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Sunday marked the very last time New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter would appear in a Major League Baseball (MLB) game. It came on the last day of the 2014 regular season in Fenway Park at the home of long-time Yankee rival Boston Red Sox. In an exceptionally rare display of reverence, honor and respect for the career and ambassadorship of Derek Jeter, even the most loyal Red Sox fans who have forever harbored utter disdain for anything resembling a New York Yankee, set aside the historic rivalry to pay a moving tribute to one who has arguably been the face of Major League baseball; and they did so without the approval of ESPN’s Keith Olbermann.
Last week, in a not so rare display of a lack of class, the oft-fired Olbermann ripped apart Jeter in a seven-minute video tirade citing the Major League records that Jeter had not broken. During the diatribe, he mocked the fans, Jeter, the Yankees and Major League baseball amid dunce-like laughter from ESPN studio personnel. Olbermann began with the announcement that he was making a “correction,” stating, “Derek Jeter is not the greatest person in human history.” He continued to state that in the history of the New York Yankees, Jeter was not number one. He then played a film clip of retired New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada who commented about Jeter, “…for me, he’s number one.” Obviously lost in Olbermann’s assessment of Jeter’s farewell tour around Major League Baseball is the fact that Derek Jeter is number one in many baseball circles. That he happens not to be number one to Olbermann is of no consequence to the tribute that Jeter deserves.
Particularly abhorrent in Olbermann’s assault was his vile sarcastic description of Jeter’s farewell tour around the Major Leagues calling it “force-fed adulation of a player.” Although Olbermann likely has a viewership who misguidedly adore him, it is unlikely that one would find very many others who share in his opinion that Major League baseball teams in two countries erred in their desire to share with fans a one-time, final celebration of a player with the stature of Derek Jeter. The litmus test that destroys Olbermann’s claim of MLB force feeding anything to fans is the reception Jeter received in enemy territory by Boston Red Sox fans and players alike, including appearances by the captains from Boston’s other sports teams.
This is the crux of Olbermann’s faux-pas, which is not something he is any stranger to. The point Olbermann entirely misses, regardless of how many hyenas in his studio found his rant entertaining, is the unprecedented impact that Derek Jeter has had on the game as a whole, as well as on baseball fans across the United States and other countries. Derek Jeter wore the ambassadorship of the game of baseball like few other players in all of Major League Baseball history. That he was not the all-time hits leader, or the all-time home run leader, or the all-time stolen base leader does not detract from the numbers Derek Jeter did put up in what could end up being a unanimous first ballot election to the Cooperstown, NY Baseball Hall of Fame.
As Olbermann pointed out, Derek Jeter is not number one statistically in any MLB category. However, in his mockery of Derek Jeter, MLB, the sport itself and baseball fans everywhere, Olbermann fails to acknowledge that the number one player in many of the MLB statistics he alludes to, displayed egregious disrespect for the game and to the fans, or has Mr. Olbermann forgotten about record holders such as Barry Bonds and Pete Rose? In an era of professional sports so contaminated with disrespect by its players, it is often difficult to discern the difference between team rosters and wanted posters. Yet Derek Jeter has carried himself on and off the field without self-promotion and unequivocally worthy of the return of honor, reverence and respect he has given to America’s pastime and to the fans, in spite of Olbermann’s opinion to the contrary.
Jeter’s career is replete with highlights that would be admired by any baseball immortal, past or present. Thanks to the Internet and smart phone technology, anyone can spend hours watching the legendary shortstop’s hitting and fielding feats. Many of those feats occurred when they counted most, in the post season including the World Series which, in 2001, earned him the moniker of Mr. November. The magic that has surrounded the career of Derek Jeter has been virtually continuous. Not known as a home run hitter, while pursuing the milestone of being the first and only New York Yankee to amass 3,000 hits, he did so in grand Jeter-like fashion by smacking a home run on July 9, 2011. As if that were not enough, he had a five-for-five day (five hits for five at bats) including the game winning hit in the eighth inning giving his team a 5 to 4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Yankee Stadium. It is often remarked that Hollywood could not possibly script the events in Jeter’s career any better than how it has played out in reality.
Always with a flair for the dramatic, in the last game he would ever play in Yankee pinstripes in his final plate appearance in the House that Ruth Built, Jeter singled in the bottom of the ninth inning and drove in the winning run giving the Yankees a walk-off victory over the American League Eastern Division Champion Baltimore Orioles. Almost forgotten in that event is the fact that the Yankees’ normally reliable closer, David Robertson, failed to protect a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, giving up three runs on two home runs and allowing the score to be tied, thus setting up the bottom of the ninth inning heroics by Jeter. In situations like these it has often been said that, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”
Yet Olbermann’s mockery continued with disparaging remarks about Jeter’s decision to appear in front of the fans at Fenway Park. With stardust apparently still working its magic on the retiring Yankee team captain, in his second plate appearance Jeter hit a high chopper that bounced off Home Plate. Hustling down the first base line as he always did, Derek Jeter legged out the last base hit of his 20-year illustrious baseball career. He gave the fans what they wanted so much to see one last bitter-sweet time. Following that momentous infield single, .Jeter was pinch-run for by New York Yankee catcher, Brian McCann, and he left a Major League baseball field for the very last time as an active player.
As he left first base crossing the diamond en route to the visiting team’s dugout, he briefly embraced Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, and then continued off the field acknowledging the cheers and the en masse chant of “Der-rek Jeee-ter” resonating throughout Fenway Park. He then turned and waved his cap to the Boston Red Sox dugout where the Red Sox players were standing and applauding; displaying the ultimate in class and respect for one of the game’s most beloved ambassadors.
That Keith Olbermann would deny MLB and fans across the nation the opportunity to return the reverence, honor and respect that Derek Jeter has given to them for 20 years without any fanfare, is itself a mockery and disrespect of the game and its fans. As such, he has succeeded at giving ESPN viewers and readers yet another monumental Keith Olbermann epic fail.
Commentary by Mark Politi