Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
--Simon and Garfunkle, "Mrs. Robinson"
Last night’s MLB All-Star game was a bore. It started with a “titans of baseball” worthy pitcher’s duel, as Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, Cliff Lee, and Dave Robertson twirled against each league’s starting line-up, and then became just another game as “big” names like Tyler Clippard and Miguel Montero entered the field. In the end, the NL beat the AL 5-1 and I was in bed by 10:30. Who is complaining?
Well, I guess I am. It has become standard the past few days to gripe about the number of ball players who declined their invitation to play in the game. Many were injured, Alex Rodriguez and David Price, for instance, and were unable to play. Some had pitched too recently to pitch again on Tuesday (but don’t tell Cy Young that), such as Justin Verlander, and CC Sabathia. Still others were simply overwhelmed by the day-to-day pressure of their job and needed a break, like Derek Jeter.
I am no fan of the Yankees, you may know, but I have always had a healthy amount of respect for team captain Jeter. He always seemed to play the game the right way, he always seemed to be in the mix during the biggest moments of the biggest games, he always seemed like a winner, but, more importantly, he always seemed like a winner who won with integrity. No cheating, no scandal, no negativity seemed to touch this apparent paragon of America’s game. Until now.
Just this past week, Derek Jeter reached a milestone in the career of any great hitter. He reached 3000 career hits, a feat only 25 or so other ballplayers have done in the more than 100-year history of the game. And he did it in spectacular fashion, going 5 for 5 on the day, driving in his team’s winning run, and hitting a home run for number 3000 (something that only he and Wade Boggs have ever done). He was voted onto the AL roster despite his less-than-stellar .270 average, his meager three home runs, and his paltry 24 RBI. But, no matter. He’s Derek Jeter, and that alone qualifies him for the All-Star team. He is, and always will be, a star. After all, one of my own baseball gods, Cal Ripken, made plenty of All-Star teams during years when he was not performing at his best. It is the nature of the fan vote. Often name recognition is enough to get one elected, even when one is flirting with the Mendoza line.
However, Mr. Jeter, citing the mental and physical toll of his quest for three thousand hits, declined to play in the game. He even declined to show up in Arizona for the festivities. Wow. I guess, when you reach a certain age, and you’re coming off of a calf injury, and you just went through the struggle to reach a milestone in your sport under the watchful eye of the voracious New York media, you might feel a bit spent. Sure, take the game off. But, come on, at least show up for the introductions. The people love you. Give them some love back. Very disappointing, team captain, very disappointing.
Yet, there is more. Many players, as I mentioned, could not or did not play. I believe there were roughly sixteen. Of those sixteen who bowed out of the game, four followed D. Jeter’s lead and neglected to show up for the game at all. Of those five (Jeter included), four were members of the New York Yankees. Is that a mere coincidence? Or is it indicative of an organizational sense of superiority? Was it an indication of personal integrity that the dugout was full of players who were not going to play but still appeared (it is an honor to be selected, isn’t it?), but that eighty percent of the no shows held roster spots on perhaps the most arrogant organization, not just in sports, but, perhaps, all the world?
Again, I have no love for the Yankees…and I probably have less now than I did yesterday morning. But, to be fair, I am probably looking for reasons to hate them. I suspect one day, when my perfect nightmare comes to pass, that the Yankees will merge with the New England Patriots to form the most loathsome, despicable, arrogant franchise in the entire universe. Hell, they might even ask Man U to join them. But, for now, I can despise them separately, and continue to take every small piece of mildly negative news about them and turn it into a significant indication of how awful they are, not just as a franchise, but as people. Okay, maybe I have crossed a line, there. Strike that last bit. Except for…no, no, just forget it.
If I may get back to my main point here, so I can conclude this rambling screed: would the game last night have been better if Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez were sitting in the dug out? No. But, does the lack of appearance by multiple members of the team with the largest fan base in the entire nation indicate yet another disconnect between players and fans, between baseball and the sad sacks like me who love the game? Yes, it does. Yes, indeed.