If you’re irritated by the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour, weary of the accolades and tired of all the gift-giving, then you shouldn’t watch the All-Star Game. It might be downright sickening.
Then again, something’s wrong with you anyway if you begrudge these tributes for an all-time great player and ambassador.
We don’t know how, we don’t know who and we don’t know when. But the New York Yankees shortstop will be honored Tuesday night in his final All-Star Game. The players just have to think of something different than last year, when former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera wound up taking the field by himself and basking in a long round of applause.
Whatever recognition is bestowed on Jeter for his remarkable career, he certainly has earned it.
Time is catching up to the 40-year-old, who no longer resembles the tremendous player he’s been for two decades, but time can’t erase his five World Series championships, .311 career batting average and 3,407 hits. Selection to his 14th All-Star Game is based on lifetime achievement, not his pedestrian last go-round (.271 average).
Tuesday night will be the last chance for goodbyes on a national stage if the Yankees miss the playoffs again. There might not be another occasion to celebrate Jeter until his Hall of Fame election in 2020.
Hating the Yankees is a fulltime job for some fans, and this lovefest can’t be easy for them. They argue that Jeter’s legend is inflated due to his New York address. They contend that the fistful of World Series rings is due to the late George Steinbrenner’s checkbook. They insist that Jeter can’t be as angelic as the media portrays him.
There are grains of truth in those stances, but they’re washed away by a sea of evidence to the contrary.
Playing in New York isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of character. The spotlight is bigger and brighter, which can work against players (see Alex Rodriguez). Those who keep us focused on their numbers receive more publicity in the nation’s No. 1 media market, but Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were exalted pretty well and they spent their entire careers in Baltimore and San Diego.
Claims that payroll led to all those Yankee championships overlooks the fertile system that produced Jeter and core teammates who won alongside him (Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams), or farmhands used to fetch core teammates (Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill).
Allegations that sportswriters love Jeter have nothing to do with quotability. He keeps reflections, opinions and thoughts of substance to himself, like they’re stuck to him with pine tar. He might not be squeaky-clean, but that’s the impression we get when missteps aren’t splashed across the tabloids and no one utters a negative word, not even anonymously.
Can anyone be that good, noble and wholesome? Probably not.
But at least he’s trying and not coming across as a phony. It’s not his fault if the media paints him as Saint Derek.
Jeter’s All-Star farewell is unlikely to be as dramatic as Ripken’s last bow in 2001, when A-Rod unexpectedly moved from shortstop to third base, which allowed Iron Man to field his old position one more time. Then, on the first pitch of Ripken’s first at-bat, Chan Ho Park threw a fastball (maybe grooved, maybe not) that Ripken lined for a home run.
Jeter still plays shortstop and has just two homers this season, so we won’t see a replay of that scenario. Likewise, the Rivera trick – “everyone stay in the dugout while the honoree takes the field” – would look forced if it were repeated. Rivera entered from the bullpen in the eighth inning; Jeter is in the starting lineup.
But don’t be surprised if he contributes to the cause as the American League tries to win home-field advantage in the World Series.
Nicknamed “Mr. November” for his postseason heroics, Jeter has a history of shining in Midsummer Classics as well. He has a .440 batting average and .481 on-base percentage in 25 All-Star at-bats.
Tuesday night will be memorable, but each of his previous 13 have been significant as well.
“I’m going to just try to enjoy it,” Jeter told ESPNNewYork.com. “I always look forward to All-Star Games. I’ve never taken any of them for granted. They are all special to the city that they are in. It is exciting for us as players.”
Like the rest of us, Jeter doesn’t have a clue what’s in store. He might be the only person who doesn’t care.
“I am curious to see how it’s handled with Derek,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s the intrigue of the game for me.”
For those who might be annoyed, consider yourself forewarned.