By Ernie Palladino
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Not even the Yankees could conceive of the magnitude of loss they will absorb once Derek Jeter hangs up his spikes at the end of the year. They’re not only going to lose the greatest shortstop of his era, their team captain, and the franchise career leader in hits, but also a world leader.
Fortune Magazine said so. That’s enough. When a money mag talks, lots of people listen.
Jeter made its annual listings for “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders,” pulling in at a lofty No. 11, a hair out of the top 10 and just a hop, skip and genuflection away from top dog, Pope Francis.
As if the potentially endless, expected string of farewells and enemy-stadium tributes wasn’t enough to keep Yankee fans glued to their seats in Jeter’s final season, Fortune has given reason for yet more excitement, or despondency, depending on how one connects pinstriped comings and goings with world events. At its least, the mention adds another stellar line to Jeter’s hagiography. Find him a couple of miracles — some might say his 2001 playoff-saving flip against the A’s could count as the first one — and the Pope can put the beatified shortstop right on his holy roll call with the year’s other saints-in-waiting.
Somehow, Fortune placed him behind Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, former president Bill Clinton, super-rich dude Warren Buffett, the Dalai Lama, and internet entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, among others. One wonders if he’s even the slightest bit ticked off about finishing three places behind the singer at No. 8, Bono.
All cynicism aside, though, it’s a pretty cool thing for Jeter. Of course, this is not a person who leads armies. But he did stand at the vanguard of sports’ most fabled franchises for the past two decades. He didn’t just hang around, either. He produced, time after time after time. It didn’t hurt that he did it all with a touch of class, rarely if ever saying the wrong thing. On the contrary, he turned saying a lot of nothing while smiling his engaging smile into an art form.
Jeter wasn’t the only one at the Yankee Stadium address to get good news. That other money mag, Forbes, named the Yanks as the sport’s most valuable franchise at $2.5 billion. That’s 17 straight years for them. Is it any wonder that their string almost coincides with Jeter’s career? Great and successful — read that rich — franchises attract great and successful players, so no wonder the dollar signs add up. Forbes started tracking baseball’s franchise values in 1998, when Jeter was just a two-year veteran. But given his accomplishments, which include five world championships on his resume as a leader, it’s no wonder the shortstop recently said that he never had any intentions of ending his career with another team.
Money begets talent. Talent begets greatness. And Jeter, in many followers’ opinions, could be the greatest shortstop of all time.
Thus, his place on the Fortune Magazine list.
No, he won’t be arguing economic philosophy to the European Union anytime soon. Nothing he does will affect the way we view the questions of life and faith and the great beyond. He’ll probably never run for public office.
He will likely leave the 24/7 use of really cool sunglasses to Bono.
Yet, the way he has played shortstop with class, dignity, and success for the past 19 years in the Bronx tells us that he deserves to be on Fortune’s list, right there with the decision-makers who affect our daily lives.
There are different kinds of leaders, after all. And Jeter did his thing as well as any of the others on that list did theirs.
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