Thursday, February 20, 2014

Derek Jeter's Long Goodbye: The Narcissism of a Yankee Icon

Derek Jeter is a brilliant baseball player and one of the greatest shortstops of all time; probably in the top five (with Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken).  Among many, many honors, he is a 13-time All Star, with 5 Gold Gloves to his credit.  His 3,316 hits are more than any Yankee in history.  He played a key role in ushering in the Yankees' latest era of dominance and helped lead them to five World Series championships.  He is universally praised, even by those who hate the Yankees, as not just a fabulous ballplayer, but as a class act, the face of the sport, a true ambassador for Major League Baseball.

According to Forbes, Derek Jeter also happens to be baseball's "top pitchman."  He has endorsement deals with "Nike, Gatorade, Ford Motor, Movado, Steiner Sports, Rawlings and 24-hour Fitness."  He also has a line of colognes through Avon:  "Driven."

But Derek Jeter wants more.  We now know that after 19 seasons, Derek Jeter is going to play one more season and one more season only.  Following in the sainted footsteps of his teammate, Mariano Rivera, he made this announcement before the start of the year and will now enjoy a 162-game salute to his greatness.  Not only a special night at Yankee Stadium, but a season-long farewell tour, recapping his storied career with accolades, video tributes, speeches, gifts, and Derek Jeter Days at every opposing team's stadium capped by an All Star Game played practically in his honor.

Great for attendance, and great for marketing, but is it really great for baseball to have another season devoted to another Yankee Legend? 

One of the wonderfully unique aspects of baseball is its deep connection to its history.  But sometimes the history can get in the way of the present.  The cloying tributes to Mariano Rivera in every baseball city last season were as annoying as they were interminable.  To make matters worse, he was not merely honored at the All Star Game, but awarded the MVP for sentimental reasons.  Touching?  Maybe for Yankee fans, but for baseball fans?

Does anyone see this as disturbingly narcissistic?  The epitome of the self-absorbed, needy modern athlete, rather than a dignified icon.  Don't ask the baseball press, who are blinded by the wonder of Derek Jeter.  Doug Glanville, the usually insightful former ballplayer at the New York Times, in his unmitigated paean, extolls Jeter's bravery:  "it takes a lot of courage to pre-empt the inevitable physical decline of a professional baseball player and do what he did this week."  Ken Rosenthal says Jeter "deserves" his farewell tour and describes Jeter's announcement as "typically gracious."  And Jon Heyman praises Jeter for making his retirement known now so that he would not create a fuss and distract his teammates during the season with endless questions about his future. 

No fuss, really?  The class move, the gracious move would have been for Jeter to announce his retirement at the end of the season, at which time he could be deservedly honored as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.  Instead, Derek Jeter is going to lap up all the attention he can muster in a season-long victory lap. 


Bill Newton said...

Yes, narcissistic but not a surprise at all. Now, of course, if he has a shitty season and the Yankees tank, well....

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