TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter, the face of the Yankees for the better part of the past 20 years, and its captain for a little more than half that time, will make this season his last.
The shortstop, whose contribution to the Yankees' brand since his rookie season in 1996 can't be overstated and who for many fans ranks right beside such iconic players as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in all-time franchise importance, surprised much of the baseball world, including his own team, Wednesday by making a heartfelt announcement on his Facebook page.
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"I could not be more sure, I know it in my heart," Jeter said in the post. "The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball."
Jeter, who turns 40 in June and is coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season that saw him barely play, said he came to the decision "months ago," but wanted to be 100 percent sure.
He began and ended the letter by thanking the fans, and wrote about his year-round focus on winning. "For the last 20 years, I've been completely focused on two goals: playing my best and helping the Yankees win . . . My every thought and action were geared toward that goal. It's now time for something new."
He phoned managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner Wednesday morning and the announcement came several hours later.
"In our conversation, I told him that I respected his decision because I know he put a lot of thought into it," Steinbrenner said in a statement. "I also let him know that I thought it was great that he was letting fans know now so they will have a chance to say goodbye to him."
The decision did not surprise the club, though the vehicle Jeter used did, as the fiercely private player has never embraced social media.
Jeter kept his decision secret from his closest friends, including members of the Core Four -- catcher Jorge Posada, legendary closer Mariano Rivera and lefthander Andy Pettitte -- of which Jeter is the last standing.
Additionally, few in the organization envisioned Jeter, the franchise's all-time hits leader with 3,316, which ranks ninth on Major League Baseball's all-time list, going on the kind of farewell tour Rivera did a season ago. Rivera announced his intent to retire last spring and spent the ensuing season receiving on-field tributes, complete with gifts, from every opponent.
Perhaps watching the season-long accolades for Rivera had an impact on Jeter, who in his Facebook post said he wanted to embrace all that comes with saying goodbye as one of the game's all-time great players.
"I want to soak in every moment of every day this year, so I can remember it for the rest of my life," said Jeter, named just the 11th official captain of the Yankees by owner George Steinbrenner in 2003. "And most importantly, I want to help the Yankees reach our goal of winning another championship."
Jeter won the first of his five World Series as a baby-faced rookie in 1996. He was named Rookie of the Year and helped the Yankees to a victory over the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. That six-game victory was the start of a run of four championships in five years.
Along the way Jeter established his reputation of coming through in the most important games, earning the nickname Captain Clutch. He was also known for his durability. Loath to take a day off during his career -- Jeter's ability to stay on the field despite minor, and sometimes major, ailments made him a source of awe in the clubhouse -- the shortstop's health declined in recent years.
The broken left ankle he suffered in Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series never fully healed and he was limited to 17 games last season. Jeter and Hal Steinbrenner personally hashed out a one-year, $12-million extension after the season.
"Last year was a tough one for me," Jeter said. "As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward."
Wednesday was just the start of the tributes for Jeter.
"He is unquestionably one of the greatest Yankees ever," Steinbrenner said. "He has meant so much to fans, the organization, my father and our family. I'm glad we have this year to celebrate everything he has meant to us and all the great things he still stands to accomplish."