- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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Suddenly Derek Jeter is going, going, just about gone. A man of few words said goodbye in a 15-paragraph Facebook post, a poignant love letter to the fans who served as the soundtrack for one of the greatest careers a New York Yankee has ever had.
The Jeter news rocked a city bracing for a different kind of storm. The captain said he will retire at the end of the coming season, after he turns 40 in June, and he admitted -- for a change -- that mortality had finally hit him like a runner trying to take him out on a double play.
"Last year was a tough one for me," Jeter wrote. "As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward."
So yes, this is the right time for Jeter to follow Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte out the door. He never talks like this. He spent his career barely acknowledging a tweak of this muscle or that, forever refusing to blame a rare bad day at the office on his aches and pains.
But now? Jeter admitting his body has betrayed him to the point where he can't continue on in the only job he ever wanted, the job of his childhood dreams?
If you've watched his career from day one, watched him win five championships, watched him drive that magical home run for hit No. 3,000, watched him deliver 216 hits in 2012, two years after many figured he was done, you might've suspected that Jeter would try to play until he was 45. Or that he would somehow endure -- even thrive -- long enough to supplant Pete Rose as the most prolific batter of them all.
Not too long ago, Jeter wanted a crack at that Rose record of 4,256, according to a friend of his. It's among the few wants in his storybook career that weren't meant to be.
The busted ankle in the playoffs and last year's lingering leg injuries reduced Jeter to a shell of his former self, and he knew he needed to let go. "I know they say that when you dream you eventually wake up," Jeter wrote. "Well, for some reason, I've never had to wake up."
Until Wednesday, the first day of the rest of Jeter's life. He woke up and decided to go public with a decision he said he reached months ago, and yes, it was the smart call. Unlike some greats who stayed a season or three too long, Jeter had no interest in making a fool of himself in his old age. He understood that even another .300 season, another six months of fisting inside fastballs over some second baseman's head, wouldn't alter the unforgiving truth about his current place in the game.
He isn't the player he used to be, not even close, and the Yankees need to find a younger man to play short.
"It started as an empty canvas more than 20 years ago," Jeter wrote of his career, "and now that I look at it, it's almost complete. In a million years, I wouldn't have believed just how beautiful it would become."
Again, Jeter doesn't usually talk like this, not for public consumption. The last time he was this eloquent, he was holding a microphone on the field after the last game at the old Yankee Stadium, asking the fans to carry the memories across the street.
Memories? Jeter delivered more than his fair share. The Opening Day homer in Cleveland as a rookie in '96, just weeks after one of George Steinbrenner's aides, Clyde King, lobbied for the overmatched kid to be demoted to the minors. The Jeffrey Maier homer. The World Series destruction of the Mets in 2000. The epic flip play a year later, his signature moment, the infield's answer to Willie Mays' over-the-head catch in the '54 World Series. The 5-for-5 day he had against Tampa Bay to become the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits.
All from a teenager who used to cry himself to sleep in his rookie-ball hotel room because he thought he'd never make it as a big leaguer. Because he thought the Yankees had just wasted $800,000 and a first-round pick on him.
As it was, the Yankees lucked out in the amateur draft of 1992, when a Cincinnati Reds executive named Julian Mock decided his team needed a college slugger named Chad Mottola more than it needed the high school shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Mich., his scouts desperately wanted with the fifth pick.
Dick Groch, scout, was the first Yankees employee to predict greatness for Jeter, who had committed to the University of Michigan. Groch called him "the personification of athleticism." He called young Jeter, "Fred Astaire at shortstop."
When Groch's boss, Bill Livesey, asked if their potential pick at No. 6, Jeter, would end up going to Michigan, the scout barked the following:
"No, he's not. The only place this kid's going is Cooperstown."
Now Jeter is about to go down as one of the top 10 players in franchise history, and depending on how you keep score, maybe one of the top five. He will end up in Monument Park ASAP, and if Rivera isn't the first unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer, Jeter should be summoned from the bullpen the following year to take the honor for him.
No, he wasn't a perfect Yankee. Jeter could've been a better captain to Alex Rodriguez, back when A-Rod actually deserved a little support, and he could've been a stronger advocate within his union for stricter drug testing measures. Jeter could've done a better job forgiving and forgetting, too, as he could hold a grudge against opponents, teammates and media members he thought had slighted him.
But in the end, like Rivera, Jeter was closer to perfect than just about any Yankee before him.
Maybe that's why it seemed like he'd play forever. In 2007, Jeter told longtime Yankees executive and scout Gene Michael that he planned on sticking around another 10 years, and Michael wondered why there wasn't something else in life the shortstop wanted to do.
At last, Jeter grew tired of the constant pursuit of a parade. "I want to finally stop the chase," he wrote, "and take in the world."
Now Jeter wants to start a family. He wants to enjoy a summer vacation. He wants to devote more time to charitable causes and, at some point, he wants to own a team.
But before he moves on to his second life, Jeter wants to finish the first one with a sixth World Series ring. The odds are against it, just like the odds were always against Jeter reaching his oft-stated goal of matching Yogi Berra's 10.
He's done enough winning, anyway. And on his first big cut of his final season, Jeter hit one over the right-field wall. He followed up the Masahiro Tanaka news conference with a bombshell that made the Tanaka signing feel like a routine waiver-wire move.
Derek Jeter quit on his own before it was far too late, before the Yankees were left with no choice but to bum-rush him toward the exits. The shortstop who made a career out of making the right call made another one Wednesday. Of course he did.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg