Tuesday, March 04, 2014

On Being a Derek Jeter Hater

Here's the thing about hating Derek Jeter:

People who love Derek Jeter - and I mean the ones who really, really love Derek Jeter - are like the people who get fired up every year around Thanksgiving about the perceived "War on Christmas". Never mind that If you look around, 90% of all stores are thoroughly bedecked in tinsel, that the Christmas carol-only radio stations have gone on the air, that damn near everything after the Detroit Lions give their annual feeble Thanksgiving effort is solid Christmas for a solid month. The folks who are convinced there's a War on Christmas will dig up the fact that someone in South Podunk, North Dakota said "Happy Holidays" to a Salvation Army Santa and use that as evidence that everyone in the world is conspiring to totally Grinch up the holiday. 
The Jeterphiles are like that. No matter how much praise gets heaped on The Captain, it's never enough. And anything that isn't pure, unadulterated praise is by necessity deepest, foulest vitriol. "WHY DO YOU HATE EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD AND TRUE IN BASEBALL?" they howl.
And the answer is, we don't. We hate you.


Here's the thing about hating Derek Jeter:

Even folks who declare themselves Derek Jeter haters generally don't hate Derek Jeter. We appreciate that he is one of the all-time greats. We admire his instincts, his incredible ability to put bat on ball, and his consistently superb production. We think he was a really, really, really good baseball player, one of the best shortstops ever to play the game.
It's just that in appreciating the many, many things he did well, we're not blind to the things he didn't do well. His defense? Not the greatest. His arm strength? Not necessarily a bazooka. His positioning? Relatively lackluster until the last few years of his career. Things like that, evidence that as great as he was, he wasn't great at everything. It's like pointing out that Greg Maddux didn't have a blazing fastball, or Frank Thomas wasn't really the greatest baserunner since he generally expected the ball to leave the yard, or that Nolan Ryan's interest in fielding could be measured in microgiveacraps. Even the all-time greats had holes in their game, and pointing that out doesn't mean you think they're not great. It's just an honest assessment.
But the Jeter worshippers don't see it that way. They see any attempt to identify a weakness in Jeter's game as tantamount to pulling down his entire career like a statue of Saddam Hussein. Which just isn't the case.
I think Jeter was a great player. Everyone I know, even the Yankee haters, think Jeter was a great player. We just don't think he was the greatest player ever in all things. And that's where the trouble starts.

Here's the thing about hating Derek Jeter:

For the Jeterphiles, it's not enough that Jeter was a superb baseball player. There is an overwhelming need to make him into something more, into an icon of all that is right with the world. He is the two-legged avatar of Doing Things The Right Way, of Tradition, of The Yankee Way and a Bradbury-esque small town sensibility of what we like to imagine baseball used to be.
In reality, he is no such thing. He's thrown contract tantrums. He refused to move off of the glamour position of shortstop to make room for a superior defender, then turned around and threw his new teammate to the media wolves. He's hooked up with a succession of models and actresses in a way that's probably not Normal Rockwell-esque (not that I blame him in the slightest - you're an eligible famous multimillionaire with the best name recognition in New York? Damn right you're going to date around). And of course, there are the gift baskets. If anyone else handed out lovely parting gifts to their sexual conquests, the media would run them out of town on a rail. With Jeter, it's presented as so adorable that it seemed like guys were hoping their wives and girlfriends would get Jeterized in order to get some of that sweet autographed swag.
For most of us, it's enough that Jeter was a great player. We don't need him to be a moral icon, a link in the chain of Great Spotless Yankees (who, apart from Lou Gehrig, generally weren't so spotless) and a pure avatar all of the children can aspire to someday be. He's a great baseball player who didn't do PEDs and played hard, and that ought to be enough. The fact that it isn't, that everyone in the sound of Suzyn Waldman's voice (not her broadcast signal; her voice) thinks Jeter's one miracle away from sanctification means that any less-than-reverent comment on any aspect of Jeter's game or history is an attack on something good and holy and pure.
And we can't have that sort of thing.

Here's the thing about hating Derek Jeter:

Nobody hates Derek Jeter. Not even self-proclaimed Derek Jeter haters, as much as we joke about "past a diving Jeter" and the nonexistent step to the left, hate Derek Jeter.
What we hate is being told that because we do not love Derek Jeter with adoration unstained and devotion absolute, we are bad people. We hate being told that we're not real baseball fans and that we don't appreciate the game. We hate being told how to be fans, just as the Joe Morgan fans of the world hate being told that they have to appreciate VORP or they're knuckle-dragging savages (and don't start - we all know that there's plenty of netsnark out there directed at fans who don't pledge allegiance to all the advanced stats, too). We hate being told that we have to love Derek Jeter unreservedly, and that there's only one way to do so. And we hate the people who tell us that, over and over again, at high volume.

So, Cap'n. Thanks for a great career. Enjoy the retirement tour; may it be free from injury and as successful at the plate and in the field as can be hoped for. But could you tell your followers to ease off, just a little bit. After all, it's not like you're Mariano Rivera.
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