For the past several weeks, Derek Jeter has been doing what he has long done as the Yankees' redoubtable shortstop for two decades: getting a head start on spring training by working out almost daily at the team's complex in Tampa. • But Wednesday was different. Before he began his usual morning routine — fielding grounders, taking batting practice and waiting for more of his teammates to join him on the field in the coming days — Jeter called the Yankees' majority owner, Hal Steinbrenner, to say he had come to a fateful decision: The 2014 season would be his last in the major leagues.
Steinbrenner, still in New York after Tuesday's inaugural news conference for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, was about to board a plane to return to Tampa. But before he could, Jeter, 39, gave him the news that neither Steinbrenner nor anyone in the front office had seen coming.
Hours later, Jeter made his decision public by posting a 14-paragraph statement on his official Facebook page that began with a simple thank you.
"I've experienced so many defining moments in my career," he wrote. "Winning the World Series as a rookie shortstop, being named the Yankees' captain, closing the old and opening the new Yankee Stadium. Through it all, I've never stopped chasing the next one. I want to finally stop the chase and take in the world."
Jeter's major-league career, which began in 1995, includes five World Series rings, 13 All-Star Game selections and the distinction of being the only one of the Yankees' many greats to break the 3,000-hit barrier as a member of the team. He has played the most games, has the most at-bats, most hits and most stolen bases in franchise history.
He has been admired virtually universally for the way he has consistently played through minor injuries, conducted himself in a way that did not embarrass his team and come through in big moments more times than anyone could remember.
Almost immediately, the tributes started pouring in, including from members of the Rays organization.
"You can't say enough about this guy," said Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer, 83, a former Yankees coach. "Wouldn't know how to put it in words. He's the best. All around, he's the best. Running, throwing, fielding, hitting, he's the best.''
Asked if he was surprised by the announcement, Zimmer said, "Yes, and no. At the age of 40, I wasn't surprised. But what happens if he hits .295, .300 this year?
"But if he's calling it quits, I'm sure he means it. He's had enough. Twenty years, that's pretty good. And playing every day, every inning. There were times when he shouldn't have been playing, with a sore ankle or something. But that was Jeter.''
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said: "Derek has been the benchmark for character and class in a baseball uniform. He has inspired a generation to play baseball the way it was meant to be played. It has been an honor to play against him.
"On a lighter note this means two things: no more clutch hits against the Rays and another pooling of funds to buy a Yankee a farewell gift. Cheers to him."
Rays left-hander David Price played a big role in a milestone moment, giving up Jeter's 3,000th hit on a home run in 2011. "Happy to be part of history with a player/person of his caliber!!'' Price texted.
"They created the Hall of Fame for players like him," added Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Never a doubt. Totally earned. He may be the first 100 percenter."
Jeter is a near-certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, a player who forever punched hits to rightfield, chased down popups in left and made soaring pirouettes from deep short to throw out runners at first base.
But he's also coming off the most disappointing season of his career, one in which he never really recovered from an ankle fracture he sustained in the 2012 ALCS against the Tigers.
He reinjured the ankle in spring training and encountered more problems in his efforts to return. In the end, he had 63 at-bats and hit .190. Still, he signed a contract for 2014, out to prove he could again play at a high level in a season in which he turns 40 in June. He may, although, in an unusual admission, his statement acknowledged that things that always came easily "had started to become a struggle."
However he performs, this season will be cast in poignant terms, probably not all that different from the seasonlong goodbye awarded to closer Mariano Rivera last season.
"I'm glad he's going to have a great send-off and a long year of gathering gifts and people showing their respect for him," former Yankees and Rays outfielder Johnny Damon said.
"As far as being Mr. Yankee, he is in the same class as (Babe) Ruth, (Joe) DiMaggio and (Mickey) Mantle," said Hank Steinbrenner, Hal's brother. "He will always be the No. 1 representative of those great teams of the '90s. That's his legacy."
Rivera himself offered some advice for the last remaining member of New York's "Core Four."
"Just enjoy it. Be ready to enjoy everything," he said on the Michael Kay Show. "I think he deserves it, I think he has earned it."
Times staff writers Marc Topkin and Joe Smith contributed to this report.
Derek Jeter career stats
Year Team AB R H HR RBI AVG
1995 NYY 48 5 12 0 7 .250
1996 NYY 582 104 183 10 78 .314
1997 NYY 654 116 190 10 70 .291
1998 NYY 626 127 203 19 84 .324
1999 NYY 627 134 219 24 102 .349
2000 NYY 593 119 201 15 73 .339
2001 NYY 614 110 191 21 74 .311
2002 NYY 644 124 191 18 75 .297
2003 NYY 482 87 156 10 52 .324
2004 NYY 643 111 188 23 78 .292
2005 NYY 654 122 202 19 70 .309
2006 NYY 623 118 214 14 97 .343
2007 NYY 639 102 206 12 73 .322
2008 NYY 596 88 179 11 69 .300
2009 NYY 634 107 212 18 66 .334
2010 NYY 663 111 179 10 67 .270
2011 NYY 546 84 162 6 61 .297
2012 NYY 683 99 216 15 58 .316
2013 NYY 63 8 12 1 7 .190
Totals 10614 1876 3316 256 1261 .312
Postseason 650 111 200 20 61 .308