The Captain and the Great One
Can’t believe he’s done. And like this? He was supposed to get into the playoffs one last time, and show how New York gets it done. You know, go out in Blazing in Blue and all that. Instead that’s it, he just waves goodbye and walks away from the game? Doesn’t seem fair at all.
No, the scene isn’t Yankee Stadium. This was Madison Square Garden in 1999. It was Wayne Gretzky’s last NHL home game, and he would finish his storied career as a New York Ranger.
I got all choked up watching him wave goodbye. I’d grown up with Gretzky after all. Spending my childhood in Atlantic Canada meant The Great One was an omnipresent figure. He was in a million commercials, his face was on everything, and every kid had a Gretzky shirt. I still have two.
Athletes like that, you don’t ever expect them to retire. There’s an evergreen aura to them, like they’re almost immortal. Being reminded that they’re human after all is a bit jarring. It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend, they become that familiar to you.
The same thing happened with Derek Jeter. I’d grown older with him, after all. Spending my young adulthood in New York City meant The Captain was an omnipresent figure. He was in a million commercials, his face was on everything, and everybody had a Jeter shirt. I still have, uh, like 12.
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As Derek Jeter prepares to bow out, I’ve been thinking about Gretzky’s Great Goodbye. Those same familiar emotions bubble to the surface. How can he retire? He is so much more than a baseball player to me and probably to you. He is The Captain. He is immortal. He will be missed.
The circumstances of both men’s exit share eerie similarities. The more I dwell on them, the more alike they are.
The New York Rangers were grasping on to slim playoff hopes, only to have them dashed at the very end of their last home game. The Penguin who potted the OT winner, Jaromir Jagr, would eventually don the Blueshirt himself. That would be what you call ironic.
But at the end of that particular day, there was nothing for Wayne but to wave goodbye to the New York faithful. His very last NHL game would be played on the road.
The New York Yankees were grasping on to even more dire playoff prospects than the Rangers were 15 years ago. Perhaps the player who drove home the final nail in the coffin of this year’s postseason aspirations will one day don the Pinstripes. That would be what you call poetic.
But at the end of that particular day, there will be nothing for Derek but to wave goodbye to the New York faithful. His very last MLB game would be played on the road.
And so, those old feelings come again. I can’t believe he’s done. And like this? We hoped for playoffs, for him to show us how New York gets it done. Blazing in Blue. Instead he will just wave goodbye and walk away. And it still doesn’t seem fair.
Before you say it, yes, the big difference between the two is that The Captain has only ever been a Yankee, while Gretzky merely finished as a Ranger. But the point is that both men were tremendous ambassadors to their respective sports and the face of the game. They transcended the teams they played on.
The takeaway here is not how they played their last games, but how they played their game, period. Wayne Gretzky is forever known as The Great One. Derek Jeter is forever known as The Captain. Both men will be immortalized as greats of the sport. Neither one has a damn thing left to prove.
So instead of grieving over The Captain’s departure, I will instead celebrate his career. How lucky New York City was, to be graced with his persona and ability, and how special he was to us. Instead of being sad that it’s over, I will try to be happy that it happened.
And while I am wishing, I would like a pony.