TELANDER: Can’t be a hater with Derek Jeter
BY RICK TELANDER Staff Columnist February 13, 2014 11:13PM
Updated: March 15, 2014 6:33AM
I hate the Yankees, just like almost everybody else.
Well, not really hate — more like endless, unchangeable dislike.
There are three reasons I (we) feel this way: 1. The Yankees outspend everybody. 2. The Yankees are too successful (27 World Series titles). 3. The Yankees play in New York, which considers itself the center of the universe and us mere space dust orbiting its splendor.
But Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced Wednesday that he is retiring at the end of this season, and it struck me (us?) with some force that we’ll be losing a wonderful gentleman of a player who has brought dignity to the Great American Pastime.
Jeter is 39, and time and injuries — most recently his surgically repaired ankle — are taking their toll. Twenty years of standout play and sportsmanship are enough.
That’s a beautiful number, especially when it was all done with one team. I think wistfully of Greg Maddux, recently elected to the Hall of Fame, and what a symbol he could have been to Chicago had the Cubs had enough sense to sign him for life. Frank Thomas retiring as a White Sox would have been nice, too.
Maybe it’s all a function of money, and the Yankees just have so much they can overpay fading, beloved stars. If so, is that not one virtuous function of wealth?
At any rate, it’s hard to think of an enemy Jeter has made in his career. Certainly there are jealousies among foes and even teammates, but if you have spent a good part of your pro life with a hollow-souled narcissist such as third baseman Alex Rodriguez playing next to you (when not kissing himself in the mirror), you know about pettiness and fraudulence.
Nor is Jeter free from the mandatory self-love that all great athletes must have as they put off adult development to focus on things as juvenile as glove placement on grounders.
He said in his Facebook statement that besides doing some “business and philanthropic work,’’ he wants to focus on “starting a family of my own.’’
As far as we know, he didn’t start families with any of the many starlets and models he squired about New York during his two decades in the Big Apple. If that beauty line seems vapid, it’s hard to argue that most handsome, rich single men in Manhattan would have been hard-pressed not to have done the same.
Yes, there were times when Jeter seemed secretive and a tad superficial. But he was only a ballplayer, and he sensed instinctively that he had to act a certain way and hide certain things if he wanted to survive without destructive controversy in a place where a newspaper front page might blare, as the Oct. 21, 2011, New York Post did: “KHADAFY KILLED BY YANKEE FAN.”
The press has seemed to have only good things to say about Jeter now that his final act is beginning. Only gadfly Keith Olbermann trashed Jeter, telling all in a conspiratorial tone that Jeter’s super-secret nicknames on the Yankees were “Jet’’ and “Video.’’ Wow, the scandal.
At least his nickname wasn’t “’Roid’’ or “Rapist” or “Derek Cheater.’’
In an era that has seen three of the best baseball players of all time — Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens — be scorned for their lack of fair play, it might not be such a bad thing simply to be a man of evenness, calm, grace and talent.
What Olbermann’s beef is, who knows? It mostly seemed that he didn’t like the fact Jeter wasn’t his best pal and didn’t talk world politics with him.
Me, I have watched Jeter many times at Yankees games at old and new Yankee Stadium and other American League ballparks, including U.S. Cellular Field. When he was at home, the outfield fans would start their chant every time he came to bat: “Der-ek Jee-ter! (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap),’’ and, more often than not, he would deliver in the clutch.
His 3,316 hits put him 10th all time, and with 120 more hits — possible, if edgy — he could vault all the way to sixth. First-ballot Cooperstown man he is in 2020.
“He wants to go out on top,’’ Yankees president Randy Levine told the press. “He wants to go out like Michael Jordan.’’
Oops. Does Levine remember Jordan went out with the woeful Wizards and not the championship Bulls?
To go out this season — with the farewell stuff at every park like Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera last season — Jeter gets to say goodbye to everybody.
Even to us anti-Yankees folks. We’ll salute his class. And we’ll miss him.