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Unsold Derek Jeter op-ed

Wednesday 9/8/21

And horrible/impoverished times just roll on.


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The extra that Derek Jeter had.


As a Red Sox fan who had become accustomed to seeing his team lose to the Yankees, I often watched Derek Jeter commence a late inning rally with a double, then stand upon second, clapping vigorously, as I thought, “this smug SOB.” I’m not someone who believes the word “hate” has any place in sports fandom, but I’m a New Englander, and Jeter is, well, Jeter. So consider the source here.


Today is the day that Jeter goes into the Hall of Fame, which ironically rallies me to make a case I think people miss when it comes to this ballplayer, for Jeter polarizes, like a Pete Rose, minus the gambling. There are those who’ll say he was excremental fielder, turning routine plays into misleading highlight real efforts. But let’s get this out there: Derek Jeter is the most underrated superstar—yes, I said underrated—in the history of baseball.


You’d be challenged to overstate Jeter’s offensive dominance. We don’t think of him that way, because he wasn’t in the mighty slugger mold, but he had some pop. Here’s a stat to blow your mind: Jeter’s career offensive WAR of 96.3 puts him 20th on the all-time list. That’s well ahead of Albert Pujols, to give you an idea. Offensively Jeter did everything well, but the real reason why he endures has to do with a category for which no stats are kept: the ability to cut your heart out.


In the forced Care Bear age, where we often pretend that we’d rather do nothing than sing “Kumbaya” with our fellow humans, especially if it earns us societal brownie points, I always had the sense Jeter wanted nothing more than to beat his opponent.


Players pal around with greater frequency than ever, and you could find Jeter joshing with David Ortiz. But the man had this indomitable spirit to crush you, and let you know that he was the reason you wouldn’t succeed. He’d beat you, fairly, and then give you an extra look while standing overhead.


I think that’s a great way to live life, because it’s a great way to always challenge yourself. Jeter’s style on the ball field allowed for no excuses. There were searing losses, and rewarding wins which just begat a desire for more wins. Losses were instructional because they were motivating.


We may have reached the end of the age of the fiercest competitors in American team sports. You get the sense that players are as much about their brands and video game rankings as winning another championship. This was not the Jeter way, but I think it’s also how we live our lives now.


When I watched Jeter, I knew I was seeing someone who had “it,” and in baseball, as in our daily existence, we don’t encounter many people like that.


The “it” can count for as much as 755 home runs, or choose whatever gaudy number you like. More. F. Scott Fitzgerald termed this the “extra” that he had. Jeter possessed his own version. The ability beyond ability. That’s true Hall of Fame stuff, be it in baseball or in life. Jeter embodied the on-field blend, and more than the massive hit total or the gaudy WAR, that’s why he’ll be remembered, and why he mattered like he did.