Goldman: Derek Jeter and the mostly barren history of Yankees shortstops

From SABR member Steven Goldman at SB Nation on February 12, 2014:

A franchise can go a lifetime without having a true great at a position. The Yankees have had Lou Gehrig at first base, Babe Ruth in the outfield corners (he was both their starting left and right fielder for his entire career, depending on the day), Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in center field. What they never had was a shortstop who rose to that level — not until Derek Jeter.

Today Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season would be his last. It was yet another sign that Jeter is the latter-day DiMaggio, both being men inclined to silence, reticence, even taciturnity who far preferred to let their play, not their words, be their way of communicating with the world. When DiMaggio slipped at 36, he walked away. The Yankees offered him $100,000, a very healthy salary in the early 1950s, to play one more year, even if that meant sitting on the bench except to pinch-hit. DiMaggio said no, because he could not accept the idea of appearing on the field at less than his best.

We don’t know what Jeter is thinking, and even when he does speak to the media we probably won’t learn much, because he is an expert at saying less than nothing, but it’s easy to believe that some kind of parallel to DiMaggio’s thinking is at work here.  He said in his statement, “As I suffered through a bunch of injuries [in 2013], I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle.” That is the DiMaggio principle at work there, having the self-awareness, the humility, and the strength not to hang on, but to get out while the aura of your greatness is still intact.

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Originally published: February 13, 2014. Last Updated: February 13, 2014.