While no longer at his peak, the popular Yankee deserves his place, writes Paul Freelend.
Hearing how some corners of baseball’s chattering classes put it, one would think allowing Derek Jeter into the All-Star Game would forever besmirch the good name of America, MLB and Abner Doubleday.
To be sure, Jeter is not the best shortstop in the American League this season. He turned 40 on Thursday and, as one might expect, his production is well off that of his peak years.
In terms of on-field performance, Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox or Jose Reyes of the Toronto Blue Jays would be more worthy selections.
It is also beyond doubt, though, that for all of MLB’s efforts to gussy up the All-Star Game as something meaningful, it remains an exhibition whose participants are largely selected by a popularity contest masquerading as a reward for a good first half of the season.
It is a chance for fans to see their favourite players on the field at the same time and, if enough fans want Jeter to start the All-Star Game in his 20th and final season, then he will do exactly that.
Including Jeter would not even be the biggest stretch on the AL roster. In the most recent All-Star voting tallies, Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles leads the voting for catchers despite being out injured for the rest of the season.
Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera and Baltimore designated hitter Nelson Cruz are both in position to make the All-Star Game despite serving 50-game suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs in the past two seasons. One of the things that sets baseball apart from other sports is its intimate connection with, if not veneration of, its history.
It would be out of character for baseball to pass up a chance to honour a five-time World Series champion and 13-time All-Star in his farewell season.
As distasteful as attempts by the Jeter Industrial Complex to elevate the Yankees captain to early sainthood have been, baseball fans have been fortunate to watch Jeter play these past 20 years. Careers of such consistency, durability and dignity are a rarity in the game.
Baseball will survive Jeter receiving a start in the All-Star Game as a lifetime achievement award. That his numbers are more akin to the light-hitting Freddie Patek and Bucky Dent in their All-Star years than Jeter’s prime will matter only to historical sourpusses – and, perhaps, White Sox fans. Jeter is one of only five men – the other four being Honus Wagner, Luke Appling and Barry Larkin and Omar Vizquel – to have played shortstop this consistently in the year they turned 40.
With the Yankees’ chances of making the postseason looking shaky, MLB and its fans would do well to take this opportunity and salute Jeter while they still have the chance. We will not soon see his like again.
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