Derek Jeter is playing in his final All-Star Game Tuesday night.
Had you heard?
It’s finally here, the moment many baseball fans have been dreading for months; the 2014 Major League Baseball Tribute to Derek Jeter, live from Minnesota, where the magniloquent farewell tour for the Yankee shortstop is sure to reach its apex.
The moment Jeter takes his first step into the batter’s box at Target Field in Minneapolis, the game’s MVP award will be his just for showing up. If he does the unthinkable and gets a first-inning single, all bets are off for what the moment will mean for legends of baseball and deities worldwide. Tim Kurkjian will need medical attention. There will be reports of immaculate conceptions in Kalamazoo. Joe Torre will campaign Rome for the announcement of Jeter’s immediate sainthood.
Not surprisingly, this has gotten out of hand. We are now on Month 10 of Yankee goodbye tributes, held numbed by Mariano Rivera’s ridiculous parade across the majors last season, only to be followed up by Jeter’s “humble” announcement last spring that this would be his final year with the Yankees. Please leave gifts in the slot provided by lavish ceremonies league-wide.
Rivera won the MVP in last year’s All-Star Game at Citi Field (in New York) where he pitched a perfect eighth inning. Yippee. It wasn’t exactly Pedro in 1999. Hell, it wasn’t even Melky Cabrera in 2012. Then again, the AL’s 3-0 win was in a game that featured a combined 12 hits, making it arguably the most boring All-Star Game ever played. Perhaps that’s fitting.
Tuesday’s game will decide which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, a harmless wrinkle that far too many curmudgeons spend too much time bemoaning, but Tuesday is indeed all about Derek Jeter, playing in his 14th and final All-Star Game. If you want to get loaded, just take a sip every time someone mentions Jeter as being “classy.”
“He forever will be remembered as perhaps the classiest superstar to ever play,” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote back in February, when Jeter announced that 2014 would be his final season.
Seriously, what more is there left to say? If you took all the flowery prose that has been used on Jeter since spring training and mulched it, you’d have Holland by season’s end. Backlash was inevitable, but it's invited when it comes to the way Jeter is being feted this year. Baseball storytellers love him because his intangible skill-sets fly in the face of stat-heavy analysis, which doesn't really deny him any greatness in the first place, one of the myths the eye-testers like to purport when it comes to documenting Jeter's longevity and his place in baseball history. That only means the tales of his career are trumpeted even more, his supporters intent on cementing Jeter's legacy as something spiritual, a career that can't be compared to others because of his approach and demeanor, characteristics more easily explainable in the narrative than OPS-plus.
Baseball isn't just losing its biggest star; it's losing its biggest link to baseball past, when players like Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle were treated as gods by the New York press, which meant everywhere. Baseball players were easily built up to otherworldly levels then, less so in a digital, more cynical sports world dominated by Roger Goodell’s Empire and LeBron. Derek Jeter is baseball’s last remnant of apple pie in a landscape of fast food.
It may never be possible to create a heroic character on Jeter's level ever again, and the game is damned well going to make sure you know that.
We trust you've seen the new Jordan Brand tribute to Jeter that made the rounds Monday. The spot is nice; self-serving and drawn out, but nice. That’s all.
It was, of course, received with the sort of praise one might imagine if Orson Welles were raised from the dead and announced you all missed the entire point of “Citizen Kane.” Real-life adults wrote about the tears that came to their eyes while watching the commercial, a chill up their spine, immersed in the universal appreciation. It’s not enough to respect (sorry, re2pect) Derek Jeter, you have to understand your unending praise isn’t worthy enough for the accolades he deserves. That and you’ll never possess the genuflecting admiration for the game’s most important characters more than Billy Crystal. You knew that already though.
Where do we draw the line between appreciation for the player and a lesson in how to properly tell a bedtime story? For all his reported reluctance to be the center of attention this season, Jeter somehow always ends swimming in it, doesn’t he? His “respect for the game” is more than sufficiently documented, so why exactly did he feel the need to go through what he knew would be a dog and pony show from the get-go? We are all hostages.
The suffocation Tuesday night will be unbearable, only building up to a September when the Jeter Tour will be on its last legs, visiting a ballpark near you for all the memories and worship opposing ballparks can possibly muster. “Special moments” will be created with “class” and “respect,” just how Jeter treated the game.
Then, there will be no more Yankee greats left to retire, and we can all move on.
“He’s not dying, he’s just retiring,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said in May.
Sure. Maybe. But the Derek Jeter Fantasia is slowly running out of new material, and there’s no way its overseers are going to let it go out without superfluous hoopla.
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