After Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium, a reporter asked Jorge Posada where he ranked Jeter among the great Yankees of history. Posada hesitated for several seconds as he looked out at the television cameras. Pondering this idiotic question, he looked confused. You could almost see his mind racing—“Jeter’s my friend, my teammate. Is he the greatest Yankee ever? What about Ruth? Gehrig? DiMaggio? Mantle?” Finally, he quietly replied, “I think he is number one.”
Keith Olbermann, on his ESPN show, played that segment, then used Posada’s tortured reply—made in loyalty to Jeter—to launch a long, gratuitous attack on Jeter’s career as a New York Yankee. He cited statistic after statistic to prove Jeter was nowhere near the greatest Yankee, as if anyone really made such a claim.
I had planned on some criticism of Jeter in this post, but as I watched Olbermann, I changed my mind. That post can wait. There was something ugly and extreme about Olbermann’s diatribe. Worse, he seemed to relish it; his body language and facial expressions projected a kind of sick pleasure in taking down Jeter. If the celebration of Jeter was overdone—and I think it was—then Olbermann’s over-the-top display of venom makes it look understated in comparison.
Olbermann provided no context to the celebration of Jeter. Throughout Jeter’s 20-year career, the sports world was riddled with reports of rape, gun play, domestic violence, and drunk driving. This says nothing of the hundreds of ballplayers who cheated by using steroids, and the dozens of players who routinely fail to run out grounders.
Jeter represented the opposite of all that. Fans and the media were happy to lavish praise on him. His opponents respected and admired him for his conduct on the field and off. And by the way, they admired his great playing ability. No, in terms of the latest sabremetrics, Jeter was not the greatest Yankee. But in those intangible and immeasurable attributes—instinct and flair for the dramatic—Jeter was second to none. I don’t recall any player, Yankee or not, who came close to anything like the “Jeter Flip.” He always seemed to come through, even after a mediocre last season and a final, meaningless game at Yankee Stadium. When Jeter drilled that walk-off single, Bobbie and I hugged and stood before the television for a long time, thrilled and sad that it was all over.
As for Keith Olbermann, I believe his rant says more about him than it does about Derek Jeter.