*Also published by Black Press on BCLocalNews.com
Editor, White Cover Magazine
Can we just stop asking ourselves – our collective selves – the question? Because the answer is unflattering.
Yes. Derek Jeter is overrated. Yes. He has been retiring for what seems like three years, the athletic retirement equivalent to the end of Lord of the Rings. He’s baseball’s version of Bruce Springsteen, the guy who’s been on your radio for so long he has gone from folksy New Jersey hero to He Who Must Not Be Insulted. (If you hang around long enough, your longevity will surely outweigh your rivals’ superior talent.)
But it’s not bad that Jeter’s overrated. It’s impossible for him not to be – he’s one party song that just keeps on getting replayed. He’s an icon to anyone who’s ever watched him, to all the kids like myself who fell in love with his on-field persona years ago, with whatever now-infamous play of his it might have been that booked you. His brilliance has woven its way through the post-lockout era to the steroid era and out the other end. He’s a first-ballot of Hall of Famer, a true legend, and a great player. And he’s his own brand, so much so that we’ve had to sit through a slog of advertising campaigns – from Air Jordan to Gatorade – that have been penned off as a tribute to the man, the myth, the legend (also known as Jeter’s water, gas, and solid) while they actually score those corporations major props with vulnerable, cash-heavy, frothing fans.
(Because when you think about it, $14.99 isn’t a lot to pay for a commemorative patch to celebrate, or at least acknowledge, his retirement. But you’re still paying the money, and you’re giving it to the Yankees. And I’d bet if you’re about to buy one, you’ve got a few more trinkets just like it, the sort of things you cared about once that are now just forming a stack on some dusty desk of yours.)
With everything Jeter stands for – with everything he is – an overrating is inevitable.
When you’re bigger than the game you play, you’re just that… YOU’RE BIGGER THAN THE GAME YOU PLAY.
And what’s so wrong with being overrated anyway? Isn’t it actually a compliment? It means, ‘You’re so revered and loved, you’re almost too revered and loved.’ At this point, if Jeter finished his career as the longest tenured captain in Yankees history and he wasn’t called overrated, I’d say that would be a real insult.
How come whenever I tell some nerdy, blindly following fan that I think Jeter’s overrated, they look at me like like I just pissed on their cat? Or like I told them Jesus made shit wine? (Although, Jeter means as much to the majority of New Yorkers as Ye Son of Bethlehem does, so that makes sense.)
It’s not like I think he’s awful – far from it. I’m probably a bigger Jeter fan than anyone I could offend when I utter the tag overrated. He has, since John Olerud retired, been my favourite ballplayer. But if you’re going to ask a realistic question, you should expect a realistic answer. Dissent isn’t disloyalty and thinking about something isn’t burning a flag.
And if anything, the events of the last 12 months – hell, the last 24 – have only served to overplay the ballad that is Jeter’s retirement.
I’m pretty sure Jeter’s retirement lasted longer than Adele’s career. The guy’s been exiting stage right for the past two or three seasons and the Yankees have been proud to milk every damn second of it. But the danger of that is, last night’s finale – Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium a 6-5 win over Baltimore – was underwhelming, even with the way it ended.
It had to be; that part was inevitable.
How was the real sendoff supposed to match the walk-up? It was like spending one hour at the bar after you’ve been pre-drinking for the entire day. Like when you drive to a concert and listen to the dude’s CD the whole ride there. The game really didn’t matter because we’d already seen MJ and Jay-Z tips their caps to him. We’d already seen Jeter walk through the streets of The Bronx in black-and-white, shaking hands with the mere mortals of New York while Sinatra’s My Way blasts in the background, or the foreground. (And I’m supposed to believe that isn’t cliche, just because Derek chose the song.) I almost became embarrassed to care about Jeter’s final season, just because it was so mainstream now. And every company had to get their ad out there, just to say they did it. In the hope it would go viral and get them some brownie points with the common fan. Twitter was unbearable on Thursday night, too. It was a constant trading of PR-like thoughts in 140 characters or less. Evander Kane just wrote, “#DerekJeter #RE2PECT #guysachamp“. Well said, Evander (lol).
But of course, I’m kind of wrong. And that’s what was always made Jeter so infuriatingly irresistible.
Because there was a sliver of magic saved for last – the man himself singled home the final run of the game in the bottom of the ninth, just minutes after the Orioles tied the affair with two home runs in the top of the inning. There was a half-second there where, if you were watching it on your couch, you just enjoyed yourself. You stopped thinking; your eyes took over.
The perfect moment wasn’t over yet, and it was the PER-FECT moment.
Jeter didn’t homer in his final at bat or smash a ball into the far-field lights. He didn’t make some flip toss to McCann or alley-oop a bouncing, beautiful through from short to first for some game-winning out. It was really just a single – and that’s what Jeter’s career was. It was a lot of singles, over and over again.
And all together, those singled combined to create perhaps the greatest career any fan has ever seen – 20 years with one club, with that club, always at the peak of his ability, even if he wasn’t the best in the world at any one time.
Can’t we just enjoy him like that? He should be loved properly, not out of proportion.
He was never Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. or Albert Pujols. He was never a five-tool dynamo – never the guy you’d pick to play with in a video game. But he’s the owner of so many crystallized moments, so many instances frozen in your brain, even if you cheered against him and his Pinstripes for the past two decades. He’s the owner of countless highlights, five World Series, 14 All-Stars, and a career worth shedding an ‘In Memoriam’ tear over.
That was still there last night, under the surface.
Beneath all the bloviating and the hyperbole, all the rehearsed lines from the play-by-play voices on the YES Network (yeah, we get it: he’s from tiny Kalamazoo, Michigan and now he’s the captain of the New York Yankees, what a dream, blah, blah, blah) there was that one last single – that last at-bat that was just like the thousands before them, where Jeter was somehow able to escape into his zone where he only saw the ball while millions saw him.
You knew it was an important day for the Yankees and their fans – specifically, for all the ones who couldn’t afford to be there, who maybe didn’t want to pawn their wife’s wedding ring for whatever tickets must have cost. New York is a big-ass city, and you better believe a lot of them enjoyed last night in their own way – without Twitter, without the gloss, and without inner-debating, schizophrenic columns like this one.
(And how cool was it, by the way, to watch that on-field interview afterwards? The dude just looked charmingly awkward, like he really didn’t want to be the only guy the cameras were focused on, the only guy anyone in Yankee Stadium could hear. He was obviously emotional, but in an age where LeBron James can personally and publicly write a phony op-ed in Sports Illustrated to announce where he’ll be taking his talents to next – and we actually think that’s humble, just because it was in print and not on TV – it’s pretty darn refreshing to have a guy like Jeter.)
If you’re a fan, and you were able to just sit down – with a No. 2 jersey on or not – and enjoy yourself for even a second, to pull something out of the game or to connect with what was happening – because we’re all fans of something, and I’m sure we have all adored some public figure the way so many Yankees fans adore Jeter – then I’d say you nailed it.
You didn’t have to share it – you just had to get it. And you could keep that moment to yourself, instead of ruining it with hashtags or your own thinking.
Derek Jeter was never the greatest, but he was always the most valuable.
That should be enough. If only.