They shoved Derek Jeter’s final All-Star appearance so far down our throats that it induced nausea. Or NAU2EA.
We were complicit, at least those among us who clicked or punched his name a composite 3,928,422 times out of desire or obligation to see the perennially underexposed shortstop at last get a little prime-time promotion. None of those All-Star votes came from yours truly. I channeled the average unreconstructed Deep South voter circa 1876 and declared, “As God is my witness, I shall never cast a ballot for a godforsaken Yankee.” If I were the type to plaster bumper stickers on the rear of my car, mine would read, “Don’t Blame Me. I Voted For Alexei Ramirez.”
But there he was, elected and, naturally, canonized. The night they announced who would play in the Midsummer Classic, it was reported as a done deal that Target Field would be the site of the “Derek Jeter All-Star Game”. That wasn’t speculation. It was a promise or perhaps a threat sure to be made good on. Those who frame these things colluded on an angle and that was that. The other 67 All-Stars — by definition the very best the sport has to offer — were playing for second place.
America, if you wanted Jeter, you got him. Perhaps in far-away precincts this was considered a rare treat. Around here, not so much. We who persevere in the New York Metropolitan Area have experienced no Jeter-coverage shortage since 1996. Elsewhere you could have called it the Derek Jeter All-Star Game. Here we referred to it as Tuesday.
The concept of the farewell All-Star Game is at once both a grand tradition and a recent phenomenon. Now and then through the years, a living legend who was no longer playing like one would be granted an invite to one more soirée, providing a chance for a grateful nation to stand, applaud and thank that player for long and superlative service to its pastime. Our own Willie Mays was favored with such a slot in 1973. It was a nice gesture.
In 2001, however, it became a thing. Cal Ripken didn’t need to be ushered by fiat onto the American League roster. The fans voted him the junior circuit’s starting third baseman. Fair enough, it’s the fans’ game. He was batting .240 and wasn’t anywhere near the player he had been, but that wasn’t the point. The point was he was Cal Ripken.
The point was hammered home like a son of a gun that July. Alex Rodriguez, then generally considered that nice young man from Texas, graciously switched positions with Ripken so Cal could play shortstop once more. The old Oriole more than earned his keep with a home run in the American League’s 4-1 win over Bobby Valentine’s National League squad.
In the age of Selig and Fox, however, it wasn’t enough to sit back and enjoy Ripken’s final moment in the nocturnal sun. The network kept pounding away at the significance of St. Ripken and the commissioner stopped the game midway through to give him (and unjustly parenthetical Tony Gwynn) a special award, not to be confused with the MVP trophy and car he was given at the end of the night. Not long after, I distinctly recall Joe Morgan, then of ESPN, conflating Ripken’s third-inning solo job off Chan Ho Park with Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning Shot Heard ’Round The World from 50 years earlier as two very similar spine-tingling baseball moments.
Sure. They were both home runs and images existed of each. Same thing, right?
I liked and admired Cal Ripken, but I remember being dismayed that MLB couldn’t leave well enough alone, that we the fans couldn’t be trusted to make the most out of a legend stepping out of the spotlight. Through no fault of Ripken’s, the whole affair wasn’t classy. It was excessive. It was shoehorning Super Bowl-style hype into a sweet summertime tradition.
Take that sense, multiply it by a hundred and you got Mariano Rivera’s All-Star swan song from 2013. Then take that, set your calculator app on “tilt,” and you got the Jeterama of 2014. The best that can be said about the latest edition of the practically mandatory lovefest — aside from it having the decency to take place somewhere other than Citi Field — was that Jeter played well, reminding the involuntarily Jeterated viewer of why he certainly rated a bit of fuss if not necessarily an enormous glob of it. “Playing well” boiled down to a diving stop that didn’t result in an out, along with two hits — only one of which wasn’t shrouded in suspicion after Adam Wainwright admitted to grooving him a pitch, à la Denny McLain to a nearly done Mickey Mantle late in 1968, but then kind of, sort of recanted. For a reduced-range 40-year-old batting a power-free .272, it was a perfectly fine performance…even cap-tipworthy.
But that couldn’t be left be. Fox’s voices couldn’t shut up about Derek Jeter for nine innings, including the several conducted after he exited to one more hearty ovation. The biggest upset of the night had nothing to do with the A.L.’s 5-3 victory. It was Mike Trout capturing the MVP. I was sure it would go either to Derek Jeter for what he did on the field or Derek Jeter for sitting on the bench and deigning to interact with his teammates — for which Fox praised him lavishly.
Surely this All-Star Game was somebody else’s final All-Star Game, too. Lots of somebodies. We have no idea whether Daniel Murphy (0-for-1 plus a harmless flip over the first baseman’s head) will ever qualify for another one of these affairs. You go back to the Ripkmarole of 2001 and you note all kinds of names that never saw another Starry, Starry night. Rick Reed, half of the Mets’ contingent 13 years ago in Seattle, never made it back. Neither did ex-Met Mike Hampton or future Mets Cliff Floyd, Roberto Alomar, Tony Clark, Mike Stanton and Ripken victim Park. (Hey, we sure were skilled at collecting guys who stopped being All-Stars, huh?)
Many of those players probably exulted in being part of Ripken’s night, just as the never-again All-Stars of this year will someday say, yes, as a matter of fact they were present that time in Minneapolis when Fox mainlined Derek Jeter and the home audience overdosed early and often. Nevertheless, it’s not supposed to be any one player’s game unless that player makes it his own. Baseball isn’t well served when it pours on the adulation for us. Show some “RE2PECT” for the process. We’ll figure it out without a script.
Then again, I’ll gladly accept being aggressively spoonfed one Yankee Legend for one mostly meaningless exhibition game in July in exchange for being completely spared the lot of them come October. Nothing made me appreciate Mariano Rivera more last season than not being commanded to appreciate him — and his team — in yet another postseason.