Friday, September 26, 2014

Now retiring...Numbah Two...Derek Jeter...Numbah Two...

I’m a lifelong Yankees fan. I may not have always loved the ownership or even most of my fellow fans — but my love of the team has never wavered.

I idolized players like Nettles, Gossage, Mattingly, Winfield and Guidry. I was thrilled and then repelled by the excesses of Steinbrenner. As a result, I not only knew what it was to be the toast of baseball, but also the joke. But after years of watching the team skid into irrelevance, I was cautiously optimistic as they slowly began to reverse engines in 1993. 

The farm system finally started to bear fruit, and in the absence of the suspended owner, baseball minds like Gene Michael and Buck Showalter oversaw the process of rebuilding a mess into a machine. Pieces like O’Neill and Bernie Williams became vital cogs in that engine, and when Joe Torre took over the reins in 1996, I had to bid a sad farewell to my beloved Donnie Baseball to make room for Tino. Pitchers such as Key, Cone and Pettitte turned a solid starting staff into something spectacular, and the bullpen — good Lord, they were buzzsaws in pinstripes— powered by the likes of Nelson, Stanton, Wetteland and the unbelievable Rivera. 

And then there was Jeter.

He wasn’t the flashiest man on the field — he was never going to have the acrobatic finesse of Ozzie Smith or the silky smooth sure hands of Omar Vizquel. 

He wasn’t a power hitter — so he wasn’t going to rack up huge sexy home run and RBI totals. 

And although he was a quick and smart baserunner, he wasn’t about to be the second coming of Rickey Henderson. 
But there was something about this kid. a confidence that never gave way to hotdogging; an intensity that never escalated into tantrums or showing up another player or official. The consistency and the character — playing every game as if it was the last, running hard on every batted ball — one could sense Jeter had a clear understanding that it was both an honor and privilege to be a major league baseball player, especially if you’re playing for the most storied sports franchise in the world.

When I watched Don Mattingly play, I always felt that he was a throwback to the classiest and dignified Yankees of all time: Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. By the time Charlie Hayes pounded his glove to catch the final out of the 1996 World Series,  I knew Jeter had taken over that role, I’m not saying he was as great a player as Gehrig or DiMaggio; that’s like comparing a modern day politician to one of the stony faces on Mount Rushmore — but the way he carried himself, the way he led the team and the way he was the gold standard of hard work leading to great accomplishments -- that's how he earned the right to mentioned in the same breath as those icons. 

Over the past twenty years, there simply hasn't been a better example than Derek Jeter of doing things the right way for kids, for fellow players — and even those fans who can recall the greats of previous eras.

The clowns who claim he was overrated and spout stats to make their tactless points are both silly and sad. Citing Jeter's power deficiencies is  utterly meaningless as he was never a slugger (despite winning five Silver Slugger awards). And I’ve never understood why anyone chooses to extol and embrace the WAR statistic. Why obsess with a stat that’s so intrinsically tied to when the players went on strike, and the hypothetical production of a “replacement player” compared to “an actual player”. Baseball did just fine with a myriad of numbers for over 100 years — unless they’re about to start adding WAR inscriptions to hundreds of plaques in the Hall of Fame, it’s more obnoxious than revealing.

Should we lambast Ty Cobb for not being a home run hitter? Of course not, because he was a player who hit for average (when he wasn't shredding middle infielders with his sharpened spikes). Oh, but one could then point out Jeter "only" has a lifetime batting average of .309. Guess what, my hypothetical hater -- considering how positively lackluster his final year was compared to any season from 1996 through 2012, that's pretty damn impressive. PS: turns out Mister Not-So-Great ends up with a higher lifetime average than other 3,000 hit club members such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Eddie Murray and Paul Molitor. 

All that said, I still don’t understand how one can question the overall greatness of Jeter. There are only five players in the history of the game who have amassed more hits. Only one player got to 3,000 hits in less games. And if Jeter hadn’t gotten injured at the end of 2012 (a campaign in which that overrated 38-year-old amassed 216 hits and a .316 average), he wouldn’t have missed practically all of 2013 and subsequently struggled to be (at best) an average player in his final year. One need not be a mathematician to realize he almost certainly would have made the top four. Of course, one may assume he still would have retired at the end of this season, but let's face it, who knows what he might have done if he hadn’t been hobbled for so long.

But as any Yankees fan as well as any true baseball fan will tell you -- Jeter is so much more than the sum of his stats.

Has the never-ending farewell tour been a little much? Oh Lord, of course it has -- I'm surprised they don't play Men at Work's "Overkill" when Jeter steps into the batter's box. But the overwrought complaining about it — it’s not just unseemly, it’s stupid. It reminds me of those tongue-cluckers who got all snarky way too soon during this summer's Ice Bucket Challenge trend (this was largely from people who couldn't quite comprehend that the celebrities participating were all donating mucho dinero as well). 

Considering what has dominated the sports pages over the past several weeks — which would you prefer your kids hearing about? Ray Rice or Derek Jeter? Then there's the fact that baseball is finally recovering from a couple decades worth of steroid fueled bad publicity due to the would-you-like-a-douche-nozzle-with-a-needle-up-your-ass poster boys such as Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez — man, do we HAVE to keep paying and playing that jerk again next year? Only over the past few years has there been a new generation of admirable and presumably clean players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper to inspire and excite the fans. But who’s typically the first name that comes to most minds when asked, “Who’s the one player you’re sure didn’t use PEDs?” Derek Jeter.

So bring on all the brand-fueled TV spots bidding Jeter adieu: I'll tear up at every one of them. I imagine my eyes will well up every time I see the replay of Derek Jeter getting the walk off hit to win his final game at Yankee Stadium. That Hollywood-style moment gets slotted next to indelible memories such as "the Flip", "Mister November", "the dive into the stands" and my favorite (because I was there to witness it in person) -- his 3,000th hit. I spent nearly half my life watching Derek Jeter do this team and this city proud, and I doubt I'll see another like him again. But...I said the same thing as Don Mattingly's career was winding down.  And there's always the one commodity shared and cherished by sports fans from coast to coast and beyond: 


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Invasion of Privacy Without Ever Leaving the Comforts of Your Mom's Basement

In the wake of the celebrity photo hacking scandal, I witnessed some rather disturbing perspectives that arose afterwards. Putting aside the idiotic extremists who seem to exist solely to remind us that there are still a large number of morons who continue to earn a handsome living (a.k.a. virtually every on-air personality at Fox News), it's the next group over that troubles me. These otherwise rational minded people haven’t out-and-out bashed the celebs who had their images hacked via their iCloud accounts — but they’ve espoused a mindset that declares, “if you don’t want nude pictures to get out there, just don’t take them at all.” 

Apparently, legal activities women choose to do in the privacy of their homes — others can now cluck their tongues, wag their fingers and shrug their shoulders because those celebrities used what has become common technology that is used universally. The pervasiveness of iPhone/iCloud usage has made the most egregious invasion of privacy acceptable.

If these women took these pictures old-school-style -- snapped polaroids and kept them in a shoebox under their bed — and someone broke into their house, stole the photos and published them, would it be the same? Would those who choose to take the “oh well, sucks for you” attitude towards these women still feel that way?  Almost more pious than apathetic, are these righteous head shakers living in some Nathaniel Hawthorne novel?

Let's assume they DO see things differently if a burglar physically broke into these homes and stole such deeply personal items. Since some fat-assed schmuck didn’t leave the comfort of his mom’s basement to prey on these people, does that makes it less disgusting, less horrible an act? In the era of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, hackers now are seen more as heroes than villains, and what should be a serious crime gets to be treated like a joke.

Using that limited mentality, I presume you shouldn't use a credit card online, because you’re making your credit card information available for anyone to steal. In fact, don’t engage in online banking at all, since all your financial information is out there and thus can be hacked, stolen and exploited. In fact, best to never lay hands on a computer keyboard ever, since once your digital footprint is out there, you’re now prey to everyone looking to commit identity fraud, credit card fraud and a complete invasion of privacy. And then, whatever happens happens, and you've only yourself to blame. Guess you had it coming. Long live both the bottom feeders and the NSA.

I don't think this is a grey issue; it’s clear-cut, black & white, no doubt about it. Saying that the women involved share any of the fault or responsibility for such heinous behavior -- no, it doesn't make you as bad as the scumbags who commit the crimes, but it sure as hell doesn't make you a good person either.