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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Derek Jeter’s Retirement Should Be Sad News to Fans of the Boston Red Sox

The countdown has begun for the end of one of baseball’s all-time legends. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced on his Facebook page that he will end his illustrious 20-year major league career following the upcoming 2014 season. The decision will undoubtedly be a blow to many, but surprisingly, it should be very sad news for fans of the Boston Red Sox, the team that was his arch rival.

Throughout his career, Jeter has stacked up numbers and accolades like cordwood. With one more year to go, the soon-to-be 40-year-old has hit a combined .312 with 3,316 hits, 256 home runs, 1,276 RBIs, 348 stolen bases, 535 doubles and 1,876 runs scored.

He won the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year Award, placed in the top-10 in MVP voting eight times, claimed five Gold Gloves and made 13 All-Star teams.

As Jeter has gone, so have the Yankees. He has been part of an amazing 16 playoff teams, including five that won the World Series. In 158 career postseason games, he has hit .308 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs, making him perhaps the greatest October performer of all time.
What do all of Jeter’s numbers and accomplishments add up to for the Boston Red Sox and their fans? He was a giant pain in the ass.

Sometimes a worthy opponent can be as difficult to find as a good friend or teammate. Those wanting to be the best should also want to beat the best to reach those goals. With Jeter as the face of the Yankees for the past two decades, the intense rivalry between the two American League East teams couldn’t have been more fiery.

Although the Yankees took down the Red Sox a number of times during the shortstop’s career, there were also moments when Boston came out on top; with the 2004 ALCS being the most notable, and likely the sweetest.

If you are going to take your lumps in a fight, being able to return a few licks makes the whole endeavor worthwhile. Jeter’s teams usually gave the Red Sox all they could handle and then some, which is why the moments where they were vanquished produced moments of unbridled joy for fans.

It’s easy for one to say that they hate their rival. However, the best matchups come out of taking on those who hold your respect. No matter what offensive t-shirts and “Jeter sucks” chants floated around Fenway Park over the years, a rational Red Sox fan would be hard-pressed to claim with a straight face that they didn’t respect Jeter.

Although the Boston-New York rivalry is played out on athletic fields, make no mistake that at its heart it is a regional beef. Jeter may have grown up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but over time he came to personify the New York big city stereotype with his polished efficiency, elevating the rivalry even more in the process.

His competitive fire, reserved demeanor and consistency were reminiscent of famous Yankees before him like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Don Mattingly. Part of what made the Boston-New York rivalry fun during Jeter’s career was the subconscious hope that he would one day be taken down a peg, be exposed as a fraud, or somehow shown to be less than how he came across publicly. If he wasn’t the classy top-notch player with all the hype, it would be a major victory for Boston fans. He never gave them that satisfaction.

Over the years Jeter has seen a number of high-profile teammates take mighty plunges from grace over connections to performance enhancers—the biggest bugaboo in the sport during his career. Through it all, he has managed to emerge as pristine as the day he debuted in the majors. Certainly, his reputation has likely ratcheted down the intensity of inquiry, but he has also never given anyone a reason to give him a hard look. In today’s day and age that’s a mighty accomplishment in itself.

Despite playing on baseball’s biggest stage and possessing movie star good looks, Jeter has always had an air of humility about him that is becoming increasingly rare in professional sports. Sure, there was the occasional fling with starlets, but he was never an in your face kind of person. He was as professional as an athlete can be in today’s culture that glorifies bad-boy behavior from rich young stars, especially athletes. His headlines were about what he did on the field, not what he was trying to hide off it.

Gratingly perfect to the end, his closing remarks in his retirement announcement precisely display what Boston and every other opponent has been up against over the years. “I want to soak in every moment of every day this year, so I can remember it for the rest of my life. And most importantly, I want to help the Yankees reach our goal of winning another championship.” Those are fighting words, especially because he means every one of them.

It’s true. Jeter is/was an absolute pain for the Boston Red Sox and their fans. However, his skill and love for the game only raised their levels as well. In sports, respect can be disguised as hate. You may not find a Sox fan willing to admit their love for the shortstop, but show me one who says they don’t respect him and won’t miss him, and I’ll show you a liar.

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