Derek Jeter exits gracefully as a Yankee great

Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th hit against Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium in 2011 (©GettyImages)

NEW YORK - Maybe the last time that Derek Jeter wasn’t in complete control of every aspect of his New York Yankees career was when he was a skinny, mistake-prone shortstop prospect toiling away with the Greensboro (S.C.) Hornets in 1993.

By the time he reached the Bronx as a rookie in 1996, Jeter was firmly set on a Hall of Fame path. Jeter took a step closer to Cooperstown when he announced via his Facebook page that the 2014 season would be his last in pinstripes.

The Captain is retiring...on his own terms.

Jeter plans to address his retirement at a press conference at the Yankees' spring training camp in Tampa on Wednesday.

Here’s what won’t be talked about this season: Whether a 40-year-old shortstop is viable in today’s Major League Baseball and whether Jeter's range in the hole at short is deteriorating as rapidly as the polar icecaps. Also Yankees Manager Joe Girardi will be spared the uncomfortable conversation that he would surely have to have with Jeter about becoming a full-time designated hitter beyond the 2014 season.

Talk about know how to make a graceful exit.

Instead there will be only happy talk surrounding Jeter for the remainder of his baseball career. Whether he makes it through the season completely healthy or not, Jeter’s legacy will remain intact.

And what is that legacy?

“Captain of the Yankees and one of the greatest winners in Major League Baseball,’’ said Ross Greenberg, former President of HBO Sports and a friend of Jeter. “He’s going to be right there with all the Yankee greats.

It will be Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter. He’s going to live on for centuries. They’ll be studying his reign forever.’’

When Jeter was approaching the milestone of 3,000 hits in 2011, Greenberg approached Jeter’s agent, Jack Tiernan, about filming the run up to the event for a documentary on HBO.

“Jack was instrumental in convincing Derek that it would be important to document that run to 3,000,’’ Greenberg said. “Derek understood that you need to document these things because they last a lifetime.’’

The documentary allowed Jeter’s fans to get a peek inside his inner circle of friends and a behind the scenes look at a slice of his everyday life. They also got to watch him go through a gruelling rehabilitation of an injured right calf that sidelined him for a month leading up to that 3,000th hit.

In true Jeter style he got the milestone in dramatic fashion – a home run to left field in the third inning at Yankee Stadium.

Jeter has always been clutch, particularly in the postseason where all the Yankee greats have made their mark. He has started 157 playoff games, nearly 100 more than any shortstop in history. He owns the all-time lead in games, at-bats, hits, runs and doubles, while ranking third in home runs, fourth in RBIs and sixth in stolen bases. With 158 games and 734 plate appearances Jeter has played another whole season in October.

Perhaps the biggest and most important number in Jeter’s career is zero.

Zero scandals. Zero arrests. Zero baby mamas. Zero failed tests for PEDs.

That is impressive considering he has spent 20 years as a celebrity, playing on one of the most storied teams in Major League Baseball and in the media capital of the world. He has dated stars (from Mariah Carey to Minka Kelly) and no drama has stuck to him.

Jeter played through the Steroids Era in baseball without a scratch while his teammate, Alex Rodriguez, got mired neck deep in the PED quicksand and will be serving a suspension for the entire 2014 season for his troubles.

Jeter played for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner when Steinbrenner was the bombastic, hair-trigger tempered tempest that took his star players apart like they were Lego Men when the team wasn’t winning.

In 2002 Steinbrenner criticized Jeter after news reports surfaced that he was out late at night for a birthday party and questioned Jeter’s commitment to winning. Later Steinbrenner and Jeter did a VISA credit card commercial that was a parody of the spat.

It was no accident that Jeter has been scandal-free in his two-decade tenure with the Yankees.

“He’s very careful with where he goes and who he associates himself with,’’ Greenberg said. “He’s very private. He’s never going to get himself in any trouble. None of those horrible issues are part of his life. It’s a credit to Dr. and Mrs. Jeter in how they raised their son. He’s very respectful. He’s just special.

"He would kind of roll his eyes and say, “Come on’’ if you told him that. He’s had his fun. It’s not like he has never been to a nightclub. He knows what his limits are and he knows how to carry himself.’’

Jeter is the last of the so-called “Core Four’’ which included catcher Jorge Posada, pitcher Andy Petitte and reliever Mariano Rivera to retire. They all came to the Bronx in the mid-1990s and helped the Yankees win five World Series Championships. Rivera announced his retirement before last season and got the star treatment at every stadium the Yankees visited last year.

It will be the same for Jeter this season.

“We’ve all grown up with them. I shed a few tears when Mariano came to the mound for the last time,’’ Greenberg said. “Wait until you see the cavalcade around MLB surrounding Jeter this year.’’

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