This column is about more than baseball — or the New York Yankees. It’s about one last teachable summer if you’re shopping for a role model in the modern sports/entertainment/pop culture universe. (Hint: Inventory is running low.)
Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ superstar shortstop, announced last week that this season, No. 23, will be his last as a professional baseball player — 20 of them as a major-leaguer.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jeter’s prowess on the field, here’s a sample: ninth on the all-time hits list and likely will end up sixth; 256 career home runs; played on five World Series championship teams; a 13-time All-Star; rookie of the year in 1996; and a five-time Gold Glove winner.
Trust me, Jeter is headed to the Hall of Fame, baseball’s mountaintop.
Along with some other young Yankees, Jeter is credited with turning around the storied franchise starting in 1995, making the Steinbrenner family even richer and doing his part to keep Major League Baseball competitive as professional sports vie for our entertainment dollar.
For Yankee fans, Jeter is a legend; for baseball fans, he’s a household name.
For neither, he’s someone to introduce your child to — whether he or she be a budding athlete, future opera singer, determined entrepreneur, can’t-miss engineer, unrepentant stargazer or dutiful daydreamer.
I say that in part because of what Jeter doesn’t do.
He doesn’t take PEDs or tie himself to some shadowy pseudo-doctor who traffics in them.
He doesn’t show the other team up. He doesn’t talk trash or taunt his opponents or throw his own teammates under the bus. He doesn’t disrespect the game for attention, leverage or fame.
He doesn’t give anything but his best effort. He doesn’t play the game with anything but class and dignity. He doesn’t create any drama aside from his play, when he has often been at his best in the game’s most dramatic moments.
He doesn’t duck the media after a game, win or lose, good or bad, and he’s ready with measured, articulate, straightforward responses. He is, in modern sports culture, as boring as an intentional walk.
Many of today’s sports fans surely consider him a relic, a real Mr. Unexcitement, because his highlight reel includes nothing from courtrooms or police stations or mea culpa press conferences.
His notoriety is earned almost exclusively on the diamond.
How quaint — in the 24/7 wild world of sports media where drugs, rap sheets, murder charges, loudmouths, locker-room Neanderthals and other assorted sociopathy write headlines.
Meanwhile, Jeter has quietly gone about his business, the consummate professional on his way to the Hall of Fame.
That all ends after this season.
So if you have a little one and you’re looking for a trusty template of heroism, I offer you the Yankee captain.
Not that others are less deserving a welcome into the life of your child. They are deserving, too. Jeter’s timing has prompted my suggestion.
Nor has sketchy behavior of jocks, actors and rock stars alone muddied the waters of hero worship. We fans are complicit, too, in the murkiness.
We seem to love it, tuning in and taking to our blogs and Twitter accounts and message boards. Some of us bring the din to the arena, diamond or field, too, where, as with college basketball for example, many coaches and players believe the “price of admission” theory has gone off the rails.
When that happens (as it did at Texas Tech two weekends ago when an Oklahoma State basketball player pushed a fan who had called him a “piece of crap”), count on ESPN to run video of the incident like the Zapruder film at the Warren Commission.
All of which deflects — and diminishes — what happens on the field of play.
Where Derek Jeter works.