Monday, July 11, 2011

Sometimes you can't win for trying

Saturday, July 9, 2011.....the day Derek Jeter became the 28th major leaguer to collect 3,000 hits. Only the 14th to collect all of his hits with one team. First Yankee to get 3,000 hits. 2nd player to homer on hit #3,000. Jeter had quite a day as I'm sure you've heard....going 5 for 5 (half of the Yankees total hits), missed the cycle by a triple, but did manage to drive in the winning run. It was the kind of day that sadly has been in short supply for Jeter in 2011.

Leading up to this historic weekend, I was somewhat taken aback at all of the negativity surrounding Jeter and his chase for 3000. I fully understand why the average baseball fan is sick and tired of the "Damn Yankees", and by extension, tired of Jeter. Negativity from those types of people is to be expected. But much of the furor was coming from Yankees fans themselves -- many thinking that there is no way this team wins the World Series with Jeter as the full time shortstop. The Yankees did play well while Jeter was on the DL, and his replacement, Eduardo Nunez, did little to disprove the idea that he may well be the Yankee shortstop of the future. Once Jeter was off the DL, there was also a fair bit of talk that Jeter did not deserve his starting spot on the AL All Star roster (I won't disagree with this thought).

With 3k no in the books, the negativity turned to the events of the day. Quite a bit was made of the storybook nature of the kid who caught the home run ball. First it was that he couldn't possibly be what he seemed on TV (the suggestion being that he was coached up by Yankee big wigs). Then he was naive for not trying to cash in on the ball. Then Jeter was a jerk for not offering up cash to the kid even though he demanded none (and got seats in a luxury suite for the remainder of the season through the playoffs).

Finally, with all of those topics beat to death, Jeter decides to skip the All Star Game, and that's dominated the talk since. Honestly, do we not have anything better to talk about? Well, maybe not -- baseball is taking its annual break and the other two major sports are both in lockout mode. There was the US Women's team's thrilling victory over Brazil on Sunday in the Women's World Cup, but soccer always seems to stir up as many detractors as it does win fans during these tournaments.

So, the debate rages on. Sports writers, fellow players -- even the likes of Hall of Famer Willie Mays -- all had their say. Ad nauseum. I'll freely admit that as someone who is a huge fan of Jeter, I'm inclined to give him a pass on this where I might not be so generous if we were talking about some other player. And Jeter's been a good "baseball citizen," too. He's played in All Star Games, he's played more post season games than most any player currently in the majors and been a part of both World Baseball Classics. He's represented the Yankees and the game with class and dignity basically any time he has been asked. And no matter what any of us average joes think, playing baseball isn't a game for a guy like Jeter, it is a job. And chasing a milestone like 3000 hits in a media market like New York is a tiring affair. I don't doubt that Jeter needed the rest.

I'd also like to believe that an unspoken reason that Jeter declined to attend is precisely the one that many are using against him. There seems to be some sentiment that Jeter owed it to baseball to allow the fans to applaud his achievement at the All Star Game. But given the way Jeter has always conducted itself, I don't think it is just my particular bias that wonders if, in part, Jeter stayed away to allow the spotlight to shine on all of the selected All Stars rather than to let it become DJ3K Celebration, Part 2. It makes a certain amount of sense, doesn't it?

Again, I am biased. Jeter has been such a great player -- a great Yankee -- and I admire the way he's been able to sidestep most of the kinds of things that have dogged pro athletes in the internet/social media age. When you consider just how big the microscope is that any celebrity is under these days, it's simply amazing that Jeter's never been the center of the type of controversy that's dragged down the likes of Tiger Woods, ARod or Roger Clemens. Jeter hasn't even been surrounded by something like the Michael Jordan gambling incident. His biggest crimes seem to be fighting for a contract this past off season, displaying the diminished physical skills that would affect any 37 year old and deciding he needed to skip the All Star Game. It seems to me that maybe we'd all enjoy things like the All Star Game more if we spent as much time saluting the players that are deserving to be there as we do worrying about one player that isn't.

And I wouldn't be shocked to see an article tomorrow blaming the NL's newly minted ASG winning streak on the absence of a certain AL shortstop that decided to skip the game....

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