I like to pretend that I can see into the future, but really I just have to wait until I get there like everyone else.
Today I’m wondering if someday people will talk about Derek Jeter the way men of a certain era now talk about Mickey Mantle.
You know the ones I mean, guys like John Giambi, Jason’s father, who grew up idolizing Mantle and for whom that love was a defining thing. There are a lot of guys that age who say it. They weren’t New Yorkers, sometimes they weren’t even Yankees fans, but they loved/idolized Mantle.
I am sure there is something similar going on with Michael Jordan that transcends basketball and transcends sport, and goes beyond race, as well. I was struck by hearing the other day that when asked if he could invite anyone at all to dinner, Melky Cabrera replied that he would like to have Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter… and Michael Jordan at his table. Young athletes regardless of race or what sport they play truly idolize him.
But what about Jeter? We have reached that stage of his career where he is knocking guys like Lou Gehrig out of the top slots in Yankee franchise career lists. Every year critics say he is going to get old and tired and start slowing down… and he’s having one of his best seasons ever. But even if he does start slowing down next season, the numbers are staring us in the face.
This guy is good.
But I’m not talking here about his Hall of Fame eligibility, I’m talking about a more nebulous legacy. Thirty or forty years from now, will there be a generation or a demographic who talk about Jeter being the one? My guess is that if there is, it’ll be among a population of young fans and especially female fans who all got into the game because of him, and who will be baseball fans forever after. I remember one time standing behind the dugout at Fenway Park during batting practice. A man was there holding his son, who was probably two and a half to three years old. Every five minutes or so, the child would ask him. “Where’s Jeter?” And his father would dutifully point out where Derek was at the time. Taking ground balls. Talking with Jorge Posada.
Those of us who have seen him grow up as a Yankee, who have gotten used to how good he is, how much he does, can we even gauge just how big he is? Or where his fame and icon-status may go after he retires? We can’t. But we can guess.
I am already picturing the not-so-distant future when Jeter’s Hall of Fame induction comes around. And how the crowd that swells the ranks of spectators will make the group that saw Cal Ripken inducted look like nothin’.
(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)