July 27, 2014

Jeter farewell tour visits Rangers, who know well his impact

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter began his championship legacy at the Rangers' expense.

The always anticipated arrival of the Yankees’ caravan this year includes the casting of the newest sculpture soon to be unveiled on the storied franchise’s Mount Rushmore of greats.

The most recognizable are Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.

Derek Jeter will soon take his place among them, perhaps the most splendid in his era of baseball for the way in which he achieved success all the while remaining untainted by scandal and controversy.

Jeter’s retirement farewell tour through major league baseball makes a stop at Globe Life Park in Arlington with a three-game set against the Rangers, starting with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch Monday.

Rangers officials will honor Jeter with a pregame ceremony Wednesday.

“He’s represented his organization as classy as anybody,” said Texas manager Ron Washington, who ranked Jeter among the best players he has seen in his 40-plus years in baseball while admitting he didn’t like him as a shortstop when he first saw him in Class A ball in 1993.

“He’s represented the game of baseball as classy as anybody can. He’s a special guy.”

Jeter’s historic career will end in September or October, 20 seasons after it began with an inauspicious beginning: 0 for 5 with a strikeout in the nine-hole for the Yankees in a game at Seattle.

History would collide the next season when the Rangers’ first division champion would run head-on into the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s one of my idols,” said Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, who was 6 years old when Jeter made his debut in 1995. “I’m blessed I got to see him play, play against him and talk to him.

“It’s pretty amazing.”

Jeter is, according to Elias statistics, one of four players with 1,000 multihit games with one team, joining baseball dignitaries Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron. He is one of three players in history with 3,000 hits, 250 home runs and 350 stolen bases.

The Yankees are making a bid for a 28th World Series title and sixth in the Jeter Era in his last season. New York enters the Rangers series four games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.

The Jeter whom fans will see this week isn’t the same one they grew to love and hate because of his role as the linchpin of World Series champions.

At 40, the perennial All-Star is in decline. A career .311 hitter who has amassed more than 3,400 career hits enters hitting .273 The moderate career power numbers are all but gone, though with his 535th career double last week he passed Lou Gehrig on the Yankees’ all-time list.

It was a feat, Washington said, that made his “chin fall.”

The more than 2,600 games played at shortstop have taken a toll on his legs. He has been criticized in recent years as a defensive liability.

“When you get older, you don’t react like you did when you were 25,” said Colby Lewis, who is set to pitch against the Yankees on Wednesday. “The state of mind is definitely there. I think that’s what separates veteran guys, especially him, at his level.

“He’s that type of veteran guy, you know in situations he’s going to grind you. He’s been there and done it in every situation.”

Said Washington: “He still will do a lot of things to help you win.”

His relationship with Rangers fans has, of course, been strained over the course of 20 years, primarily because of Jeter’s will to win.

The Yankees’ first of five World Series championships with Jeter began in 1996 with a 3-1 AL Divisional Series win against the Rangers, who would go on to fall in three-game sweeps to New York in 1998 and ’99, too.

Jeter went 5 for 11 with a double, triple, two walks and three runs scored for the Yankees, who discarded the Rangers by a combined 14-1 score in three games in 1999.

All three ended in Yankees titles.

Jeter hit .351 against the Rangers in those three series, including 3 for 5 in a 5-4 12-inning victory that denied Texas a 2-0 series lead — on the road nonetheless — in 1996.

The year 1999 wouldn’t be the last time the teams met in the postseason.

The Rangers’ first World Series appearance was all the more sweeter, considering they had to go through their playoff nemesis to do it.

Texas dropped the Yankees in six games in the ALCS in 2010.

“That was a dream come true,” said Andrus, who hit .333 in that ALCS as the Rangers’ leadoff hitter and scored Game 6’s first run after a double to start the bottom of the first. “He was the guy playing in the postseason and winning championships.

“For me, that year, to play against him and beat him it was really a magical year.”

There’s not much debate about whether Jeter — the sixth overall pick of the Yankees in 1992 out of Central High School of Kalamazoo, Mich. — is among the best shortstops of all time, but rather where he belongs.

Though it’s difficult to compare eras in baseball, there is a consensus that Honus Wagner’s and Cal Ripken Jr.’s places are safe among the all-time greats.

Jeter’s best asset is that he is a winner on baseball’s most recognizable team.

If winning is an attitude, Jeter has it. Jeter has the highest personal winning percentage (.595) among active players, according to Elias.

“The guy has always been a winner,” Washington said. “He’s made people around him better. He’s a difference maker. You can’t say that about everybody.

“I don’t think when he left Michigan they expected this, but it’s amazing how life goes.”

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