TAMPA, Fla. — Derek Jeter said 20 years in the major leagues will be enough. He just wouldn’t really say why.
The New York Yankees captain responded to questions for nearly half an hour Wednesday, a week after announcing this will be his final season. But he provided few answers.
“You can’t do this forever. I’d like to, but you can’t do it forever, and I feel as though the time is right after this year,” he said. “There’s some things that I look forward to doing.”
On the day the team’s position players reported for spring training, Jeter spoke in the pavilion behind the third base stands, where closer Mariano Rivera said last March that 2013 would be his final season.
Owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner and Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal sat in the front row, manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman in the second. Teammates, who said his decision shocked and saddened them, were in the rows after that.
Wearing a navy Yankees pullover and shorts, it was the start of the final season for No. 2, the last of the single digits to wear a Yankees uniform. He spoke from a table with arms crossed most of the time. He spoke directly and dispassionately, much like every interview since he first reached the major leagues in 1995.
“Trying to get me to cry?” he said after one question. “I have feelings. I’m not emotionally stunted. There’s feelings there, but I think I’ve just been pretty good at trying to hide my emotions throughout the years. I try to have the same demeanor each and every day.”
Accessible, yet opaque, as he has been throughout his career.
“I know I haven’t really been as open with some of you guys as you would have liked me to be over the last 20 years, but that’s by design,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t have those feelings. It’s just that’s the way I felt as though I’d be able to make it this long in New York.”
Jeter, who turns 40 in June, was limited to 17 games last season, hitting .190 with one homer and seven RBIs after breaking an ankle in the 2012 AL championship series opener.
“I took a lot of time thinking about this,” he said. “I’ve been very vocal on how disappointing last year was, how hard it was for me to come to the stadium each and every day. You start thinking about how long do you really want to do this?
“And let me say one thing is: This is not a retirement little press conference. I still have a season to play. This is just letting you guys know that this is going to be my last year.
“But I felt as though it was the right time. I’ve been doing this for a long time. This will be parts of 20 seasons that I’ve been playing here in New York and parts of 23 if you count the minor leagues. So I just think I’ve done it for long enough, and I look forward to doing some other things in my life.”
He left a voice mail with Hal Steinbrenner the night before the announcement, but Steinbrenner didn’t check the voice mail until the next day and didn’t recognize the area code of the missed call.
“Right now it’s kind of surreal, and it’s strange to think of the Yankees without him in the lineup. But we’re not there yet,” Steinbrenner said, adding he didn’t try to change Jeter’s mind. “I respect when an individual makes a decision like this, because I know how much time and thought they put into it. It’s not my place to second-guess.”
Jeter wouldn’t put an exact date on when he made the decision.
“I wanted to make this announcement months ago. I really did, but people — I don’t want to say forced, but they advised me to take my time before I said it,” he said.
He kept getting asked about his future and wanted to put an end to that.
“Even walking down the street,” he said, “people ask because I missed last year: Are you playing this year? How much longer are you going to play? How many years do you have? You get tired of hearing it.”
Jeter is a 13-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove shortstop who led the Yankees to World Series titles in 1996, ’98, ’99, ’00 and ’09. He enters his 20th big league season with a .312 average, 256 homers and 1,261 RBIs.
“This has nothing to do with how I feel physically,” he said. “Everyone I told when I first started speaking about this with family and friends, they all told me to make sure you take your time, don’t base this decision on what happened last season, wait until you’re healthy and then make the decision. So this has absolutely nothing to do with how I feel physically. Physically I feel great, and I’m looking forward to playing a full season.”
The only single digits not retired by the Yankees will soon be Jeter’s No. 2 and Joe Torre’s No. 6.
“The thing that means the most to me is being remembered as a Yankee, because that’s what I’ve always wanted to be, was to be a Yankee,” Jeter said, “and I have to thank the Steinbrenner family that’s here today and our late owner, the Boss, because they gave me an opportunity to pretty much live my dream my entire life. And the great thing with being a Yankee is you’re always a Yankee. So in that sense it never ends.”