“There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” — Derek Jeter
Just as it did at the end of the 2014 season, it felt weird saying goodbye (again!) to the great Derek Jeter last night. The New York Yankees retired his jersey number, #2, in a ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Like great athletes before him — Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Zinedine Zidane — Jeter was great for a long time. Many of us grew up with him.
I did. A baseball loving die-hard fan just outside of New York City.
Derek Jeter made his major league debut when I was still in middle school. At least for me, middle school now feels like a LONG time ago! His arrival in New York coincided with the re-emergence of the Yankees as the world’s greatest sports franchise. Just six years later, the Yankees had won four world championships. Jeter was an enormous part of this success.
He certainly wasn’t the best player to come along. But Jeter is also an unquestioned Hall of Famer based on statistics alone. When you factor in division and world championships, Jeter is an all-time great in very select company.
This article is not meant to be a gushing piece of adulation about Jeter. It’s a “Thank You” of sorts, but also a piece inspired by some great lessons to pass along to you. Derek Jeter wasn’t just a baseball player. He was an icon. Someone who became much bigger than his accomplishments on the baseball diamond.
As I’ve thought about his success as an athlete, I’ve thought deeper about what made him an icon . He is one of the most revered athletes in sports history . Why is that? I’ve listed four things below that transcend the game. They shed light onto what we value as society. What matters to us, as so much of Jeter’s greatness is a reflection of who we are. Enjoy!
The saying “nice guys finish last” is a bunch of garbage. While it’s true, sometimes we root for the antihero or bad guy, in the end, most of us desire to see the person who gives their best and performs with class. Jeter upheld the Yankees legacy of class and winning as well as any player to ever don the pinstripes. To a lot of people, that may not matter.
For me, class is a lot more than just how you carry yourself. It’s the legacy this behavior leaves. People notice this. They want a part of it. They want to live with class, with dignity and integrity. When you can live this way each day of your life, you’re well on your way to living a life with strong values and conviction. This affects every area of your life, giving you new opportunities and improving your relationships.
Jeter played with a profound respect for the game and his opponents. In game 7 of the 2001 World Series, as Jeter stepped into the batter’s box for the first pitch against Curt Schilling, he nodded toward him as if to say, “Game on.” It was a chilling moment. One of those gestures that is unforgettable. The mark of a great competitor and sportsman.
Jeter respected his teammates, opponents, the game of baseball and his place as one of the leaders of the sport. He had so much respect for the tradition of the Yankees, even as he was building it. He also respected the fans, the public who supported him. He respected himself enough to keep out of trouble, stay healthy and compete each day to be his best.
3. Competitive Greatness
When we remember the greats in any sport, the first thing that comes to mind is the raw statistical success they had. The things we measure them by, namely their offensive results (mostly) and to a lesser extent defensive results, and of course the championships. Legacy and impact on the game, right up there at the top. Those are a given.
What made Jeter so unique was his competitive greatness. For the last several years I’ve been working, I’ve kept the Wooden Pyramid of Success at my desk. It’s a baseline and reminder for me of what it means to be a professional — to give maximum effort and attitude to anything I do. I fail in these areas at times with my own job, though I feel like I improve everyday.
I used to wonder why competitive greatness is the top block of the Pyramid of Success, for John Wooden. Why not Confidence? Why not Industriousness? I can see clearly now why it is. Competition is really everything, no matter what you’re doing. We’re competitive creatures, created by God, to compete to be our best.
Jeter was blessed with lots of athletic talent. But he became defined by his competitive greatness and will to win. EVERY day.
4. Passion — Love What You Do
It was always plain to see how much Jeter loved being the shortstop of the Yankees. He just loved playing baseball. Even when you’re doing something you love — that you’re great at — it’s hard to sustain that enthusiasm and passion every day. You have to train — mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually — to always live in that moment.
Jeter will be remembered most for his passion to play each day. For the joy he brought to the fans for the way he competed. He brought his very best to beat you each time.
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