September 28, 2014

LESS IS MORE:

With His Words and Deeds, Derek Jeter Never Entered Foul Territory (DAN BARRY and KEN SCHWENCKE, SEPT. 27, 2014, NY Times)

In 20 years of living onstage in New York City, the so-called media capital of the world, Derek Jeter has never played ball. He has never been caught in a compromising position. He has never embarrassed himself. After a long shift at the ballpark, he has never been known to ooze into one of those establishments that tabloids call jiggle joints, or to stumble out of some meatpacking-district hot spot after too much Veuve Clicquot.

This isn't to say that Jeter hasn't gone out at night, or that he hasn't been photographed holding a beer, or that he didn't glower once at Rodriguez after a botched infield pop-up. But he will retire with his honor and privacy intact, leaving the world to know only that he was raised right by his parents, has dated models and movie stars, and, most revealingly, kept telling himself not to cry as he played his final game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.

Jeter's ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability -- or, if you must, dignified comportment -- has extended especially to the spoken word. That he is no Ozzie Smith at shortstop is well established; statistically speaking, he's not even a Gene Michael.

But aside from a few notable exceptions (throwing out Jeremy Giambi at home with that mind-boggling flip in the 2001 playoffs), he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration's first term -- he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known -- inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him -- and said nothing.

This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio's suit.

Diverting resources that might have been dedicated to crises greater than a ballplayer's retirement, The New York Times recently conducted an analysis of thousands of Jeter quotations it had recorded since his first major league game. That was on May 29, 1995, when a reporter observed that he had handled an 0-for-5 performance with a veteran's aplomb.

"Veteran?" Jeter said. "I've got to get a hit first."

He was all of 20 but was already locked in -- focused on saying nothing that might be contorted into a next-day story line: "Rookie Remains Cocky Despite His Zip of a Day."

There have been plenty of detestable characters in the mix and more than a few who annoyed the other side just because of how they did what they did, but the recent Red Sox/Yankee rivalry has featured an unusual number of outstanding cornerstone players who neither fan base hated : Rivera, Pettite, Posada and Jeter for the Yanks and Pedro, Varitek, Papi & Pedroia for the Sox.
Posted by at September 28, 2014 8:45 AM
  

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