September 28, 2014, one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game of baseball officially retired from the sport. During his final game in Boston, Derek Jeter removed himself after driving in a run with an RBI single as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 9-5 at Fenway Park.
Jeter already had an outstanding moment days prior in his Yankee Stadium finale, when he played shortstop for the last time and singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees won five titles with their Captain.
I am not going to detail Jeter’s iconic 20-year career as a New York Yankee. That would take a while. And yes, I know we have seen many legends leave the field of the sport they dominated to fanfare and celebration; trailblazers that made history whether it be in baseball, football, basketball, etc. However, there is something about Jeter that is unique and awe inspiring and that deserves the utmost respect. This athlete, throughout his career- both professionally and personally- remained a man of integrity, discipline and consummate professionalism. He retired after 20 years without so much as a blemish on his character. Jeter was a hometown hero in New York and clearly one of the most popular, recognizable, successful (and wealthy) men in sports, yet managed to steer clear of the foolishness and temptation that could have cost him his career; the kind of temptation and bad behavior way too many athletes (whether it be because of greed, ego, sense of entitlement or just plain ignorance) allow to senselessly ruin their lives. Now I don’t know Jeter; no idea what he does in the extreme privacy of his daily life. None of my business. What I do know is, you never heard about Jeter murdering his baby’s mother to avoid paying child support (Ray Carruth); never read about the Yankee Captain juicing up with (or linked to ) illegal steroids or HGH to enhance his performance (Mark McGuire, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa to name a few). He wasn’t turning up and shooting himself in the leg outside clubs and getting charged with criminal possession of a weapon (Plaxico Burress; still makes no sense to me). Nor did he find himself the subject of a disturbing, violent domestic dispute scandal (Ray Rice). My point is, Derek Jeter showed us all that it is possible to be blessed with the talent, the opportunities and the success that comes with being a celebrated athlete and still live a life that earned him the title of leader, role model and gentleman. Everywhere he went! Even in the midst of the “enemy” (the Yankee – Red Sox rivalry is serious!) Yet, the BoSox honored him at Fenway without any reservations. In the realm of team rivalries, that says a hell of a lot.
We don’t hear enough about the Jeters. In sports or in our everyday lives. We are so caught up in the drama of the bad boy we fail to recognize the accomplishment of being a good man (or woman). Some people worship brawling, cussing, out of order “Basketball Wives” and barely acknowledge the dignity, intelligence and accomplishments of a Michele Obama. We talk all day long about dead beat dads and trifling brothers and barely acknowledge the role men like my good friend and comic Eddie B,a single father and highly educated teacher and mentor, play in the lives of their children and family and friends. Those stories are not sexy to some people. Which leads me to say, you need to redefine your idea of sexy.
As someone who is extremely proud of the team he works with, I understand completely what Yankee Manager Joe Girardi had so say about Jeter’s retirement. I mean he got emotional just trying to put into words what it is like to manage/work with such a good dude. He said “It’s been a blessing to play along with such a great player. To manage a guy that is what you want in every player. What you want every player to care about. What you want every player to fight for. What you want every player to do.” I could not have said it better myself. When you have people you work with, that you lead or who you consider a leader or role model and can say to yourself “THIS is a person I can look up to”. “This is a person who is about their business, who takes care of home, who values their reputation and that of the people around them”. “THIS is the person who knows right from wrong and lives a righteous life because that is all they know what to do. No drama, no BS, no complaining, no excuses”. To be surrounded by THESE people will inspire you and encourage you to be your best. If you look around you, and either cannot find more than a handful of people who light a fire under your ambition, you may need to re-evaluate your circle.
I work every day to live my life in such a way that when I take my last breath, I will be satisfied I made a difference and I was an inspiration; that I left something behind that will be meaningful to society; I did not shame my family, disappoint my friends or ruin my good name. If this is not your personal and professional objective, why bother? A life that matters, is a life well lived. Make your life matter.