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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Derek Jeter: A Class Act

Derek Jeter's victory lap ended today. After singling against the Boston Red Sox, he was lifted for a pinch runner, guaranteeing that he will go out with a hit in his final at bat. It doesn't get much better than that unless he hit a home run in his final at bat (like Ted Williams). Still, in his final at bat at Yankee Stadium, he singled to drive in the winning run, and he hit a home run for his 3,000 hit, so he has plenty to smile for.

Jeter's accomplishments on the field only partly explain the respect and adoration he engenders, however. He is, after all, neither the greatest shortstop nor the greatest hitter of all time. Rather the fanfare that has followed Jeter in his final season is because in addition to being a very good player, he has also been a class act both on and off the field. Unlike some professional athletes he didn't spend his career boasting about his greatness or belittling his opponents; instead, he treated his teammates and opponents with respect and didn't complain when the breaks didn't go his way. And his performance off the field has been even more remarkable ("With His Words and Deeds, Derek Jeter Never Entered Foul Territory"):
In 20 years of living onstage in New York City, the so-called media capital of the world, Derek Jeter has never played ball. He has never been caught in a compromising position. He has never embarrassed himself. After a long shift at the ballpark, he has never been known to ooze into one of those establishments that tabloids call jiggle joints, or to stumble out of some meatpacking-district hot spot after too much Veuve Clicquot. 
This isn’t to say that Jeter hasn’t gone out at night, or that he hasn’t been photographed holding a beer, or that he didn’t glower once at Rodriguez after a botched infield pop-up. But he will retire with his honor and privacy intact, leaving the world to know only that he was raised right by his parents, has dated models and movie stars, and, most revealingly, kept telling himself not to cry as he played his final game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.
It's too bad that more professional athletes don't follow Jeter's example (can you say Alex Rodriguez? Terrell Owens?). Then they too might be worshipped in their final season. Instead, most will go out with a whimper with very few people caring (or noticing) they're no longer playing.

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