Things haven't been so great in the usually charmed life of Derek Jeter this season. Except for his magnificent Saturday afternoon love-fest which saw the beloved New Yankees Captain join the exclusive 3,000th hit club, it's been a pretty tough year for New York's favorite son. Jeter seems like he has another hitting streak going on these days. Only these whacks, on his personal and professional image, are putting a lot of chinks in the shortstop's armor.
The contract talks with the Yankees, after last season, turned ugly with both sides drawing lines in the infield dirt. Jeter finally settled for a three-year $51 million agreement that ended with the 16-year veteran publicly alluding to GM Brian Cashman for leaking non-truths and rumors blaming Jeter for the difficult negotiations.
The tough-talk and final terms divided Yankees and Jeter fans alike. Jeter was called over the hill, over-rated and a big crybaby for holding the press conference to plant the blame for the leaks on the Yankees brass. On the pro-Jeter side, he was remembered as an ambassador for the sport and a true Yankee with a few more good years left in his 37 year-old body.
Hell, even the mansion he was building in Tampa got bad press. Neighbors of Jeter's new home called the structure a monstrosity and magnet for celebrity gawkers. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner blamed it for Jeter's declining play after the Boss' Son said some players would "rather be building mansions" than concentrating on the tasks at hand--namely baseball.
The punches would come faster and harder.
There was the early season slump which saw Jeter's average hover around .260--almost 50 points below his career average-- and an unfamiliar "Jeter isn't worth the money" outcry by fickle fans.
The "strained calf" injury which put Jeter on the 15-day DL--the first time since 2003-- and led some experts to question about whether or not he was rushing back too soon. He reluctantly took almost an extra week on the DL before returning to the Yankees just to be certain his calf was fully healed.
The injury led to a domino effect which started with Jeter being replaced by decent-hitting Eduardo Nunez, a Yankees 14-4 record and finally a return to first place in the AL East.
All the while, Jeter rehabbed. Some people--no, a lot of people-- wondered if the Yankees were actually even better without their superstar. Such blasphemy was unheard of until this year. Now Jeter looked like open game with more shots to follow.
The domino tiles kept falling. There was sports radio chatter about Jeter being bumped down to seventh in the Yankees lineup as soon as he got the 3,000th hit or being relegated to the DH. Jeter's brilliant 5-for-5 performance on the big day put an end to that gibberish--at least for now.
Then, during the Subway Series at Citi Field, conversations about the Yankees trading for the Mets shortstop--and new glamor boy-- Jose Reyes got hot and heavy. Again, Jeter was soaking his injured calf and ego in a Tampa whirlpool.
Even Jeter's magical day against the Tampa Bay Rays didn't end without a bloody nose.
The generous young man, Christian Lopez, who caught the $200,000 home-run ball and gave it back to Jeter like some fawning pup returning a chewed-up tennis ball struck a nerve with Jeter-haters.
Why give the ball back to a millionaire ball player without restitution?
Lopez did get to meet his idol, Jeter, got season tickets and a bunch of cool signed memorabilia, but now he allegedly owes the IRS income taxes on the "reward." Even Jeter fans are screaming that the player should somehow be responsible for the financially-strapped fan's tax burden. Hey, $14,000 to the Yankee is nothing more than a nice little tip from Jeter.
Now comes the All-Star Game and Jeter's over-emphasized responsibility to Major League Baseball.
Last week, people slammed Jeter for being elected to the game on the merit of fans who were infatuated by the number 3,000-- and not on his stats. These are the same people blasting Jeter for not appearing at the game. Funny, none of these people were as vocal when the deserving CC Sabathia wasn't selected at first.
Jeter admitted he lied during his quest for No. 3,000 and said he was "under pressure and stressed" trying to get the hit at Yankee Stadium and needs a little R&R during the break in the season.
He spent 17 days on the DL and wants to be healthy for the stretch run in September. Jeter also doesn't want to be a distraction at the All-Star Game if he can't play.
"It's unfortunate because I enjoy going to the All-Star Games," said Jeter. "I know I can be stubborn a lot of times when it comes to injuries, but I'm trying to be smart this time."
Isn't that what made Jeter the great team player he still is. He knows how far a three-day rest can help a player over the long run. Sure the Phillies Shane Victorino and Mets Jose Reyes were elected to the game and are still going-- even if they are injured. Great, and good for them, but is Jeter supposed to show up in street clothes, toss out the first ball and fly back to New York like some relic? Give Lopez the glory. That might be a better story.
Jeter's teammates still have his back.
"It really has to be something because nobody would like to be here more than him," said Robinson Cano, the Yankees second baseman who will be at the game. "It is what it is....I wish he were here, but health comes first."
If Jeter re-injured his tender calf in Phoenix this week, Yankees fans would be up in arms about the trip.
Let's all give Jeter the benefit of a doubt. He's earned everything he's accomplished in New York with class, humility and hard play. He knows this All-Star appearance could have possibly been his last and the decision couldn't have been an easy one.
For the uncontroversial Jeter, this season has been anything but.
I'm sure if the American League loses the game and the World Series home field advantage that goes with it, the blame will be squarely put on Derek Jeter's non-appearance--especially this year.