Jeter earned the right to sit this one out
The outrage is palpable.
I mean, now that we’re through being outraged that he was coming.
That was palpable, too.
It’s how it goes for Jeter these days, overpaid one day and filling Yankee Stadium the next, finished as a player one day and asked to chart a course for Pete Rose the next, everything that is wrong with the All-Star game in the morning and all that is right with baseball by early evening.
The man was Teflon once.
At 37, batting .270, leading the free world in routine-grounder percentage, on a bum calf, he is a 45 Tesla hybrid magnet in pinstripes.
By the time he gets to the ballpark, he’s pulling every uptown train behind him. Along with half the Yellow Cab fleet, a manhole cover and Ivana Trump.
So, Jeter is voted into the All-Star game as the American League’s starting shortstop, then finds that after weeks of chasing 3,000 hits and rehabbing his calf and re-chasing 3,000 hits, he is emotionally and physically spent. Like, collapse-into-a-town-car-and-get-out-of-the-city-for-three-days spent.
And after 17 years, he takes a pass.
After a career of putting the Yankees first, the game first, he tapped out. After 3,004 hits, 11 All-Star games and 14 Octobers, he took a blow. For himself, his calf and his sanity.
What he gets is not compassion, not nearly two decades of benefit of the doubt, but a lecture about his responsibility to the people he served for every inning of every game since he was 21 years old.
Because he didn’t want to, that’s why. Because he couldn’t, not if he’s going to milk that calf through the next three months and his head through the next 74 games. Because he didn’t believe he could serve an exhibition game and the Yankees and himself over a cross-country flight and two days of activity that has less to do with baseball than it does marketing baseball, then a flight back and then an eight-game road trip.
Not this year. Not this time.
Should he have come out and tipped his cap to America? Didn’t he just do that two days ago? Hasn’t he done that countless times over 17 years?
His responsibility is to himself and the Yankees.
“He’s played in that city, played that position, and been that guy and he’s never dropped the ball. And I’m not saying he dropped the ball this time.
“He’s been getting after 3,000 hits, which no one could imagine other than the 27 other guys who have 3,000 hits. And they didn’t do it in that city. The way I look at it is, cut him some slack. If there’s ever been a guy who’s bought a rain check for one of these, he’s the one. Let’s just move on and not make such a big deal out of it.”
Very likely, Jeter is answering publicly for the mess the All-Star game has become. The face of the game for so long – for the champions it’s crowned and the money it’s made and the fans it’s won – Jeter now gets to wear the ridiculous gluttony of 84 All-Stars, and This Time It Counts, and a Home Run Derby that’s been stale for the better part of a decade. See, this is what happens when you make fun of Bud Selig and an All-Star game that ends in a tie.
So it’s Jeter’s fault Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Mariano Rivera(notes) are hurt, and that many of the game’s best players deep down would really prefer the time off to another 48 hours of media and fan interaction. It’s his fault Justin Verlander(notes) and CC Sabathia(notes) and Cole Hamels(notes) and Felix Hernandez(notes) pitched Sunday, and his fault Albert Pujols(notes), Joe Mauer(notes) and Ichiro(notes) didn’t make the cut in a year almost everyone else was an All-Star.
And think of it as taking a good man at his word. He is exhausted. It was all too much. Turns out he wasn’t chasing 3,000, it was chasing him.
He needed a day or two off. Let him take them.
Besides, he’ll be back next year.
And then we can all be outraged again.