Never Enough

If as Jim Morrison predicted no one gets out of here alive, it is with only slight exaggeration that no one approaches the sunset of their career without attacks from those quick to criticize and slower to reason.

Selectively perceiving reality, "what have you done for me today" faultfinders devalue past accomplishments, exaggerate current shortcomings, and claim even the undeniably great are not as good as fill-in-the-blank others. This is as much an injustice for presidents, entertainers, and the man on the street, as it recently has been for the shortstop of the New York Yankees.

If Derek Jeter has been the poster boy for all that is good in baseball, his recent decline has made him poster boy for proving that even 17 seasons of integrity and achievement buys no immunity from unfair attack. No one is above reproach. For glass-half-empty talking heads, whatever one accomplishes is never enough.

Yet in focusing on Jeter's real, exaggerated, and imagined flaws and indiscretions, detractors prove less about the reality of their perceptions than about the certainty of their ignorance. Not realizing that virtually anything is provable if the focus is narrow enough, critics highlight petty imperfections and ignore the big picture of a career historically memorable and a life well-lived.

After all, didn't "Captain Clutch" hit only .270 last year? Hasn't his range at shortstop always been questionable? If he's so great, why hasn't he ever won an MVP? And how could a man just coming off the disabled list opt out of the All-Star Game self-indulgently claiming according to media reports mental and physical exhaustion? Doesn't Jeter "owe it" to the fans to at least attend the "Midsummer Classic?"

What Derek Jeter "owes" the fans is what any professional athlete owes the people who ultimately pay their salaries. And that is to play hard, to play fair, and Charles Barkley's comments notwithstanding, to be exemplary role models for children lacking such examples at home. And by any standard, "Mr. November" has done that and more.

Looking back at Derek Jeter's career, it is hard to fathom how his recent critics have been so blind. No, he is not the second coming of Babe Ruth and no he doesn't live on Mount Olympus. But he hardly has feet of clay either.

Since entering the league, he's been an all-star twelve times, won five Gold Gloves, and has won the Silver Slugger award as the outstanding offensive player at his position four times. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1996, the ESPY Best MLB player in 2007, and the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 2009. He holds the record for postseason hits, has the most hits of any active major leaguer, and is the all-time hits leader among those spending their careers fielding balls between second and third.

The man so roundly criticized for not tipping his cap at this year's All-Star Game has averaged 152 games for 17 seasons, holds the franchise record for stolen bases, has five championship rings, and is the only player to be named World Series and all-star MVP in the same season.

Derek Jeter, who at age 6 said that he would one day play shortstop for the New York Yankees, has undeniably become one the top four players at that position in the history of Major League baseball. As Bill Parcells said of another man in another sport, he will go to the Hall of Fame on roller skates. And all of these achievements have been earned without so much as a hint of impropriety.

Ironically, in seeking never enough perfection for himself, Derek Jeter has unfairly been judged by that same unattainable standard. Yet even so, in claiming that his "number one priority is to be a good person," he has continually conducted himself with grace, class, and charity. In the age of scandal and steroids, of wife beating and kids leaving, "The Natural" seems decidedly unnatural. And even though that doesn't seem to be enough for those critical of his reserved nature, his age-diminished skills, and his lack of attendance at an exhibition game, it seems to have been enough elsewhere.

For in karmic recognition of all he has been, on the day he became only the 28th player to reach 3,000 hits, the universe seemed to have acknowledged this and smiled.

Comments and Conversation

July 22, 2011

Rob Fox:

Best one yet, keep ‘em coming Neil!

July 22, 2011

Lenny Bernstein:

As it has been said,”it takes one to know one”. In this case Bright writing about an amazing professional is so appropriate as the writer himself is quite the professional when putting words to a story! Glad to see him in this venue!

July 22, 2011

George Passarelli:

Another Picasso by Bright
Keep them coming

July 24, 2011

Arnold Komitzky:

Neil Bright is a super new contributor.
I can’t wait to read more from him!

July 24, 2011

Ken Hurwitz:

Very refreshing to read such an eloquently written sports commentary. With all the negative tabloid blathering in sports, it’s great to read perspectives that true sports fans can identify with. Looking forward to Mr. Bright’s next piece.

July 27, 2011

Joe Klimasiewfski:

Great exploration of the development of the career of a great athlete.Thank you Mr. Bright.

August 5, 2011

Joe Goryeb:

Right on the money, Neil! People forget so easily and can’t wait to knock people down. What more could anyone ask for then to have a career like Jeter and carry yourself with as much class. Anytime he is interviewed about his personal accomplishments, the first words out of his mouth are about the team and his teammates. It’s been a pleasure watching him every day since 1995.

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