- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- It turns out the Yankee uniform will not have to be cut off Derek Jeter's body after all.
We will not be treated, if that is the right word, to the sight of a once great and elegant player stumbling around in the field or on the basepaths.
And we won't have to suffer through the kind of increasingly hostile back-and-forth that always seems to happen between an aging superstar, who wants desperately to hang on, and his team, that wants desperately to be rid of him.
Heading into his 40th birthday and his 20th major league season, Jeter proves he still has the ability to surprise us. Certainly, I didn't see this coming. I thought for sure he would be playing in 2014 for one more Yankees contract. Playing shortstop for the Yankees, serving as The Captain and simply being Derek Jeter seemed like his very reason for living. Anyone who broached the subject of a post-baseball life with Jeter -- and I was foolish enough to venture there a few times -- was met with an icy stare and an abrupt end to the conversation.
But clearly, Jeter gave us a hint during the offseason that he was beginning to think about life after baseball when he announced he was going into the book publishing business. Still, it seemed hard to believe that even at 40 years old and coming off a difficult, injury-plagued season, Derek Jeter was beginning to consider retirement.
And although we all knew this day was coming, I feel fairly safe in saying few of us thought it would be today.
And now, what of tomorrow?
The Yankees will still be the Yankees, minus Derek Jeter, although for a time it won't feel like it. Already, this season had been shaping up as a strange one, with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte having gone off to retirement, Robinson Cano having gone off to Seattle and Alex Rodriguez banished to Bud Selig's purgatory.
But as long as Jeter was in the house, it still felt as if a significant part of the team was intact. When he is gone from the clubhouse next year, it will be tough to recognize this team as the same one that dominated baseball from 1996 to 2001, and kept essentially the same nucleus of players for nearly two decades.
None of it sounds right, feels right or seems right.
And even though Yankee history is replete with great players who left their clubhouse either on their terms or the team's, a line that runs from Babe Ruth through Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera and, next year, to Derek Jeter, it always takes some getting used to.
After all, they won't just be replacing a shortstop. Once again, they'll be replacing a legend.
History tells us it can be done, because it's been done so many times before. But for some reason, this one feels different.
A year from now, when Derek Jeter walks through the Yankees' clubhouse door for the last time, he won't just be ending a career.
He'll be slamming the door on an era.
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