to me that others had already a done a very good job writing appreciations of Jeter’s achievement — which of course now includes actually breaking the Gehrig record. And make no mistake, his achievement is indisputably a great one, as there’s a small likelihood that Jeter’s franchise record will ever be surpassed. Its celebration doesn’t ignore or diminish the records set by all-time hit leaders on other teams, as some have argued. That to me is taking a jaundiced view. Other great players have had more hits in their careers, and some have had more hits with a single team. But — and I hope you’ll excuse this one lapse into repetitiveness — Derek Jeter now has more hits as a New York Yankee than anyone who has come before.
It’s a very big deal, and I’m glad Jeter, his loved ones and Yankees fans have gotten a chance to enjoy and applaud it. Like Jeter, we sometimes have to stop and relish these moments when they happen.
But back to Hye Sun. After I wrote her to explain why I hadn’t shared my feelings about Jeter’s feat in this spot, she went and put down her feelings in an e-mail, stating them so beautifully that I asked her permission to share an excerpt here with other readers. While her words were typed when Jeter had equaled Gehrig’s record, I think they’re no less apt now that he’s gone beyond it.
And so, from Hye Sun to me to you, an appreciation of Derek Jeter:
I was thinking about a baseball fate that allows a good player to shine on a good team. Yogi, for instance, with his ten rings. How is that possible to achieve? Would we have missed a talent like Jeter had he played for the Reds, who could have had him instead of us? How many stars aligned for Jeter, and for all Yankee fans, when a young kid’s dream actually came true after all his hard work. Drafted by the team he rooted for, he was allowed to blossom there along with other rookies, whom established a dynasty through the first years of his professional career. The mind boggles . . . .
Without a doubt, Jeter is my favorite ballplayer. I didn’t know it in the beginning, but there came a time when I would find myself a little disappointed if his name was not in the lineup. Somehow the Yankees didn’t look the same without him in those rare games. I love his single-mindedness in pursuing team wins instead of personal accolades. He seems genuinely embarrassed to be lauded so publicly for an individual accomplishment and I love that about him. Somehow, I feel Gehrig would have been the same way, though I know so little of him. When I saw his parents celebrating, I was wondering if any words could describe how proud they must be of their son. Jeter, in my mind, embodies everything a ball player should be. Bar none.
I was really glad he got over his mini-slump and got it done that one night, and I’ll be really happy if he gets a hit quickly tomorrow night and get this all behind him. There will be time enough after he finally hangs up his Number 2, when we can all gush ad infinitum about him and his achievements, and when all naysayers will have to begrudgingly agree that this ballplayer really was special and really did have those intangible qualities that can never be measured by numbers. When there will be no more games to be won for him and he can finally look at what he did.
May be he will never be able to stand with those players with gaudy numbers, because in the end, people are easily seduced by shiny things, but I think that makes his career all the more special. He has garnered respect from all not by flashy show of power and strength, but by hard work and everyday demeanor that allowed him to shine day in and day out, allowing us to notice him and truly appreciate what rare qualities he possesses. And no amount of home runs can ever overshadow his innate integrity and dignity, which exists in the rarest of baseball players , who have to cope with more failure than success every time they play.
Truly we were all blessed by the baseball gods when he came to us and I, for one, am grateful that I got to watch his wonderful career as a Yankee.
Thank you, Hye Sun.