The comparison isn’t a bad one. Kareem, the league’s first real superstar export, managed to be the face of the sport for over a decade despite his prickly report with the media. The same can be said for Jeter, who never lost his cool throughout his tenure as the man in the big-market spotlight, all the while being infamously guarded with the outside world. Both very loved, of course — but neither was particularly forthcoming nor interested in attention. Attention they both deserved, whether they liked it or not, and attention that culminated in a memorable send off. In fact, Kareem was the first guy to be honored with a farewell tour.
That’s right, before 1989, arch-enemies and division rivals never gave players presents in their final season. Crazy, right?
Coming on the heels of Mariano’s retirement and subsequent emotion-packed swan song pilgrimage, news of Jeter’s departure can only be expect to be remembered as the most profoundly meaningful, blow-out goodbye to an American professional athlete since fellow Yankee Lou Gehrig’s 1939 “Luckiest man” speech. So why will Jeter’s be so epic despite his general aversion to the public? Well, among other things, the public loves what it can’t have, and Jeter’s deeply personal demeanor has always added to his mystique. We never really knew what he was thinking. We never got him to let us into his life. Hell, you can’t even have a cell phone in his house. He’s become a legend by omission — a bit like Kareem, who notoriously never signed autographs (even for teenage Magic Johnson, apparently). So before we break out the giant framed memorabilia and signed bases, let’s look back at moment the tradition started, on April 23rd 1989.
Expect Jeter’s final home game on September 25th against Buck Showalter’s Orioles to look something like this…