Last Wednesday, Derek Jeter announced that the upcoming 2014 Major League Baseball season — his 20th — will be his last. In doing so, Jeter invited an unrelenting media frenzy that will surely surpass the headache that was illustrious closer Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour last year. Do not be mistaken; Rivera deserved the utmost respect, and Jeter does on an even grander scale.
If you read last week’s columns from all over the country, you will find some praising him as the most important player of this era. Baseball stat nerds denounce him as a good player with legendary popularity, and an elongated list of undeserved accolades.
When it comes to Jeter, everyone has an opinion — fans, media, players, former players. Hell, even people that hate baseball have an opinion on the decorated captain of the New York Yankees.
You may love him, you may not; but it seems that no one is indifferent.
Every sports columnist has developed what they believe to be the correct envisioning of Jeter, the face of baseball, the poster child the sport has endorsed to represent everything that is sacred about the game.
Perhaps Angels’ first baseman Albert Pujols said it better than any self-righteous sports expert could. “On and off field, he’s the way you want your kids to grow up; only Jesus is perfect, but he’s pretty close to that guy.”
Whether religious or not, one could admit that being ‘pretty close to Jesus’ suggests something about character. Who wouldn’t want to ink that on their resume? Regardless, that is not the point.
For 20 years now, Jeter has been the perfect role model for America’s youth. Let’s face it: Americans love sports. Kids are no exception to the rule, and many of the athletes they watch aren’t the best role models.
In my young lifetime, I have witnessed Major League Baseball turn into what it is today. Baseball is a sport that has lost my attention.
Growing up, baseball was something I thought to be only the most innocent and pure. When you’re in elementary school in your early years of Little League, it is difficult to imagine it any other way.
A rash of injuries has made baseball feel like a job to Jeter, something he never wanted. Sure, he was good enough to earn boatloads of money playing baseball, but Jeter never played for any reason other than the reason he discovered at a young age: his unrelenting love for the game.
He has never been anything less than professional. Perhaps it is sad that we wildly commend professional athletes for carrying themselves in a professional manner, but it really is something that has slipped beyond our culture.
Jeter’s suspended teammate and (once considered) longtime friend Alex Rodriguez is an example. Rodriguez cheated the game through steroid usage for much of his career, only to appeal his most recent suspension, take legal action, and blabbermouth his image beyond repair.
It could be argued that in a somewhat more subtle fashion Jeter’s former teammate Robinson Cano is a similar disappointment. Cano was expected to carry the torch from Jeter as the next great Yankee ball player, and rightfully so.
In a contract offseason, $160 million didn’t look pretty enough for Cano. Instead, the star second baseman enlisted a gloating rapper and all around celebrity, Jay-Z, as his new agent.
The result was a $240 million payout from the Seattle Mariners. When even the New York Yankees refuse to match a ridiculous bid for a star player, fans should take notice that baseball isn’t the game it once was.
These are the kind of people the youth of America look up to. Not just baseball players, but athletes in general.
At shortstop, Jeter was sandwiched in recent years by two other superstars. At third base was Rodriguez — a liar and a cheat.
At second was Cano, the young stud he treated like a little brother and taught how to be a loyal professional. If there were ever a young player you would expect to be influenced by Jeter, it would be Cano.
At the end of the day, $240 million sounds more interesting than “loyalty”