Art LaFleur made a brief appearance as Babe Ruth in “The Sandlot” and left us with one of the most memorable lines of the entire film—aside from, “You’re killing me, Smalls!” and, “For-ev-ver!” The Babe told Benny Rodriguez (not yet “The Jet”) to remember that “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Once or twice in a generation, a ball player will come along that will live forever as a legend. One such legend had his number retired at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
Say what you will about the New York Yankees—I know I have over the years—but they sure hit a grand slam with Derek Jeter. The Captain’s 20-year career was the picture of consistency at the plate, as he hit .310 over his career and never dipped below the .250 mark (unless you count the 17 games he played in 2013, where he finished the season at .190).
Jeter didn’t have the best range among his peers at shortstop. In fact, he was even seen as a defensively liability at times. But he always seemed to find himself in the right place at the right time when it really mattered for the Bronx Bombers. The Oakland A’s were on the receiving end of two of Jeter’s iconic defensive plays in the 2001 American League Division Series.
One of Jeter’s most famous moments came in “The Flip” with New York leading 1-0 over Oakland in the seventh inning of Game 3. With Jeremy Giambi on first, Terrence Long drove a liner into the right field corner. Right fielder Shane Spencer gathered the ricochet and fired for home as Giambi rounded third. The throw sailed over first baseman Tino Martinez and was skipping toward home. Jeter read the errant throw perfectly and fielded it about halfway up the first base line, then flipped it to catcher Jorge Posada, who tagged Giambi on the right calf just before he touched home.
The other came in the top of the eighth of Game 5 in the same series. The Yankees were ahead 5-3 and the A’s had Eric Chavez on first with one out. It was Long again who popped up high down the third base line on a 1-1 count. Third baseman Scott Brosius chased the towering fly ball toward the stands as Jeter pursued in shallow left field. As he reached the short wall in foul territory, Jeter turned his back and made the catch as he fell into the seats. Chavez advanced to second on the play, but the next batter Ron Gant grounded out to third to end the inning.
If you’re going to hate the Yankees, hate them because they always get the bounce. You can’t call it lucky, you can’t call it karma, but you can definitely call it the work of a legend.