NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter will receive his ultimate lifetime achievement award at some point Thursday night, whenever Joe Girardi decides to remove him from the game and turn him over to the full house. The fans will cheer, cry and do whatever moves them to celebrate the 40-year-old New York Yankees captain, and then Jeter will leave the Bronx as an active player for the final time.
He will leave with all kinds of trophies and milestones zipped inside his travel bag, and one that shouldn't be lost under the pile. His only perfect record. Barring the sudden emergence of a hotheaded umpire fixing to break Twitter for good, Jeter will exit Yankee Stadium having played 2,903 major league games, postseason included, without earning a single ejection.
Yes, the adults in the stands have dressed their kids in jersey No. 2 because of the five championships, the 3,461 hits and the commitment to approaching every game the way Joe DiMaggio did -- as if someone out there was watching him play for the very first time. But the respect Jeter forever showed the game's authority figures at a time when that respect on ballfields across America, from Little League to the pros, was an oft-ignored suggestion, not a mandate, represented a core piece of his mass appeal.
In more than 20 years Jeter never once lost it with an umpire, a remarkable feat considering how verbal abuse of umps has long been accepted as part of the game, just like Cracker Jack, ballpark franks and the seventh-inning stretch. Not just accepted, but encouraged. Glorified, even.
People used to laugh at the expression, "Kill the ump," and let's face it: Who hasn't appreciated the bygone images of a raging Billy Martin, Earl Weaver or Lou Piniella going nose to nose with an umpire while kicking dirt on his shoes?
The prototypical ill-tempered manager expected to defend his team has hardly been the lone offender. Babe Ruth once punched an umpire in the head, and Roberto Alomar once spat in an umpire's face.
Even mild-mannered, ump-friendly stars have a history of blowing a gasket here or there. Cal Ripken Jr. was ejected three times, Tony Gwynn twice. Lou Gehrig was ejected for cursing out Ty Cobb. Rod Carew was 10 years into his career before he got tossed from a game; he responded by hurling bats on the field and throwing a ball in the direction of the ump. Wade Boggs was in his 17th season, a week away from his 40th birthday, when he finally earned an ejection for arguing balls and strikes.
Even while playing in the most volatile market and spending most of his prime under a suffocating boss, George Steinbrenner, Jeter never had his bad hair day. On Tuesday night, after he was called out on strikes in the fifth inning by D.J. Reyburn (the ball appeared to be a tad outside), the shortstop did what he always does when he believes the guy behind the plate missed it on strike three.
Jeter lowered his head as he stepped toward the ump in a nonthreatening way, containing the discussion as much as possible so the man behind the mask didn't feel he was being embarrassed. The captain said what he needed to say and quickly exited before mouthing the word, "Wow."
Umpires who regularly confront a lack of civility have cherished the Jeter way for two decades. Major League Baseball is always reluctant to allow active umps to comment publicly on the pros and cons of an active player, even a legendary one with less than a week left in his career, but five retired umps who worked some of Jeter's games, who have watched many more from afar and who have a combined 126 years of big league experience were free to weigh the impact of the shortstop's professionalism on their craft.
They had all dealt with the high-stakes madness of the postseason, where participants are more likely to go to Defcon 1. Richie Garcia was stationed in right field for Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series when 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall -- Garcia never saw him -- and deflected Jeter's fly ball away from Baltimore's Tony Tarasco and into history; Garcia also called Mark Langston's 2-2 pitch to Tino Martinez a ball right before Martinez hit a grand slam in the 1998 World Series. Randy Marsh was the first-base ump who initially ruled Alex Rodriguez safe on A-Rod's infamous slap play against Boston in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS before the crew convened, correctly called A-Rod out and ordered Jeter to return to first base.
Don Denkinger was responsible for the most conspicuous blown call in World Series history in 1985, when he ruled Kansas City's Jorge Orta safe in the ninth inning of a Game 6 the Royals would rally to win before routing St. Louis in Game 7. Chuck Meriwether worked eight division series, two league championship series, two World Series and David Cone's perfect game in 1999. Larry Young worked the first of five World Series that Jeter's Yankees would win (1996) and the second of two World Series that Jeter's Yankees would lose (2003).
On the subject of big league players and bush-league conduct, these five umpires have pretty much seen it all. This was their scouting report on Derek Sanderson Jeter:
Randy Marsh, 29 years in MLB, retired in 2009: "A-Rod slapped the ball out of [Bronson Arroyo's] glove in 2004, and I missed it before we huddled and we got it right. Joe Torre did his job in coming out to discuss it, and A-Rod did complain to me about it, saying he didn't think he did anything wrong. But Derek never said anything. Most players would've been talking to every umpire on the way back to first, asking, 'Why is this happening?' When I told him he had to go back to first base, he didn't say a word. Whatever you told Jeter to do, that's what he did. The guy was the gold standard in the way he conducted himself."
Richie Garcia, 25 years, 1999: "Whenever there was an argument or a tough situation on the field, there was always a guy on my crew I could look at, a guy I could trust and know what he was thinking just by looking into his eyes. Derek Jeter was like that. He wasn't on my team, but I could look at his reaction and body language and know where we stood. When I had that play in '96 and all the Orioles were screaming at me in the outfield, Brady Anderson walked up to me very calmly and said, 'Richie, someone interfered with that ball.' That's when the light went on and I knew I'd missed the call, because that's how Brady was with umpires. I would've felt the same way if Jeter had said it."
Don Denkinger, 30 years, 1998: "Some guys need a scapegoat, but Derek Jeter never made it tougher to do your job. I first went to spring training in 1969, and Harmon Killebrew came up and asked for my name. 'Don Denkinger,' I told him. 'Welcome to the big leagues,' he said. Harmon never questioned you as an umpire because he was just there to do his job, and Derek reminded me of him. I always appreciated the way Jeter carried himself."
Chuck Meriwether, 18 years, 2010: "I have two sons, Jeremy and Chris, and they were with me in Minnesota during one series with the Yankees when Derek came walking by on the way to the team bus. My boys were just in awe. I called him over, introduced them, and Derek talked to them for five minutes, not too long. But he never forgot their names. Any time I was working at second or third base after that, he'd come up and say, 'How are Jeremy and Chris doing?' I'm talking years and years later. A lot of players have met my sons, and a lot of them were nice, but I can honestly tell you that nobody but Derek Jeter ever remembered their names."
Larry Young, 24 years, 2007: "Derek carried himself with a lot of dignity even as a rookie. It's more difficult to play in New York than anywhere else, especially on the Yankee side, and his consistency in handling that pressure was remarkable. Even the guys who have good relationships with umpires, whether it's Wade Boggs or George Brett or Rod Carew, eventually get ejected. The fact that Derek never once lost it over 20 years says a lot about him."
Garcia: "Derek never brought up that [Maier] play when I had their games after that. Never said a word about it. I think he felt bad for me, and I think he was showing me respect by not bringing it up. He also called me 'Mr. Garcia.' I kept telling him to call me 'Richie,' but it was always 'Mr. Garcia.'"
Marsh: "When I was a kid, I had this book about being a ballplayer, an instruction book, and there was this little section on how to properly wear your uniform. Derek could've been the model for that book. His hat, his hair, no baggy pants below the bottom of his shoes -- everything is the way it should be worn. It's a classic look. I'm sure the Yankees taught him that, but I think his upbringing had a lot to do with it too."
"Even the guys who have good relationships with umpires, whether it's Wade Boggs or George Brett or Rod Carew, eventually get ejected. The fact that Derek never once lost it over 20 years says a lot about him." Larry Young, 24 years in MLB,
retired in 2007
Young: "Derek got by on ability. He didn't need to politic for calls. You're not supposed to argue balls and strikes, but that rule is broken quite often. Derek would just ask you, 'Where did you have that pitch?' He had such a great eye that he wanted to make sure if he was seeing what you were seeing, and it's a fair question. Most guys don't know when to quit arguing, but Derek always knew when to stop."
Denkinger: "Derek led by his actions. He was there to play baseball and not worry about officiating. A hundred percent of the time, those with the ability to play the game are those that never bother the umpires. The world is full of people who don't respect you and still play the game, and the majority of them are short on ability. Derek was the opposite of that."
Garcia: "It's always a good feeling to have somebody like him on the field when you're umpiring."
Meriwether: "If you called Derek out on strikes and he didn't like it, he would bow his head because he didn't want anyone in the stands seeing that he was really arguing. He didn't want to show you up with 40,000 people in the crowd and millions watching on TV, and as an umpire that made you feel good."
Garcia: "Derek brought so much calmness to the Yankees, a team that had Paul O'Neill, a guy who never saw a strike he liked. That calmness was very valuable to the Yankees and to all of us working their games."
Marsh: "I wish more players realized you can voice your opinion or show how you feel about a call without being demonstrative or confrontational. There's no antagonism with Derek Jeter, and he reminds me of Dale Murphy that way. And I'd never take the respect Jeter shows you for granted. If you did that, you'd almost be disrespecting him. If anything, the way Jeter treats you makes you work harder to make sure you get every call right."
Denkinger: "After I missed the call in Game 6 of the World Series [in 1985], I was the plate umpire for Game 7 and I had to eject Whitey [Herzog] and [Joaquin] Andujar when things got out of control. Derek Jeter would've been one of the Cardinals who never said anything that night. He's just a class individual. I look forward to the day he's elected to the Hall of Fame."
Garcia: "When situations arise and an umpire is telling me a story about a play and he's trying to tell me the runner did this or that, if he says Jeter is the runner, the BS stops right there. I'll buy a story about a player doing something, but when Jeter is named, the story is over. You can say something about all of us, but there's no 'buts' in Derek Jeter's career."
On July 6, 2009, veteran umpire Marty Foster likely considered ejecting Jeter in the first inning of Toronto's 7-6 victory over the Yankees. The captain had tried to steal third base with none out, and the throw from Rod Barajas to Scott Rolen had beaten him by a country mile.
But replays showed that Jeter had used a swim technique on his headfirst slide to avoid the tag and reach the base safely. According to Jeter, when he asked Foster for an explanation, the ump replied, "The ball beat you. He doesn't have to tag you."
The shortstop was equal parts livid and dumbfounded. "I was unaware of that change in the rule," he said later.
Jeter rose from the dirt and got in Foster's face, shocking everyone who witnessed it. Rob Thomson, the Yankees' third-base coach, slid between the shortstop and the ump, and Joe Girardi made sure that Jeter didn't earn his first career ejection by going after Foster and getting ejected himself.
In the umpires' dressing room, crew chief John Hirschbeck -- the ump who was spat on by Alomar in 1996 -- would act as a human shield for Foster and take all media questions on the exchange. He said he would talk to his colleague after they left the ballpark but conceded that Jeter's version of events "would make his actions seem appropriate if that's what he was told."
Hirschbeck did everything but declare that he believed Jeter's side of the story. "In my 27 years in the big leagues," he said, "[Jeter] is probably the classiest person I've ever been around."
Foster would later deny Jeter's claim, and the captain would fire right back with this quote: "He knows exactly what he said."
Either way, no matter how Jeter responded at third base that summer day in 2009, it wasn't enough for Foster to send him to the only early shower of his distinguished baseball life.
More than five years later, standing at his locker late Wednesday afternoon as the retiring captain of a Yankees team eliminated from the playoffs, Jeter said he didn't see the need to rehash his faceoff with Foster.
"That's a long time ago," he said. "I've had no problems with Marty since then or before then."
Jeter was reminded that he has played more than 2,900 regular season and postseason games without being ejected.
"Don't jinx me," he said through a smile, "because I've still got a few left. I've never argued with umpires unless I knew I was right, which wasn't very often. I think they know I've always tried to be respectful."
The captain had just walked away from a 9-5 loss to an Orioles contender built by his first Yankees manager, Buck Showalter. Jeter said it was a "rough feeling" being knocked out of the race, a feeling his returning teammates "shouldn't want to get used to." Jeter admitted that he caught himself looking around the stadium, absorbing the sights and sounds of the crowd standing and chanting his name.
"I try to put it out of my mind," he said, "but it's getting more and more difficult to do that."
Jeter wouldn't say if he would actually take the field in Boston over the weekend; he was too busy processing the fact that he's never played a home game with his team already eliminated and that Thursday night's grand farewell will be the first.
No matter what goes down in his final appearance in the Bronx, Jeter is a mortal lock to keep his one iron-man streak intact. After two decades of playing the ultimate game of failure, the captain will leave the building with a perfect record of 2,903 for 2,903.
A record that put a lot of No. 2 jerseys on the adults and kids in the stands.