On of the delights of baseball is the ability of fans to get up close and personal with the players of the game. During the years one can become fascinated with how a player not only performs on the field but how he presents himself, when seemingly nothing is happening and no one is watching.
Then just when you think you have seen a player being perfect, he picks his nose, spits baccy juice on the floor of the dugout and on his perfectly clean uniform. There are always the crotch grabbers and fixer uppers. There is an unnamed infield that always blew his nose in the right arm short sleeve of his uniform. Well it was a traveling uniform and not the home ‘whites’.
But there is one guy who honestly is above all of that. I first saw him when he came up. I’ve seen him in only two stadiums in my life. One was in old Milwaukee County Stadium and the other at BankOne/The Chase in Phoenix.
Derek Jeter appears to be perfect. He simply responds to things in a way you would think the Captain of the New York Yankees should perform. He avoids most confrontations. He smiles. He hits in the clutch. Rarely shows excessiveness. He comes back from injury by slapping a ball right up the middle. He is stoic in nearly every thing he does on the field. He is a gentleman off of the field. He has proven he is a champion. He is, in short, a hero.
That is the set up.
For many of baseball’s great players, we have placed them on the Jeter pedestal, one which places the player above any wrong doing. He smiles as though he is only smiling at you. He stairs at disbelief as no other. He responds to a strike out as if he has let not only the team down, by you the fans in the stands, and the fans over the YES Network and throughout the world via radio, down. And we all feel his pain. But as he walks back to the dugout, we feel empowered to cheer for him harder so he can make that pitcher pay the next time he steps up to the plate. You can literally see Derek Jeter transform from a mortal ballplayer into a champion whom we all know will be the real ‘Mighty Casey’ the next time at the plate or the wonderful fielder on defense. Remember, the play at the plate? You don’t even have to qualify that play. You already know it in your heart.
This past week, the Hall of Fame elected three great players. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Saw all three in their best days. Tremendous performers. Maddux was so good he could even convinced the plate itself that it was a strike that he had just thrown. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was as close to Babe Ruth in our era as we will ever see. He was big. He was powerful. And he was clean.
Why did we have to bring that up? He was clean? The other day when the election was announced, most of the discussions centered around those who were not elected. Many have been placed into the PED barrel, either through admittance or through innuendo. It was at that time I read one of the most interesting articles I have ever read on the subject. It was written by Bryan Curtis. And if you are a fan of the game, this is a must read. (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10261642/mlb-hall-fame-voting-steroid-era)
In the field of those who will be honored at Cooperstown this summer and receiving the sports highest honor will be one former manager of a couple of teams which won pennants. Nearly all of them were won with a player or players who were heavy PED users. After you read the article above, if you are a fan of his and have held him on that pedestal, you all can say it is a lie. If not, you can ask yourself, ‘Why are we honoring this guy?’. Of course he may not show because he is rumored to be the next skipper of the Seattle Mariners. Suddenly, the Mariners have more money than a game developer.
Now you see the problem that was created by the nomination to the Hall of Fame. Very few words in this article are addressing the wonderful accomplishments of the three elected. Maddux painted the corners of a plate that at times got so big, his reputation became that of Picasso on the Mound. His brush was his imagination and an arm that could put the ball where he wanted it. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was a huge man who absolutely everyone in the third base section of the stands always began to drink coffee two innings before he came to bat for fear that a foul ball would be heading their way at over 100 mph. Thus one of the reasons why the best place to see baseball is from the first base side, behind the dugout, right down the first to second line (see above).
Which brings us all the back to the Captain. As Ed Bradley, the famed CBS reporter told us back in 2005, as a child, Jeter’s parents made him sign a contract every year that set acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior. Yankees scout Dick Groch, convinced the Yankees to draft him #6 in the first round selling them on the idea by saying “the only place Derek Jeter’s going is to Cooperstown”. Today, he may finish #5 on the hits list all-time. He has a chance of moving ahead of Paul Monitor, Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner with a mediocre year. If he has a Jeter year, he will move into the fourth spot, ahead of Tris Speaker. He need 199 hits to do that.
Six years from now, when one Derek Jeter is eligible to enter the Hall of Fame, let’s not waste time talking about the injustice of why a guy who bet on baseball was not elected into the Hall. Let’s not waste time discussing why the ‘bloated one’ who pounded the ball over the fence as if he was filled with helium, wasn’t elected, yet again.
Wait! That’s it. They were all on helium. That’s why their muscles exploded overnight. That’s why the ball looked like a ping-pong ball. It was all about helium. Why didn’t the Commish think about this before.
Here’s to helium.
And to Jeter, getting into the Hall and having all of us talk about one of the greatest players who ever played the game and retelling others why he was placed on that pedestal, deserves all of our recognition. Real heroes are like that. They have earned our admiration.