Things were good for Derek Jeter at the end of 2009. In his first year playing at the Bombers’ new ballpark, the Yankee captain turned in a remarkable campaign. At 34, playing in his fourteenth full season, Derek posted a .334 BA, a .406 OBP, and a 130 wRC+. Jeter showcased his versatility by cracking 18 home runs (the most he had hit in a season since 2005) while leading the team with 30 stolen bases. For Derek, who always put team achievements above personal accolades, the highlight of the year undoubtedly came at the season’s climax. For the first time since 2000, the Yankees captured the ultimate prize: a World Series championship.
Unfortunately, Jeter’s game was about to take a couple of steps backward. In 2010, Derek’s numbers dropped off dramatically. At 35 he posted a .270 BA, a .340 OBP, and a 93 wRC+. All of these numbers were career lows at the time. Jeter had followed up on one of his best years at the plate with what was undeniably his worst.
Always a consummate professional, Derek showed signs of improvement in 2011. His .297 BA, .355 OBP, and 104 wRC+ were all improvements from 2010. He also collected his 3,000th hit in dramatic fashion on July 9, when he hit a towering home run into the left-field bleachers off of Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price. However, while Jeter was clearly better in 2011 than he was in 2010, there was still a concern that his time as a superstar had come to a close. For the first time in his illustrious career, Jeter failed to garner MVP votes in back-to-back seasons.
Scorching Start, Dispiriting Slump
After a pair of forgettable campaigns, it was imperative that Jeter get off to a strong start in 2012. With critics claiming that Derek’s better days were behind him, a blistering April would help reverse the narrative and set a positive tone for the rest of the year. It was the perfect time to turn back the clock.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what Derek did. In April, Jeter recorded twelve multi-hit games while posting a .389 BA, a .433 OBP, and a ridiculous 177 wRC+. In fact, Jeter’s 177 wRC+ in April of 2012 was his highest for a single month since April of 2006. While the Yankees hadn’t gotten off to a spectacular start (the team went 13-9 in April 2012), it was clear that Derek had returned to form. He was driving the ball, dominating opposing pitchers, and anchoring the top of the team’s batting order. It was exactly the sort of opening month that he needed after a pair of shaky seasons.
All of that early positivity was washed away, however, when Derek stumbled through May and June. After a stellar April, Jeter batted .263 over the next two months while recording a .317 OBP. His wRC+ for May was 90. In June, things spiraled even further and Derek posted an abysmal 66 wRC+. When the season started, Jeter couldn’t do anything wrong. Now it looked like he couldn’t do anything right. In light of his struggles during the previous two years, Derek’s extended slump raised real fears that his hot April had been nothing more than a fluke.
The Renaissance Resumes
As the Yankees entered the dog days of July and August, the pressure was on Jeter to rebound from a pair of sluggish months at the plate. After beating the White Sox on July 1st, the Yankees began a seven-game road trip to Tampa Bay and Boston. Away from Yankee Stadium, Jeter began heating up. He went 13 for 32 (.406 BA) over the course of the seven games and collected three doubles (as many doubles as he hit during the entire month of June). Derek continued to hit the ball hard during the next few weeks. His final numbers for July (.346 BA, .375 OBP, 124 wRC+) were evidence of a real turnaround.
Jeter took that turnaround and built upon it in August. Incredibly, in fact, Jeter’s August was nearly as good as his otherworldly April. In twenty-eight August games, Jeter batted .350, got on base at a .380 clip, hit 6 homers, and recorded a 155 wRC+. Derek’s struggles in May and June were now distant memories, and his resurgence garnered serious media attention. Jeter’s numbers even caused Skip Bayless to wonder whether or not the Captain was juicing, an insinuation that Derek didn’t particularly appreciate.
September was a more modest month for Jeter. His numbers for the last full month of the 2012 regular season were .308 BA, .372 OBP, 104 wRC+. When the three regular season games from October are factored into Derek stats, his final numbers for 2012 are as follows: .316 BA, .362 OBP, 117 wRC+. Here are his 2012 stats beside his numbers from 2010 and 2011:
2010: .270 BA | .340 OBP | 93 wRC+ | .318 wOBA
2011: .297 BA | .355 OBP | 104 wRC+ | .331 wOBA
2012: .316 BA | .362 OBP | 117 wRC+ | .347 wOBA
The Other Shoe Falls
The Yankees opened the 2012 playoffs against the Orioles, and Jeter was his old self in the series. In the five games versus Baltimore, Jeter went 8 for 22 (.364), collected a pair of extra-base hits, and drove in two runs. The Bombers’ victory over their division rivals secured the team a place in the ALCS for the third time in four years, this time against the Detroit Tigers.
In the second inning of ALCS Game 1, Jeter lined one of his signature singles into right field. It was his No. 200 playoff hit, the most by any individual in the history of Major League Baseball. It was a memorable moment, a milestone that reminded everybody of the Captain’s outstanding postseason résumé.
The game would become memorable for all the wrong reasons a few innings later.
In the top of the twelfth, with David Phelps on the mound, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder up the middle of the Yankee Stadium infield. Jeter ranged to his left, fielded the ball, and crumpled to the ground. Screaming out in pain, Derek still had the presence of mind to flip the ball to Robinson Canó, which ensured that a run wouldn’t score on the play. Then he rolled over on his stomach as a hush fell over the house that Jeter built.
Inexplicably, Derek’s ankle had broken while he was making a play that he had made a million times. Steve Donahue and Joe Girardi helped Jeter hobble off of the field for the final time in his postseason career. It was a cruel twist, a disappointing end to what was a truly remarkable season. Without their leader in the lineup, the Yanks were swept out of the playoffs by the Tigers.
Looking back at the career of Derek Jeter, it becomes clear that 2012 was the final year in which the legendary shortstop was the player we knew and loved. Derek only played in 17 contests during the 2013 season as he struggled to return from the injury that had ended his 2012 campaign. In 2014, his final season, Jeter had remarkable moments (his last game at Yankee Stadium is one of the great games in team history), but he wasn’t the same Jeter we had watched since 1996.
The 2012 season was the last time that Jeter batted .300, the last time he recorded 200 hits, the last time he posted a wRC+ more than 100, the last time he received MVP votes, and the last time he appeared in a postseason game for New York. While it could be sad to look back on 2012 as the end of an era, I like to view it as the last great accomplishment for one of the greatest players in Yankees history. Jeter’s 2012 season is the story of determination and dedication. It’s the story of how one of the premier athletes in sports history denied Father Time and gave his devoted fans one last remarkable season. It is, quite possibly, the most underrated accomplishment in a career full of tremendous triumphs.