By Jason Keidel
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Adding to his endless ironies — like making his 2013 debut the very day that his titanic suspension was announced — Alex Rodriguez took the field sans his foil to the left.
Not even BFFs go well for A-Rod, who detonated his “blood brother” kinship with Derek Jeter by essentially telling Esquire that Jeter was overrated. Then, of course, he was traded to the Yankees and got a famously frigid shoulder from the captain for years.
Part of what makes A-Rod’s plunge into purgatory so vivid is the contrast 30 feet away, where Jeter has been standing in angelic relief for A-Rod’s entire, volcanic tenure in New York City.
Jeter lives in stoic contrast while the masses swarm A-Rod, jabbing microphones in his face, barking questions and writing his epitaph. Jeter handles his business with complete stealth, perhaps the only NYC icon who maintained a modicum of mystery for an entire career.
Even if you’re sick of his scripted platitudes, his monotone, corporate cliches after every game, Jeter is adored by New York in a way that A-Rod will never fathom. You’d never know that A-Rod was a better hitter and fielder than Jeter because of his off-field histrionics. The whole PED thing doesn’t help, either.
A-Rod, who has his mail forwarded to Page Six, has often been more interesting, introspective and productive, but never more beloved. He made his baseball coffin, as it were, and soon he will see when his career will be lowered into the soil.
So you’d think karma alone would bequeath Jeter a longer, more lucrative career. But will it? Can we say with any certainty that Jeter has more games left in his beleaguered legs than A-Rod has in his mangled hips?
Jeter snapped his ankle in grotesque, public fashion last October, and then broke it again in April. Then he returned to a pulled quad, limping back to the disabled list. Now, he has strained his calf, busting a U-Turn back to the DL.
This isn’t a coincidence. Between his age and injury, Jeter is experiencing textbook symptoms. Anyone who has seriously injured their leg knows that the body compensates in other areas, from the back to the quad to the calf. It’s a wonder that Jeter lasted this long without profound impairment.
Jeter has called his 2013 season a “nightmare.” Indeed, Jeter now has to answer questions about his physical health and the mental health of his former friend. At what point does Jeter graduate from bad luck to old limbs? He appeared to be fading two years ago, then had a stellar comeback last season, a stunning renaissance with a .300 batting average and over 200 hits.
But it could just be that he’s returning to natural form. He is, by all historical standards, way too deep into his career to be great. Maybe 2012 was just a bonus, a de facto curtain call from the captain. He has spent so long living the good life, which has led us to expect unreasonably gaudy results.
Jeter is about a year older than Rodriguez. Even if A-Rod takes a forced hiatus next year, he could return fresh in 2015 — with a new batch of something undetectable — and revive his moribund career. Jeter, who seems to have done it all by the book, can’t catch up to Father Time’s fastball. Without the equine potions that his peers have abused for too long, Jeter will decay, like all other players, like all other humans. Even honesty has a price.
The saddest irony would be seeing Jeter fade before Rodriguez, whose place in the history books is now dubious at best. There is no doubt that A-Rod will watch Jeter give his Hall of Fame speech long before he gets so much as a text message from Cooperstown.
Either way, the finish line is in full view for both. How close they are could depend on our lens, or on their legs.
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