Friday, September 26, 2014

The Jeter Exit: The End Of Different

Rats With Cocaine
Tonight in the Bronx, in the first home game of his ridiculously long career without playoff signifi- cance, Derek Jeter effectively ended things with a walkoff single that will be played even more times than the Gatorade ad that your Yankee Fan friend considers to be religious art. (On the plus side, maybe it takes Slide Jeremy Freaking Giambi Slide off my screen. But I digress.)

And with that sharp single to right, served up by the fungible Evan Meek, Jeter did, once more, the thing that he's done for decades: rose to the occasion and made one of the most insufferable fan bases in the history of American sport feel special, privileged, different, and superior.

To other baseball fans, with the possible exception of the Cardinals and Red Sox, this is not what the sport is. What baseball is to the rest of the nation is the promise of spring, slowly drained away in the face of superior and usually better-compensated teams from Parts Favored, as the world turns cold and the leaves fall. It's poetic, but not always nice. It works out when you get  the Magic Year, the Year where everything goes your way, and a half dozen guys play out of their minds and you get all of the breaks. Maybe that happens twice as often when you play fantasy ball, maybe not. But that's what baseball is. Ask Phillies Fan; he lives for 2008 and 1980. Ask Mets Fan, who keeps going on about 1986, or Royals Fan, who capped a decade of frustration with the Donn Denkinger I-80 win in 1985 and have wandered in the woods for nearly 30 years since. But dammit, he's got 1985. And it matters more to him than any of the Yankee wins.

Flags fly forever. And they matter, so much more, when they fly rarely.

But not in the Bronx.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the rich are different from you and me, and, well, so are the Yankees. But for the most part, rich people are rich in private, since being rich in public is gauche and makes you a target. The Yankees are rich in public, and have been that way for the vast majority of their history. And Jeter has been the living embodiment of that.

There was never a possibility that he was going to end his career anywhere else -- and the simple fact that this is only true of one franchise, and that fans of that franchise don't ever think about this, is why baseball has been so screwed up for so long, in regards to actual parity. He was too good at his role and what it meant to be The Yankee Shortstop, so much so that even a franchise that bounced Ruth, Mantle, Berra and dozens of other Hall of Fame talents without a second thought let him write his own exit. Made of teflon, approachable without ever being sullied, able to bed a baseball team of prime tail without anyone ever raising an eyebrow, immune to the slings and arrows of sabermetrics or fielding statistics or injury or scandal.

The only real problem that anyone outside of New York had with Derek Jeter was the team he played for... and how we were all supposed to love him anyway. When, well, That's Not How Baseball Works.

When your baseball team is eliminated, you don't necessarily keep watching baseball. That's why the ratings are so bad, continually degrading, and only rebound a little when big market teams make it. There could be a Cowboy-Patriot Super Bowl, and I'd still watch the damn game, probably while rooting for blimp crash. But Red Sox - Giants? I'm finding something else. I'm all-in for my A's, but when they are out, it's really hard for me not to join them.

So Jeter did what he did, and it's an instant classic and a player that every fan of every team has to, and for the most part does, respect.

But we don't have to love him. We don't have to be sorry he's gone. We don't have to feel badly for Yankee Fan that the calender finally took their binkie away, or that the changing nature of the nation and the increasing number of crazily rich men means that other teams can spend as much or more than the Yankees. They'll never get their hands on Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera or David Ortiz or Adam Wainwright and so on, and so on. The days of A-Rod and Reggie Jackson and Ricky Henderson and Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson all just gravitating here are gone. Robinson Cano left for more money. You had to pay too much to get Jacoby Ellsbury, and he's just finished the best year he'll ever have for you. The next guy to play shortstop for the Yankees will be some rental that won't give you anywhere near the memories, even if he's actually a better player in the here and now.

So, Yankee Fan? Enjoy your night. Buy your merch. Look back on your decades. Book that trip to Cooperstown. Savor it.

Because it's all over now. Now, what you get now is a franchise that's a lot more like what everyone else knows as baseball.

Not special, not privileged, not  different, not superior.

I don't think you are going to like it nearly as much as you did the Jeter Era.

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