Dear Rick Reilly,
Your latest attempt at proclaiming your love for Derek Jeter, in the form of an open letter to his fictitious children, is appreciated -- and certainly hasn't fallen on deaf ears. But I fear you've been foisted by your own pinstriped petard.
Look, nobody loves Derek Jeter more than I do. I was born close to Yankee Stadium, attended my first baseball game in 1996, and virtually grew up alongside my shortstop over the next 20 years. I get it. No single athlete could possibly mean more to my generation of Yankees fans, and it will truly signal the official death knell of my childhood when he retires. (Incidentally, I'm saving my own fawning love-letter of a column for that inevitable day.)
Unfortunately, columns like yours do Jeter and his fans a great disservice by fueling the anti-Yankee fire that has never needed added kindling. Platitudes and empty honorifics such as "prince in baseball cleats" only adds incentive for those who live to hate the Yankees and their overexposure, much of the time undeserved, in the media. (One question I have for you: Why now? Was the St. Louis Cardinal's #FarewellCaptain tribute so bad that you just had to erase it in your memory and replace it with the image of "George Clooney in pinstripes"?)
You're not the first to characterize Jeter as baseball's homecoming king, and it's not entirely untrue: As you noted in creepily evocative detail, men want to be him, women want to be with him. But the downside of being the most popular boy in school is that everyone else secretly hates you. They wait until your one flaw is exposed and then they pounce, relieved to find a crack in your carefully crafted portrait of perfection.
Of course, Jeter's flaws in the field are many, and have been exhaustively detailed by sabermetrics experts more knowledgeable and insightful than I. Jeter's defense has been among the most scrutinized in recent history, and for good reason, namely his position as captain of the most famous franchise in sports and a few pesky Gold Gloves that he probably (definitely) didn't earn.
There's another reason: Columns like yours. The data-driven campaign to expose Jeter's defensive weaknesses was a direct reaction to perceived favor from the media and fans. It really started to pick up steam in the mid-aughts: The Yankees hadn't won't the World Series in several years, they were aging and declining at every position including shortstop, yet Jeter was still hauling in hardware. Amid all the talk of instincts and intangibles, stats guys started to pull back the curtain. Where were you when "Captain Intangibles" became a slur?
People react to fawning attention by tearing down its subject, whether the criticism is warranted or not. It's the same reason there's been much more hearty displeasure with Jeter's farewell tour than Mariano Rivera's: Mo was always the silent hero, but Jeter's the shortstop, the face of the franchise (and the sport) and thus the ultimate target. It doesn't matter that Jeter, one of the most private athletes ever, didn't ask for parting gifts or video tributes or retirement ceremonies. As baseball fans, we love a spectacle but hate admitting it.
In that way, a syrupy column reaching in the literary ether for as many phrases that allow one to connote "intangible" without actually using the word does Jeter no favors. Nor does it do any favors to us Yankee fans capable of feeling everlasting love for Jeter while objectively recognizing his faults. In fact, it's those faults that make some of us love him even more: Despite what you absurdly assert, Jeter wasn't "the best player in baseball for a good 10 years straight." With Jeter, it's never been just about talent.
Columns like yours only serve to obscure the real ways, the tangible ways, Jeter made our lives better as baseball fans. There will be enough time to celebrate the intangibles come winter.
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