Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I come to you this evening with what I hope upon hope is the last that we'll hear about Derek Jeter skipping this week's All-Star Game and festivities in Arizona. Of course that's too much to ask, but let the record show just how blown out of proportion this whole pseudo-controversy has already been to this point. 24 hours from the time this post freshly hits NAGAYT it will hopefully be old news. But since that day has not yet come, and the only thing on TV tonight is the ESPY Awards (no thanks), here I am - and hopefully, here you are.
If you've paid attention to the "there's nothing else to talk about so let's make something out of nothing" sports media and blogosphere in the past four days, you'd think that Derek Jeter lit an elementary school on fire while calling the First Lady a ho and slapping five with Casey Anthony's lawyers. But I guess that's what happens when you give a forum to people who like to regurgitate conventional wisdom without facts or perspective. So allow me to provide a brief rundown of the whole situation:
Yes, the fans voted him into the All-Star Game to start at shortstop for the American League. And no, his production over the first half of the season (.270 AVG/3 HR/24 RBI, with a .683 OPS that is the lowest of any regular on his team) did not warrant such a selection. Yes, he had just come off a 3-week DL stint due to a calf strain and was clearly not moving like he was 100%. But no, he had not missed any of his team's six games played since his return. Yes, he simply could have opted not to play the All-Star Game and still shown up and hung out for it. And yes, above all, he was coming off a 5-for-5 day on July 9 in which he did something rather historic (for the view that Kevin and I were fortunate enough to have in person for #3,000, take a look here).
The rest of the story, I'm sure you know. The Captain was a no-show in Phoenix, prompting the backlash from seemingly every corner of the baseball world. Such is life when you're the most visible athlete playing for the most high-profile team in the only major professional sport that is in season right now. People, even fellow All-Stars, saying "oh, I'd never skip the game, it's my obligation" haven't spent the past month in Derek Jeter's shoes. And this idea that "oh, this was the chance for so many fans across baseball who ordinarily don't get to see Jeter to cheer him at the All-Star Game and congratulate him on his 3,000th hit" is complete garbage. The majority of baseball fans, especially the less-sophisticated majority, are tired of hearing about Derek Jeter. Take it from me, a guy who has watched or listened to 85-90% of Yankees regular season games over the past decade - Derek Jeter gets booed nearly every time he steps to the plate on the road. And while it's not quite at A-Rod level, the booing is pretty intense. People in National League cities boo him especially hard during interleague play. So now all of a sudden I'm supposed to believe that the assortment of fans in Chase Field were ready to gush all over Derek Jeter when he got announced? Uh-huh. And if so, would it have been just because of the 3,000th hit? I bet that if he went to the All-Star Game stuck on 2,999 he'd have gotten the hell booed out of him - which, for the record, is what happened to all the other Yankees in attendance, save for Home Run Derby champion Robinson Cano.
Did Derek Jeter owe it to baseball to be present at the All-Star Game? No. His job is to help the New York Yankees win as many games as possible in the 2011 regular season and then to win 11 more games in the postseason. That's it. And it's important to not overlook the role played by A-Rod's recent knee surgery and expected 4-6 week recovery time. Had Jeter played in Phoenix and tweaked his calf injury, the Yankees would be faced with a left side of the infield consisting of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena day-in and day-out for the next month or so. Jeter's reason for not playing was basically the same as that of Mariano Rivera, who had pitched only once in the week leading up to the All-Star break due to a triceps issue, but I haven't heard one ounce of criticism sent in Mo's direction. To me, it's the same issue for both of them - they weren't going to play in the game, and being able to take the invaluable three-day break from baseball is pivotal for an aging player on a team with lofty expectations that is going to rely heavily upon him from here on out.
Now I know there's a lot of venom headed Jeter's way simply because of who he is and who he plays for. People were all over Facebook and Twitter during the All-Star Game, eager to point out that 3 out of the 4 All-Stars not present (regardless of whether they were going to play) were Yankees. And no, #2's plight wasn't necessarily helped by his being spotted hanging in Miami with Minka Kelly during the All-Star break. But you know what? This is a guy who, for 16 years, has busted it down to first base on every ground ball that he's hit. He's basically never had a public slip-up despite dating celebrity after celebrity, doing big-time endorsement after big-time endorsement, and consistently being one of the most recognizable athletes in sports. He has always put the team first and sought to minimize his own accomplishments and moments. His Turn 2 Foundation has, since 1996, been making a difference in steering countless young lives onto the right track.
Yet people have come to hate him over the years for supposedly being made of Teflon. Too perfect, too polished, too prepared, too clean. So they try to manufacture some selfish corner of his personality and point at the 2011 All-Star Game as evidence for it. I ask you, however, if he truly were selfish, wouldn't he have jumped at the chance to absorb all the attention that was supposedly to be bestowed upon him down in Phoenix? Wouldn't he have wanted all of Major League Baseball to convene to worship at the Shrine of Jeter, for all of his peers from across both leagues to come up to him and personally congratulate him on his milestone? Instead, he took a step (ok, half a step) back from the spotlight in an effort to gather himself for a grueling stretch of 25 games in 25 days between now and August 8th, a stretch of games that will do a good deal in shaping up the AL East race. And what happened? The spotlight found him anyway, as it always tends to do. But come 7:05pm on Thursday night in Toronto, sports fans everywhere would be wise to take this "issue" out of the spotlight - and off of their minds. Because you know there is only one thing that will be on Jeter's mind by that point, and that's finding a way to beat the Blue Jays.