Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The cathartic booing of Derek Jeter

The scoreboard flashed the signal for mass booing
Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter announced today that the 2014 season will be his last as a player.

This will no doubt unleash a torrent of weeping and praise from the Yankee-centric media. I mean, even more weeping and praise than usual.

It’s not going to be an easy year.

Someone has to provide balance, and that person is me.

Here’s a tale from the archives about when Will and I went to see the White Sox play the Yankees, and St. Derek got the booing he so richly deserved. And yet, it was a cathartic experience for this long-suffering Mets fan.

So while Tom Verducci starts getting ready for an ocean of soft rain, he’s a story from 2010 to help soften the blow.

You have to realize that since my time covering Mickey Weston, I don’t boo athletes.

Except for two, that is.

Chipper Jones has simply inflicted too much damage on the Mets over the years to go without some sort of recognition, and we can’t exactly cheer him. But Chipper’s been broken down for the past several seasons, and it been a decade since he’s had Met blood on his hands.

The other, of course, is Derek F. Jeter.

Usually this booing occurs in the relative quiet of my home. But Will and I had the rare opportunity to voice our displeasure to Jeter in person on Frank Thomas Day, and this is the final report of that adventurous afternoon.

Chipper earned his boos for doing his job, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeter, however, is an on-going insult. He’s not just your basic Yankee, Jeter is Mr. Yankee, and truly is reflective of everything that is wrong with the franchise in the Bronx. Over-hyped, over-paid, over-exposed, over-credited and over-privileged.

We all know that the best shortstop on the Yankees is playing third base because it would be unthinkable to ask the Captain to change positions, despite the very obvious fact that Jeter has the range of a fire hydrant.

(Note: Here is another tale from the archives listing players who have more range than Derek Jeter)

Yet there are scribes like Ian O’Connor who give Jeter a complete pass. I can only assume O’Connor Tweeted this with a straight face: “Despite all the sabermetrics, there is a hell of a value in Jeter's ability to turn every ball hit right at him into an out. #yankees”

I pointed out to the brilliant folks at the Crane Pool Forum that a Major League shortstop is supposed to be able to turn every ball hit right to him into an out. 

Several posters noted that, in fact, minor-league shortstops also are expected to field the ones hit right at them.

Upon further thought, I realized that all players at every level are expected to turn routine plays, even people on my champion coed softball team.

Yet, Jeter has apologists like ESPN’s Joe Morgan, who watch him turn a routine six-bouncer into an out, and proclaim nonsense like “Jeter’s so good, he makes that play look routine.”

Witness the reaction to Jeter’s recent incident of shame against the Rays. A pitch came inside, Jeter leaned back and the ball hit the bat, obvious to all. That would be called a strike on most batters. Yet Jeter started carrying on as if he had not only been hit, but that the ball pounded his hand into hamburger. He was awarded first base, and the next batter hit a home run.

Replays indicated that Jeter is better actor than a shortstop. Exposed as a liar and cheat, Jeter told reporters after the game that it’s his job to get on base any way possible. Funny, but I don’t remember Yankee greats like Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mattingly flopping around and calling for the trainer when they wanted to get on first base. Usually they just hit the ball.

But the fawning New York media again gave Jeter a pass, citing his “intangibles.” Imagine how different the reaction would have been had the faker been Carlos Beltran.

Yes, Jeter has five rings. He’s also surrounded in the lineup by at least five All-Stars. Let’s see him take is legendary intangibles to Pittsburgh and take the lowly Pirates to the World Series. That will never happen.

So all of this pent-up angst had built up by the time Jeter stepped into the box against Sox starter Gavin Floyd in the first inning.


It was a long, heartfelt display that seemed to take the other people in the section by surprise. 

Frankly, I expected more people to join in. Sox fans were more interested in voicing displeasure toward Nick Swisher, a former under-achieving South Sider now over-achieving with the Yanks.

Jeter meekly popped out the right. This was followed by cheers, followed by Cousin Tim’s legendary “O-ver RA-ted, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap” taunt, which generated a far-greater response at Shea in 2008.

This scenario was repeated in the third and fifth innings, and involved Jeter strikeouts. They were swinging strikeouts, of course, since no umpire is bold enough to call Derek Jeter out on strikes.

We were started to get some cranky looks from a group sitting to our right, all clad in ugly Yankee T-shirts. I did not fear them because, like in a libel case, truth is the best defense and deep down all Yankee fans must know that the emperor isn't wearing any pinstripes.

I actually missed Jeter being announced in the eighth inning, and the delayed booing at Will’s prompting resulted in Jeter walking, and then advancing to second on a wild pitch.

Luckily we were afforded one last chance in the top of the ninth, when Derek the Menace strode to the plate with two out.

I let loose with the much-deserved booooooo when the Yankee fans to the right hatched an obviously premeditated defense. They were attempting to drown out my boo with cheers. It was six on one.

I would not, could not, lose this battle.

I produced a deep, dark, loud boooooooooooooo that arose from the depths of my blue-and-orange soul. It was cathartic. Every injustice endured at the hands of Yankee fans and their media fawners seemed to be set loose, released from my heart and through my cupped hands.

Everything from the McKenna Junior High taunts of 1977 and 1978 through the bat-tossing, Timo-jogging fiasco that was the 2000 Subway series and the Castillo pop drop of 2009 had broken loose.

This was, without a doubt, the longest, most resonating booooo I've ever produced. Philadelphia fans strive to create a booo this loud and long. And yet it was purifying all at the same time.

The weak cheers of the T-shirted gang of six were no match for my disgust and suffering. This boo rose from our perch in the upper deck to hover over U.S. Cellular Field like a fog. 

This was a boo intended to envelope Jeter in self-awareness and shame. I was expecting him to return to the Yankee bench, plop down – and see his teammates all slide away, disgusted.

I started to feel pity for Jeter. Deep down, he knows the truth. Hype doesn't outlast history.

I’m confident that all 10,000 of the Frank Thomas bobbleheads handed out that day nodded in agreement.

I easily outlasted the Yankee posers. Cleansed of decades of Yankee hurt, I could have continued into extra innings. And I feel the need to boo him no more.

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