From Excellence to Legendary

The 3 plays in 372 days that made Derek Jeter a baseball legend …

 

Prologue

It’s not always easy to identify that moment in a professional athlete’s career when he or she has passed through the threshold of greatness to legend. By the time Michael Jordan finished his 3rd NBA championship, his legend was secure. For Wayne Gretzky in hockey, he transcended from prolific scorer to Stanley Cup Champion in 1984 and his legend was born. Others are defined by extended periods of greatness yet we struggle to find that moment in their career when they took that indisputable step forward.

As he waited to step into the batter’s box before the start of game four of the 2000 World Series against the New York Mets, Derek Jeter’s excellence was already established. By the time he finished his storied career, his iconic plays had been given monikers that all baseball fans knew – “The Flip”, “Mr. November”, “The Dive”, and so on. Like music fans remembering their favorite songs by the titles, Derek’s “Greatest Hits” all had names of their own.

His retirement after the 2014 season started the clock to the inevitable first ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2019. The only question is whether he’ll be voted in unanimously or not (no-one has yet achieved that in baseball).

As he readied himself, his stance, his bat, and his eyes on the pitcher that night no-one had a clue that his indelible mark on MLB’s storied history was about to be stamped on us with surgical precision.

With what was about to transpire over the next 372 days through three epic and game-determining plays, Derek Jeter would go from being an excellent shortstop on the winning-yet-again New York Yankees to a legendary shortstop on yet another dynasty in this amazing franchise’s history.

Why? Let’s explore it some more.

 

Game 4: 2000 World Series

The Yankees were clinging to a two games to one lead over the Mets as game four started at Shea Stadium in the 2000 World Series. The Mets held serve in game three to close the 2-0 gap to within one game of a tied series. Their late rally in game two put a scare in the Yankees – all three games were close. Would the pesky younger NY baseball siblings tie the series and make it that much more pressure-packed?

The Yankees had already won consecutive World Series titles and they were on the verge of winning the third. This game was a pivotal point for them to achieve that goal.

It happens rarely. No one ever expects it. When it happens, since it’s such a rare event, it’s always very emotional and powerful. To do it in the key game in the World Series against your crosstown rival, that’s taking it to an entirely different level.

Derek Jeter hit the very first pitch from Bobby Jones in game four of the 2000 World Series for a home run. Of course, the score was now 1-0 Yankees.

Yankees fans erupted with joy and you could feel the collective sense of Mets fans all being punched in the stomach with that hit. In one play, he turned the game and series into a Yankees 4-1 dominant performance to win their 3rd in a row and 4th in 5 years. Epic in any stretch of baseball that does not already include other Yankees’ dynasties.

 

“The Flip”

The 2001 MLB post-season was played under a dark cloud. Delayed by the terrible events of 9/11, baseball was hoping to generate excitement to help bring the country back together. The Yankees were again pursuing a championship. If successful, this would make 4 in a row.

The Yankees found themselves on the verge of defeat after losing two games at home against the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won two games against formidable Yankees pitching – Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were beat in close games. Losing two games at home and heading to the West Coast is not the script that manager Joe Torre or the team wanted.

Game 4 was another close won. Scoreless through four innings, Jorge Posada hit a home run in the top of the 5th to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The score remained 1-0 by the time the A’s got up in the bottom of the 7th.

Oakland was threatening the 1-0 ballgame with Mike Mussina pitching a gem. With a runner on first base, Oakland’s Terrence Long hit a ball into the right-field corner with two outs. With Jeremy Giambi rumbling around the bases towards home, the ball thrown by right-fielder Shane Spencer sailed over the heads of two cut-off men … heading towards nowhere land and a potential game-tying run.

Out of nowhere, Derek Jeter appears at a spot on the field near home plate that is nowhere near routine for a shortstop to be at that moment. Albeit, he was! He made an all-time back-handed flip to Jorge Posada to get Giambi out to end the inning and the threat. The Yankees held on to win 1-0 and eventually win the series. Disaster averted.

Jeter’s play not only saved the game, it was an instant classic for ESPN and others to play over and over again that night and to this day. It became known forever as “The Flip.”

Two down, one to go.

 

Mr. November

With the Yankees about to pursue their fifth World Series championship in six years and four in a row in 2001, the story had transformed from one about an all-time Major League Baseball team to a family rivalry.

The only other teams to ever have had this type of streak were the earlier historic versions of the New York Yankees. This group was attempting to stamp a dynasty rating on themselves that only their older siblings could rival. Yankees dynasties of the late 1930’s and early 1950’s had won four and five consecutive World Series, respectively. The team that had won four in the past five years had a chance to elevate themselves into the “greatest ever” debates.

Jeter was in the middle of it all and was poised to put his own mark on his role in this stretch of Yankees dominance as Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth had before him. He had already proven himself with four rings, four All Star games, the never-equaled, same-season, All Star Game and World Series MVP awards, and played a leading role each season while hitting .331 over the 4-year stretch that ended in 2001.

3000 hits was years away. He had not yet emerged from “The Dive” with his face bloody. They were both years away at this moment in Derek’s career.

Then, with the unfamiliar position of being behind in the series and barely pulling out the prior win to take the series to 1-2 upon them, Jeter once again is there on center stage.

Joe Buck announced to the television audience what was shown on the big scoreboard – we were now officially playing on November 1. Everyone knew this was unchartered baseball territory.

Who made the moment his and only in the way a player could? Derek Jeter hits the home run that was heard around the world. The first home run ever hit in November in MLB’s history. It was the culmination of the lows and highs of what NYC and the USA had just gone through. Derek resurrected New York City’s spirit out of the horrible feeling that took down The Towers. And the Yankees were tied two games each with the Diamondbacks. Once again, Derek was at center-stage and delivered.

While that series ended with the Yankees losing, Derek’s legend was secure.

 

Cooperstown Bound

First, it was the lead-off home run against the Mets in game four of the 2000 World Series, then, it was “The Flip” in Oakland in the divisional series to save the Yankees from losing the series and then, finally, the walk off home run on November 1, 2001 against the Diamondbacks in game four at Yankee Stadium.

These three plays over the course of 372 days cemented the legend of Derek Jeter.

It was that night, that point in time on November 1, 2001 that one now realized Derek Jeter not only is but has also been an elite, legendary player who has been coming up with epic plays when it was critical for the Yankees his entire career. It’s at this instant, the culmination of 372 days and three larger-than-life moments in Derek’s history as the Yankees shortstop, that Derek Jeter became a baseball legend.

History tells us that Derek continued his greatness for thirteen more seasons – taking the Yankees to two more World Series, winning the final one in 2009. In 2011, Derek put gold plating on his already cemented legend with a home run for his 3000th hit (and went 5-5 that day, knocking in the winning run, too). On his last game ever in Yankee Stadium, he hit the game-winning, walk off hit to put that final exclamation point on his resume.

He finished his career with 3,465 hits – the most ever by a shortstop or by a NY Yankee – and number six all-time. His five World Series rings are second only to Phil Rizzuto, another NY Yankee, for shortstops. Of course, Derek’s #2 was retired by the Yankees.

 

Michael Massetti is a life-long NY Yankees fan and a lover of baseball. In his professional time, he is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

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