Derek Jeter and What We Have Learned About Farewells


Derek Jeter received the sendoff that Colorado Rockies’ first baseman Todd Helton deserved. 

Imagine: You are one of the greatest baseball players of your generation. You are beloved by the fans, respected by your teammates, destined for legend status in the annals of the game. You have announced your retirement, and since that moment have received untold adulations from everyone you encounter.

More from Colorado Rockies News

But, since you play for the Colorado Rockies, not the New York Yankees, you are barely acknowledged outside the limits of the city in which you play. People are not booking hotels in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony five years from now. They are not writing giant cardboard checks for your charity, giving you seats from their ballparks, or publishing in-depth profiles about you in their magazines. After all, you played at Coors Field. You probably aren’t that good after all.

This is the Todd Helton-Derek Jeter conundrum. You will not catch me saying a bad word about Jeter. I’m not Keith Olbermann for starters (what a grouch). I also have actually liked the Yankees for most of the years I’ve been a baseball fan, and have rooted for them in each of their World Series campaigns during that time. I’ve seen Derek Jeter play, on TV and in person, and I lived in New York for long enough to know how graciously he handled the media frenzy that surrounds any elite athlete there. He is top notch in just about every way.

But then again, so is Todd Helton. A by-the-numbers comparison:

Seasons with 8.0 WAR or more: Helton 2, Jeter 1

Batting titles: Helton 1, Jeter 0

Seasons with 30+ home runs: Helton 6, Jeter 0

Average number of doubles in a season: Helton 43, Jeter 32

Average wRC+ (which takes the Coors Field factor out of it): Helton 132, Jeter 119

Of course, I chose stats that were in Helton’s favor. Some others are in Jeter’s. I’m not trying to make the case that Helton is a better ballplayer. In many ways they were comparable, though I would argue that Helton’s defensive prowess surpasses Jeter’s by a wide margin. Look no further than the DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) stat. Helton’s number is 31. Jeter’s is -159.

Offensively, though, I’ll allow that these are both Hall-of-Fame caliber players. What I don’t understand is why so many people feel that Jeter is incontestably a lock for the Hall, while Helton might sneak in on the voters’ goodwill. And I don’t understand why Jeter was deserving of so much fanfare, when Helton was not.

I think two factors are at work here. The first is Coors Field. Helton played there, and therefore he cannot be as good as he appeared to be. This has got to stop. It is ludicrous to simply write a player off because of where he spent half his time. In fact, Helton’s numbers are downright gaudy if you consider the wear and tear on his body of constantly going back and forth from altitude. He had some back trouble toward the end, but on the whole he stayed healthy, and his away batting average is only 47 points below his home batting average. His .285 away average is better than most anyway.

Jeter’s splits aren’t as severe–a .311 home average to a .298 road average–but in both cases I think the road averages are high enough for the splits not to matter. Anybody who’s sniffing .300 on the road deserves all our respect and admiration, no matter how well he hits at home.

The rest of it truly is on the fans. The Yankees are a much more high-profile team, and Jeter is by extension a very high-profile player. He’s the last of the Core Four, in many ways the end of the George Steinbrenner era, the Captain. The Yankees have become a very different team in the last five years as various mainstays have retired, and with Jeter gone, I barely recognize them.

There won’t be another Derek Jeter in their ranks for a very long time. He announced his retirement a year early because he knew that’s how long the fans would need to say goodbye. Helton announced his barely a month in advance, knowing that most people didn’t care. Jeter held his head high in a city where it’s not easy to do that, and he deserves to be recognized.

I just wish the fans were educated and interested enough to realize that just under 2,000 miles away from Yankee Stadium, a great player retired. He did it quietly, without expecting recognition from other teams. He did it probably knowing that his home ballpark will forever taint his reputation. And he did it with class and style, the way Todd Helton did everything. Too bad the world is too busy celebrating Derek Jeter to see it.

More from Rox Pile