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Derek Jeter's career has been exceptional, but fawning will be excessive to the end

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 13, 2014 06:22 PM

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As the Yeah Jeets! Giftbasket Farewell Tour 2014 begins in all its relentless earnest, reader John Carpenter has already come up with the appropriate passive-aggressive parting gift from the Red Sox.

A reprint of this image large enough to cover an entire wall in his St. Jetersburg mansion:

the steal.jpg

Hey, it's no more passive-aggressive than the goofy painting from Opening Day 2005 that they gave Mariano Rivera last year. Wonder how much he got for all that stuff on eBay.

Since Jeter announced Wednesday that 2014 would be his final season, a decision father time assisted greatly, there's been a race to eulogize one of the most charismatic and successful players of any era, almost as if it's a game of one-upsmanship to see who can praise him in the gauziest manner.

The MLB Network's Greg Amsinger wondered whimsically the other night if we should root for one last championship run just because it's such a Jeter thing to do. So far, he's the leader in the press box for sentimental pap, though the New York tabloids will give him a season-long run for the title.

I mean, you know what Jeter did "for the game of baseball"? He played it stylishly and really, really well, and he carried himself with dignity in baseball's prime market. Nothing more than that.

None of this is any surprise -- the praise lavished in never-ending layers during Jeter's brilliant career has often exceeded his extraordinary achievement. I'm convinced, after reading so many fawning columns about how accessible he is (never mind that he hasn't said an interesting thing since he called Kalamazoo home), that he benefits greatly from being the prom king who treats the golf-shirt-adorned peasants (we sports writers) with common decency and casual friendliness.

He's a superstar with a knack for the moment who treats people well. That, for some reason, leads to intangible and ridiculous gifts (calm eyes, Tim McCarver?) being exaggerated or applied to him that just aren't all that accurate. It also leads to accolades that are comically undeserved (five Gold Gloves) and character attributes that don't jibe with what we see. (Maybe he doesn't seek the spotlight, but when the spotlight seeks him, he gives the camera what it wants. That fist-pump didn't become his signature authentically.)

A great winner? Hell, one of the greatest -- he's been almost exactly as productive in the postseason as he has been in the regular season, which is an extraordinary feat when you think about it the pressure and enhanced level of competition. Still, doesn't it reflect on the captain somewhat that he has one championship in his last 13 years despite his team's massive financial advantages?

molitorfinn17.JPGyountfinn116.JPGA great Yankee? Absolutely, though putting him anywhere higher than fifth on that list is clueless hyperbole or the work of a Yankees fan whose institutional knowledge begins with Kevin Maas and Oscar Azocar. It is not an insult to acknowledge that he also was one of the most fortunate players in the history of the game, winding up with a stacked and ascending Yankees team at the perfect time, a handsome face for the marquee franchise, a front-and-center superstar who didn't have to do all of the heavy lifting like, say, Nomar Garciaparra in Boston. (And when the debate raged in the late '90s, you know the truth: Nomah was bettah. In an '80s AL East context, Jeter was the Alan Trammell to A-Rod's Cal Ripken and Nomar's Robin Yount.)

A great teammate? There's plenty of anecdotal evidence that says so, though one question remains unanswered (and unasked by the right people) heading into this final season: Why has he remained at shortstop -- a position he subtly reiterated in his announcement was part of his boyhood dream, translated as don't you dare move me now, Girardi! -- when moving to another position would have been the selfless thing to do? Unless he knows something about Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson we don't, you think he'd be doing everything in his power to make the Yankees a winner in his final season -- even if it means changing positions to bring aboard Stephen Drew. He's a monument at shortstop in every way, and he's damn sure not moving now.

(To his credit, he's apparently a fine judge of character. He did peg A-Rod as a loathsome fraud long before the rest of us caught on.)

What's lost in the saccharine sea of fawning -- please tell me Albert Pujols meant to compare him to Ivan DeJesus rather than Jesus -- is that it really isn't necessary. Jeter's accomplishments stand alone without conjecture and embellishment. His top statistical comps are fitting -- Craig Biggio, Paul Molitor, and Roberto Alomar. And yet no one is all that similar to him numbers-wise, which seems appropriate given his distinctive career.

The only way I could admire Jeter more as a Red Sox opponent is if his name were Mariano Rivera. He played Rawlings-out, all the time; we've mocked the famous dive-into-the-stands play that bloodied his face in 2004 around here all the time, but just think of what he put at stake just to record that one out.

I was shocked to read in Nick Cafardo's story that his career OPS at Fenway is below .700, because you don't have to search hard to find killer moments.

Hell, he had more than a few against the best pitcher of this era, Pedro Martinez. His double in the eighth inning of Game 7 that same year -- right, the one accompanied by a Trot Nixon rain dance -- woke up the Bronx. His home run -- which he crushed over the Monster -- in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS got the chaos and Zimmer-heaving started. He nearly ended the 2004 comeback before it got rolling with a with a three-run double in the sixth inning of Game 5, again off Pedro, to put the Yankees up 4-2.

You know how I knew the Red Sox had really done it, had really pulled it off, in Game 7 in '04? When Jeter grounded out to lead off the eighth, down six runs. It was never over until you were done dealing with Jeter one more time.

Jeter was a wonderful player, one who will sail into the Hall of Fame with his usual cool ease. His career has been one of great substance and graceful style, of exceptional timing and a sense for seizing the moment.

That he did in the biggest, most intrusive market without a hint of controversy for nearly 20 seasons is both remarkable and a bit puzzling -- he's perhaps the definitive baseball idol of his generation, front-and-center and still something of a mystery.

But no matter the difference between what we know about Jeter and what we think we know, the truth is that his is a legacy that doesn't need enhancing, never has. He's an all-time great, eventually to be enshrined and forever lauded.

All of that is deserved. But please, excuse me while I hope against hope that the praise during his farewell summer is more honest that it often has been during his glorious, yet strangely deified, career.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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