Jeter on retirement: 'This was the right time'
Captain expounds on decision, stresses he still has this season before moving on
TAMPA, Fla. -- Right to the end, Derek Jeter remained low key, self-deprecating and unemotional. Even though, as he pointed out several times, this really isn't the end yet.
Jeter said he had hoped to fly under the radar, but of course, that wasn't possible. Not after he announced on Facebook that this would be his last season playing shortstop for the Yankees. So hundreds of reporters, photographers and camera crews descended on George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, when Jeter made himself available to answer questions for the first time about his decision, and the tone of the queries had a decided note of finality. The Yanks' captain was understandably asked about his legacy and favorite memories and similar topics.
"This is not a retirement press conference. I still have a season to play," Jeter gently reminded the crowd early in the 25-minute session, and several more times after that.
Jeter isn't walking away at the end of the season, after he'll have turned 40, because he's physically unable to continue -- even though an ankle injury limited him to just 17 games in 2013.
"I feel good. This has nothing to do with how I feel," Jeter stressed. "Physically I feel great and I'm looking forward to the season."
No, he's leaving because his instincts, which have always seemed to guide him so unerringly, told him he should.
"I just felt like this was the right time," Jeter said. "Parts of 20 seasons I've played in New York and 23 counting the Minor Leagues. So I think I've done it long enough. I'm looking forward to doing other things in my life. This is a difficult job. I put everything into it each and every year. It's not a six-month season. It's 12 months. Again, I'm looking forward to other things. Not yet. But the idea of doing other things is what I'm looking forward to."
Jeter remained vague about what those interests might be, although he mentioned focusing on his Turn 2 Foundation and starting a family. He conceded that seeing old teammates leave, especially former catcher Jorge Posada, forced him to contemplate when the end would come. So did the shortstop's injury-plagued 2013.
"[Losing familiar faces] maybe makes you start thinking about how much longer you're going to do this," Jeter said. "Especially when Jorge left. I was pretty much with him every single day. You take someone away that's been pretty much a constant all these years, you start thinking about it, but I was always good at keeping it out of my mind. And I was very vocal about how disappointing last year was, how hard last year was for me to come to the stadium each and every day. You start thinking about how long you really want to do this."
Jeter did not seem sad. He did not appear sentimental. Then again, that's how he's been his entire career. Jeter allowed a brief peek behind the mask Wednesday when asked about how casual he was while discussing his baseball mortality.
"Trying to get me to cry?" he needled, drawing a laugh from the room. "Yeah I'm emotional, but it's kind of difficult, because we still have a season to play. It might be different if it was the end of the year. Yeah, I have feelings. I'm not emotionally stunted. There are feelings there. I just think I've been pretty good at trying to hide my emotions over the years. I try to have the same demeanor every single day.
"I know I haven't been as open with [the media] as some would have liked me to be over the last 20 years. That was by design. That's the way I felt I should be to handle New York. This is a game of failure. You're going to fail more than you succeed. If you don't keep your emotions in check, it's going to be hard to come to the field every day. I learned that at a young age. Coming to New York, you're going to have to deal with the criticism. You don't have to like it. I don't like it. But you have to deal with it. The only way to have sustainability in this game is to keep your emotions in check."
So Jeter parried several questions with humor. Asked, for example, if he believed he could bounce back and be as good a player as he was in 2012 (.316 in 159 games, 216 hits, 99 runs scored, 15 homers and a .362 on base percentage), Jeter shook his head.
"No, I don't. This is it. I don't expect anything from myself this season," he deadpanned, getting another chuckle from the audience, before adding: "I expect each and every year to be successful. That's the bottom line. I expect to come out here, I expect to do my job, I expect to compete, I expect to help our team win. If my expectation level had ever changed, then I would have gone home a long time ago."
Jeter's one poignant reflection came when he asked how he'd like to be remembered. After first saying it was too early to think about that, he reconsidered.
"The thing that means the most to me is being remembered as a Yankee," he said. "I have to thank the Steinbrenner family for giving me the opportunity to live my dream."
Jeter allowed that one adjustment he'll make this season is to try to spend a little more time appreciating the experience, something he now understands he didn't do enough of.
"I want to enjoy each and every day over the course of the year," he said. "It's been very difficult for me to do that during my career. I've always tried to focus on what's next. The next goal and the next goal. When I was going for 3,000 hits, my parents told me, 'Listen, you need to enjoy it, as opposed to just getting it over with.' So I want to take it all in."
Jeter thought about making the announcement months ago, but heeded advice to wait until he was certain. He wanted to put it out there before the season started, because he thought the constant questions about how much longer he planned to play would become a distraction both for himself and the Yankees.
A very Jeter-esque moment occurred midway through the news conference. He suddenly stopped and pointed to the seats that had been reserved for the Yanks' players, still in uniform, and front office.
"If these guys got to go work, go work. Don't feel as though you have to be here," he insisted.
They stayed. There is still more time to work, to prepare for what lies ahead. Just like, as Jeter kept reminding everyone, he still has another season to play.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.