Derek Jeter has been a darned good ballplayer; but the media hype surrounding his final appearance at the All-Star Game transformed him into a god. Is progressive guilt lurking here?
My son is a college baseball player, so I was drawn into watching rather more of the All-Star Game on Tuesday evening than I would have done otherwise. Not a bad game, for that matter… but I found myself remembering the passage in Nineteen Eighty-Four where the orator—on abrupt orders—changes in mid-sentence the enemy with whom the nation is said to be at war. The crowd continues to cheer or howl on cue, as if nothing had happened.
Are we nearing that point? Do people do any of their own thinking any more, or are they just component throats and lungs in a huge mass whose nerves all lead to a microphone? The population of Latin America has for some time now—for decades—been so readily ginned up by highly marketed spectacles that riots like those during the recent World Cup finals in Brazil and Argentina are commonplace.
Are we Americans, too, mere drums whereon our media choreographers play? For I’m certain that Jetermania is a somewhat media-produced phenomenon—not because Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter doesn’t deserve his All-Star honors, but because fervent adoration flows so thickly from broadcast booths even when No. 2 is nowhere in sight.
I have absolutely no grudge whatever against Derek Jeter. He seems a nice enough guy, and a good ballplayer. He’s never been Ozzie Smith at shortstop, however; and his offensive stats, adjusted for the big boppers arrayed behind him and the hitter-friendly dimensions of both Yankee Stadiums, would be inferior across the board to Craig Biggio’s, who played on some very bad teams and mostly in a “pitcher’s park”. Biggio, of course, has been primly snubbed for undeclared sins by baseball’s broadcast elite in two cycles of Hall of Fame voting, despite having topped 3,000 hits: an affront unique in baseball history. Chipper Jones (my son’s childhood favorite: he once signed a ball for the boy through the window of his Escalade) will likely not be treated so rudely when he reaches Hall eligibility. Yet when Chipper made his last All-Star appearance a couple of years ago, he drew all the attention of an aging actor milking a bit part in a B-movie.
This is why the Jeter phenomenon—as a pop-cultural/media construct—fascinates and mystifies me. Pete Runnels and Frank Thomas (the Polish Frank Thomas) had half of Jeter’s at-bats before their tight-wad owners let them go in the expansion drafts of the early sixties, where they were soon put out to pasture in favor of youth. Most of their offensive numbers would far surpass Jeter’s if doubled (as some already did, without the doubling)… but Lady Luck wasn’t on their side. Jeter has been a really good ballplayer in really favorable circumstances. He also appears to be quite business-like in the clubhouse, which falls under the heading of professionalism. Bravo.
Why, though, the concerted and aggressive effort—painfully obvious throughout the All-Star Game—to transform Derek into a god? Why has he become the Barack Obama of baseball?
The analogy is not whimsical. It is quite unjustified, I hasten to say, at the personal level. Jeter is no narcissist in search of worshipers. He constantly douses the fanatical zeal of his servile interviewers in lukewarm blandness (“How could you be so great? How does it feel to have wings?” “I just come in and do my job. I have a lot of great guys around me.” “Did you hear that, everyone? Such modesty! Such humility! I’m feeling faint….”) And, to be sure, everybody who plays in New York is magnified, for better or for worse. Mickey Mantle was actually the target of caustic harassment as Joe DiMaggio’s replacement until the mob got wind of Roger Maris—whose media-management skills were about as smooth as Richard Nixon’s. Jeter in Kansas City would have ended up about where quondam Ranger second-baseman Michael Young has settled in the public psyche: a talented “also-ran”.
But would he have been allowed to remain in Kansas City? The Jeter Mystique… what is it, exactly? The Left naturally approves that Derek has led the life of a discreet urban playboy rather than reproducing Craig Biggio’s Catholic family-man image. Jeter contributes to the “right” candidates, as well (wink-wink). And, of course, there’s his race…
But what precisely is his race? With a black father and a white mother, he is far less African than, say, Fred McGriff, another star of the nineties never hinted to have any connection with steroids yet utterly disdained by the baseball media. The chattering class will quickly tell you that a McGriff-like leanness is no proof of innocence; yet the same people look askance at Biggio’s Popeye forearms while never uttering a peep about the slender Jeter, whose career substantially overlapped these same tainted years.
To be sure, the “baseball writers” (as they were once called) have always been a vengeful lot. Maybe Jeter has paid for a lot of rounds at the bar. Alienated hacks made Jim Rice cool his heels in the Hall of Fame’s corridors for a good twenty years before opening the door, all because he ruffled their feathers.
But today’s talking heads are not your grandad’s baseball writers, pecking away on their Edison with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth. Even your dad didn’t know their like. All are now college-educated, and many are ultra-political. One need do no more than mention the names of Keith Olbermann and Bob Costas in this context, figures perhaps associated more with progressive causes—thanks to their strident on-the-air advocacy—than with the sports desk. That pinkish-reddish political stripe currently runs very deep in the profession, so deep that I can’t help wanting to lift coattails for a peek. I noticed a very odd and wholly gratuitous reference, for instance, in Peter Gammons’ pre-game interview of Yaciel Puig to Cuba’s having “the highest literacy rate in the world” (courtesy of Fidel’s board of statistics: no double-checking needed). Later, during the actual game, Joe Buck—with about the same level of gratuitous incoherence—mentioned the number of young Cuban ballplayers leaving the island in droves “for whatever reason”, as if their departure were incomprehensible.
Rush Limbaugh has lately opined—with inerrant perception, I believe—that the relentless effort to render the word “redskin” radioactive is among the first minuscule moves in a campaign to take over our thoughts. The red pawn has been edged forward one modest square; but very soon, we will be sold on the notion that expressing the slightest opposition to raising the minimum wage or opening the border or surrendering all private firearms is viciously racist and makes sensitive children burst out crying across the nation. Checkmate.
Is Jetermania a similar feint or gambit in this grim game of thought control? People seem to be falling out of the woodwork who claim that Derek Jeter’s photo was tacked over their childhood bunk. Really? I know that Barry and Sammy and Arod and Roger Clemens have all been permanently tarnished by PED’s; but in the mid-nineties, what kid knew their secret, and what kid would have chosen Derek over one of them? Since when have fans in Minnesota spilled their beer cheering for a Yankee? But the other night, in the Twin Cities, everybody was cheering Jeter as though he were the Pope (if you can recall a time and place when people cheered the Pope).
So just what’s going on here? We’re certainly rearranging our memories as directed, like the crowd in Nineteen Eighty-Four. (“No, that wasn’t a Gary Sheffield poster in my playroom—that was Derek! Wasn’t it? I’m sure it was!”) The Olbermann-Costas-Gammons cadre has dutifully fed us the message from opening capital to closing period… but what, then, is the real message? A message that Jeter himself, God love him, must be scratching his head over?
Can it be as simple as some kind of “black father/white mother” stereotype? Who would want to sell us that, and why? I can understand a political correspondent warming to someone who is “articulate” rather than to Al Sharpton or Shirley Jackson Lee; but sports reporters hang out with hicks, rubes, and thugs of all descriptions in locker rooms, among whom the white Southern boys usually chew and spit (alas) more than anyone. And if you’re going for articulate, by the way, Derek doesn’t really give much of an interview.
The following is all I can come up with. Progressives actually do not like black people, or indeed most minorities: this much has been evident to me for a long time. They tend to believe in God, those stupid minorities. They oppose abortion. They denounce gay marriage. They support the military. They don’t hang out at Starbuck’s. And they have so many damn children that our poor Mother Earth is struggling to breathe! No cause has been more fundamental to progressivism, during its century or so of history in this country, than limiting birth rates, especially among the poor. The rationale has differed from era to era. In the Twenties it was overtly racist: certain groups were simply condemned to poverty by their genetic material, and were thus best culled from the breeding stock of healthy citizens. In the future it will become more a matter of ecological necessity: the dependent classes consume far more than they produce, and allowing their birth rates to burn up valuable resources without offering any return will suffocate the planet.
The progressive is thus (I can only suppose) subliminally attracted to the person of mixed racial heritage as an “acceptable” version of the “planet-killers”. The masses themselves must go. After enough of their votes have been bought to secure the elite’s power indefinitely, they can be sterilized through “health care” or thinned out by a “chance” pandemic or—in a crude Stalinist version of the strategy—starved to death. What must life be like when one wakes up and goes to bed with such thoughts as that in one’s head? Imagine the guilt, if one is not wholly insane! The desire to reach out to the doomed race in an elaborate show of affection that redeems one in one’s own eyes must be very strong. The mixed-race model is that outreach. Barack Obama, Derek Jeter, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey… and compare photos of Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett, and Eric Holder to some shots of Clarence Thomas, Herman Cain, and Alan Keyes. In the former faces, I believe the progressive sees African DNA preserved in combination with his own: the hybrid being of the future, when we all at last become one. He does not see—does not have to look at—the swarthy races that he fully intends to exterminate, with “humane” policies if not with a gun.
Am I reading far too much into Jetermania? I may well be; maybe I’m losing my own mind as I listen to people chatter who don’t know squat about their subject and watch them genuflect to secular saviors after mocking a faith that ennobles mind and soul. Maybe they’re just pompous, babbling idiots fit only to be ignored. But it’s becoming dangerous to ignore idiots.