September 25, 2014
With apologies to Rob Manfred, the MLB Commissioner-elect, there is only person who should succeed Bud Selig when he retires next January. This Sunday Derek Jeter will retire after twenty seasons as a MLB player. He has stated publicly that he does not want to become an on-field manager or even a general manager. He has stated privately that he would like to be an owner of a MLB franchise. However, assuming that the Steinbrenner family will not sell the Yankees, I commented back in March how odd it would be to see the Mets or the Rays owned by Jeter competing against NYY. It just wouldn’t feel right to him and, frankly, it wouldn’t seem right to the fans. Yankee fans couldn’t abide such a sacrilege and even NYY-haters like me would think it unnatural.
No, there is only one place in baseball going forward that suits Derek Jeter – other than Cooperstown, of course. If the Commissioner is supposed to be the one person who has the respect of each owner, each general manager, each player and every fan – the one person who approaches being bigger than the game itself – Jeter should be the unanimous selection. (And speaking of Cooperstown and unanimous selections, would any member of the BBWAA have the courage not to vote for Jeter in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame if he had already served as MLB Commissioner for five years?)
Again, no disrespect to Rob Manfred, but shouldn’t the Commissioner of MLB at least be recognizable when he walks into every ball park in the league? Jeter would not only meet that test as the most recognizable figure in baseball, he is among the most recognizable sports figures in the world. Even more importantly, he obtained that notoriety only for his actions on the field – successful actions. Can anyone think of a big moment in his career in which Jeter failed? Even tonight, in a game that was meaningless other than having the distinction of (1) being the only game at Yankee Stadium (old or new) in which Jeter played after the Yankees had been eliminated from the post-season eligibility and (2) being Jeter’s last game at home, Jeter made the utmost out of the moment.
A first inning RBI double and a 7th-inning go-ahead RBI fielder’s choice would be suitable enough for a Hallmark movie on Jeter’s career. But Jeter’s sporting life has always been featured on the biggest stage with story-lines even the nation’s greatest sportswriters could not conceive. No one could have scripted the meltdown by NYY closer David Robertson that would allow BAL to tie the game in the top of the 9th and require the Yankees to bat again (unless, of course, you think the bartenders at Buffalo Wild Wings really can control games in order to prolong them for fans).
The two gopher balls from Robertson set the stage for Jeter to come to bat in the bottom of the 9th where he would promptly line the first pitch between first and second base – where else would he hit it? When Antoine Richardson dived headfirst toward home plate and his hand hit white, Jeter was rounding first and looking back toward home, anticipating his first walk-off hit in over 7 years. Rather than continue to second he shot both arms above his head and leaped into the air celebrating his last Yankee Stadium win just as we had seen him celebrate a World Championship. The fact that this game was not for a World Championship, but was only the 82nd win of the season, did not matter. It was a win, and that is what Jeter says he only cares about – winning.
We all know that this is only half of what he cares about. The other half is winning the right way. Whatever you may think of the Jeter mystique, there is no denying that he has lived in fishbowl for over 20 years and shown no evidence of having bodily functions. Watching the game tonight on MLB Network and then the post-game coverage on ESPN, I was struck by the contrast of the Gatorade commercial showing a relaxed, humble Jeter being adored by fans in the Bronx and the new Nike commercial about Richard Sherman trying act humble by stopping people from asking if he is really the best cornerback of all time. Jeter did not have to go on a self-worshipping rant after a World Series win in order to gain respect. In fact, he did just the opposite – garnering attention by seeking to avoid it.
Jeter is not only the anti-Sherman, he is the anti-Steinbrenner. The Boss needed to be the center of attention and worked hard to be just as Sherman has. Jeter, on the other hand has avoided individual attention and was successful at it while the Yankees still had several icons to soak up the press (could Derek has actually missed A-Rod this year? Probably not.) He built all of his reputation on the field of competition and tried as best as he could to deflect the worship that has come to him in this final season. In a society that loves to elevate its heroes to positions above what they deserve or can ever sustain, this is one chance to give a true hero a true position that he truly deserves and at which he will truly excel.
Say goodbye to The Captain. Say hello to The Commissioner.
(JSR) © 2014