It’s not even been a week, since our beloved Captain hung up his spurs and rode off into the sunset, guns a-blazin’. Meanwhile, the bad guys are either left marveling at the supreme goodness of our hero, or pushing up daisies with their empty six shooters up on Boot Hill. Saloon gals far and wide swoon at the mere possibility he might be a-ridin’ into a one-horse town near them. Revered in word and deed, this man among men strode the dusty streets of every town from here to the Pecos, for nigh on twenty year, enacting his brand of Yankee justice. For which he was summarily and routinely booed. But in the end he remains standing, while so many others have fallen by the way, or sold their gun to the highest bidder. Many times was he wounded in battle, yet always he returned, tall, upright and unbent.
Yeah, you know, the whole western hero shtick isn’t really working for me. I mean, it’s just a game, after all.
Still, what can you say about a player who, in this day and age, played his entire career for the one team?
You may say that it was the Yankees, and they have all the money in the world to lavish upon their own players… except that they usually don’t. They prefer to let their home-grown players leave (Cano, Soriano, et.al.), rather than pay them what other teams will.
The Yankees are better known for over-paying players on the down side of their careers, than they are for keeping their own.
And so I’ll see your ‘Yankees’ rationale, and raise you one ‘George Steinbrenner’…
If that doesn’t make Jeter’s feat all the more impressive, then you haven’t been paying attention for the last twenty or thirty years.
Still, it is just a game. A game a lot of us played as children, in the sandlots and streets of our youth.
Some of us were lucky, and got to keep on playing as we grew older. A very few of us – the charmed ones – got to spend our lives doing it.
I’m not one of the charmed ones. Yet I don’t begrudge the ones who are. Because I was just charmed enough. I got to play as a kid. I got to play with kids bigger and better than me, and with kids… well, they were all bigger and better than me, but I don’t begrudge them that, either.
Because I got to play. And every once in a while I’d get a big hit, or make a fantastic catch. Rarely, but every once in a blue moon. And all those bigger and better kids would happily acknowledge my terrific play.
A great play is a great play, whether you’re charmed or not.
And that’s just one of about a gazillion things that are special about the game of Baseball.
The Great Game.
There’s a saying that goes something like: “Sixty feet, six inches is the most perfect distance man has ever devised.” I can’t find the quote now, nor who said it – but you get the idea.
There are those who say Baseball is no longer America’s pastime; that football has taken its place.
There are also those who say that it’s okay if you think Baseball is boring; ’cause it’s kind of a smart person’s sport.
You guys fight it out amongst yourselves. I know where I stand.
I stand with Baseball. I stand with the heroes of my youth: the Aaron’s and the Ruth’s, the Mays and the Dimaggio’s, the Mantle’s and the Cobb’s. Those I got to see, and those I only got to read about. I stand with the sport that I and my brother and our friends played; and our father and his brothers and their friends played. I stand with the sport that more perfectly exacts a fairness out of life than any other.
You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why Baseball is the greatest game of them all.
Amen, brother Earl.
An uncle of mine tells the story of when he was playing in the minor leagues. And he was trying to beat out a weakly-hit ball. He was thrown out, and as he came back to the bench, the player/manger/coach yelled at him: “George, you run too slow.” My uncle said he was running as hard as he could, to which the manager replied “Well… you’re doing too much of it in one place.” And my uncle told this story not to bemoan his own lack of ‘charm’, or to belittle the manager, but because it revealed an aspect of the game. And it revealed an aspect of my uncle, in his willingness to relate the incident.
Baseball seems to bring out the character in people, if not the characters themselves.
“Baseball is ninety-percent mental, and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
“A Baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown, divided into nine innings.” – Earl Wilson
“Like they say, it ain’t over till the fat guy swings.” – Darren Daulton
“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life, without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Berry
Sometimes the character that’s revealed isn’t quite as charming.
As it is in life, so it is in Baseball.
So much for some of the reasons why we play, and why we watch.
What about Jeter?
Why is he so great?
Where to begin…
Number six, on the all time hits list, which is pretty good. No, actually, it’s frickin’ phenomenal, especially when you read who’s below him. Ruth and Gehrig, Fox and Ott, Mays and Ripken and Williams. Or how about number nine on the all time runs scored list? And again, the people he’s passed speaks volumes about Jeter’s productivity.
Shall we talk about the career without a misstep or scandal, or not even the hint of a whiff of a taint of PED’s? Shall we talk about the incredible outpouring of love and respect around the league, including and especially from the great fans in Boston, our hated rivals?
Where does Jeter stand among the Yankee greats? A fruitless question, because the game isn’t the same as it was back then. Different equipment, different skill sets, harder throwers… the list goes on. So, if the game is different, then the comparison is a waste of time, and the numbers don’t mean anything. But the numbers do mean something. Baseball is all about the numbers. Baseball is a battle of attrition. The only way to quantify it is by numbers
Jeter’s speak for themselves.
I don’t want to get into a comparison of the greats.
Though I do offer up the following:
Joltin’ Joe, of course… A picture from a quick Google search.
And Jeter, my own photo, from his penultimate game at home.
There are similarities, as well as differences, to those who love the game.
Rather remarkable, given the two very different players, with two very different swings.
Or perhaps we should let this commercial speak for us; a commercial one die-hard Red Sox fan I know and love called ‘pretty cool’…
Put it on HD, full screen, and just watch.
Or how about a short clip of career highlights?
Plays like those made in the second video are how you get the videos like the first one made about you.
Was Jeter lucky? Who among us who got to play in the bigs isn’t?
Was he over-rated, as that one idiot as this year’s All-Star game kept yelling over the audio feed, as Jeter took his first at bat?
Jeter shut him up with a signature, inside-out swinging double. Though I doubt Jeter even heard the guy. He was always too focused for that.
And perhaps that best summarizes why we love Jeter.
It was his penchant for the big play, for the drama of the game, that we can never forget.
His dives into the stands, chasing fly balls.
His jump and throw move at shortstop – a play so amazing he had kids racing outside to try and emulate it.
His 3000th hit? A home run.
The only man to hit a home run in November? Jeter.
His last at bat in Yankee stadium? A walk-off, game-winning single.
You can’t script this kind of thing. No one would believe it.
We’ve been seeing, and believing for twenty years, now.
And we’re the one’s to have been charmed, because we’ve been witness to one of the most charmed players ever.
Leo Durocher once said:
Baseball is like church. Many attend. Few understand.