By Jason Keidel
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We New Yorkers are an ardent, dichotomous bunch. We can love or loathe our own, but don’t let someone else – a talking head from ESPN, no less – question our Captain.
Skip Bayless said it was logical to wonder about Derek Jeter’s astonishing season, at an age when he should be more worried about arthritis than the arithmetic of MVP voting.
If sports have taught us nothing, with its interweaving maxims and life-lessons, it’s that the actions of a few can stain a sport. There are some fine folks at Penn State who have no time for Jerry Sandusky or Joe Paterno, yet they are painted with the bloody brush of scandal. Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera just got popped for elevated testosterone levels.
Comb Colon and Cabrera with Jeter’s revival and you do have the right to wonder about anyone, even Jeter.
Trust me, gun to my head, I say with certainty that Jeter has never taken anything stronger than caffeine his whole, blessed existence. His body has hardly changed over the last decade, and his power numbers are typically weak, save for the recent binge of three homers in three games, which could happen to anyone.
And if Bayless were one of us, we’d just tell him to shut up and move on. But since an outsider, a media Klingon, dared to stare askance at our hero, the hair spikes on our necks. Jeter is the last person you’d suspect, but if he weren’t so busy being awesome, we’d have every right to inspect his fountain of youth. But there’s the rub: only Bayless is stupid or self-absorbed enough to say it. There are hundreds of players more likely to cheat than Jeter, but Bayless, with the circumstantial evidence of Jeter’s unprecedented season behind him, wanted to, well, tick us off. He succeeded.
For his part, Jeter handled the semantic dustup with normal aplomb, asserting that he knew not who Bayless was, and that perhaps we should ask the “reporter” what he meant. Jeter’s suave, sedate persona is comfort food for the masses. We need to know he’s okay. And there’s no evidence he isn’t.
Questioning Jeter is like knocking Santa Claus. It’s not as crazy a comparison as you think. Jeter has climbed into the clouds of our conscience, where only myths and immortals reside. Nothing Jeter has done makes sense, so that fact that he’s the only player in history to play shortstop and hit this well at this age fits the precedent only he established.
But no matter what I think of Jeter, his impact not only on the Yankees and New York City, but also on millions of kids spawned during his angelic stroll through our lives, is palpable, important, impressive, and historic. We will be talking about Jeter 50 years from now. And he’s earned it.
Frankly, it would fit my narrative if he were cheating. Last year I said he was done, with the full force of facts behind my back. Yet he has made me look the fool for five months. But I don’t want to be right. I want Jeter to be that transcendent. Even adults need Santa Claus.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
Yankees fans, what’s your response to Bayless? Let ‘er rip in the comments below!