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Keidel: Judging Jim Leyritz

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Photo/ Rothstein, Gary I for The New York Daily News

Photo/ Rothstein, Gary I for The New York Daily News

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By Jason Keidel
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I recently wrote a column about Jim Leyritz that spawned a storm of hostile responses. My inbox was jammed with jaded Leyritz defenders, many saying that they had no rooting interest.

Ruth sent this email on November 19:

“Just wanted to respond to your article about the Leyritz case. I take issue with your premise that Jim Leyritz drank, drove and killed Fredia Veitch. While true that he drank and got behind the wheel, how Mrs. Veitch died is the question. Please keep in mind that her blood alcohol level was .18, over twice the legal limit. She was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from her SUV after impact and vehicle rollover. While these issues were not allowed to come into evidence during the trial (the medical examiner testified that it wouldn’t have made a difference whether or not she was restrained HUH?? No airbags deployed in either vehicle after the initial impact), they are incredibly meaningful to those of us who have no fish to fry in this case. I never heard of Jim Leyritz. I just happen to be in the process of moving and had the trial on as background noise. However, the more I heard, the more I listened. For the jurors, and apparently you, not to know these key elements of the case evoke a response of guilt on his part.

As someone who has observed the trial, please know that this has nothing to do with a famous athlete (who I never heard of, since I’m a Phillies fan). At any rate, please rethink your position and learn more about the facts of the case before passing judgment. Personally, having watched the trial, I believe he should be convicted of DUI misdemeanor, but not DUI manslaughter.

Thanks for your time.”

Forget that it’s odd for a non-sports fan who perhaps follows the Phillies and has never heard of Leyritz to be so involved in the trial and then coincidentally read my column about him. My first three assertions were facts.

Jim Leyritz drank alcohol on December 28, 2007. After drinking he operated a motor vehicle. He later killed a woman with said vehicle. My fourth assertion – that this will be a burden on him – is a supposition but should be a fact. Indeed, if Leyritz isn’t bothered by a woman’s death caused by the car he drove, then he wouldn’t be human.

I did not mention the deceased’s blood alcohol content because I was not trying the case in my column. The fact that she may have been drunk and not wearing her seatbelt is incidental. She is dead no matter who is legally responsible, and if Mr. Leyritz were not there she may be alive today.

I don’t mean to pick on Ruth. She merely represents the veil through which so many of us make arguments, hearing only what is convenient. I never passed judgment on Jim Leyritz, nor did I say he was guilty of manslaughter.

Disagreement is the spine of free speech. As New Yorkers, we expect to argue nearly as much as we expect to eat. But if you’re going to disagree with someone, at least understand the opposing view.

There was a larger, more poignant point my prior piece: celebrity worship is the most misguided worship of all, as it presupposes that once you hit big homers and cash big checks that the inherent obstacles we’ve hurdled since birth will vanish. Frankly, even if they did, we’d probably spend our lives trying to replace them. Mankind was meant to struggle. Success – the kind we see in superstars – is a narcotic. And many can’t handle it, particularly the withdrawal or retirement.

And as Thanksgiving approached I urged people to be thankful that these are not problems they have, that even though we’re not stars by monetary measurements, our lives can be infinitely more gratifying because they are real.

The Leyritz trial occurred in Fort Lauderdale, a swampland known for alligators, and we hope there were no crocodile tears during his tearful statement to Judge Marc Gold. “I said it from the beginning. There would be no winners in this case. This is a horrible tragedy.”

Leyritz implicitly proves my point that this will haunt him until he dies. It would bother any sane person. But those who rooted for Leyritz somehow feel vindicated after he was acquitted of manslaughter charges, as though the woman killed in the crash is somehow less dead.

There’s a delusional quality to fandom that breeds supreme sensitivity. If you dare question the motives or actions of the anointed then you are the problem, not the accused. Though he’s not a murderer, Jim Leyritz still did a bad thing, and he knows it. Why doesn’t everyone else?

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com

pixy Keidel: Judging Jim Leyritz
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