To be a New Yorker in the epoch of Derek Jeter is also to have been, most likely, a fan of Seinfeld, whose last original episode aired in 1998, Jeter’s second season. Except that for many of us, “fan” is not a strong enough word… for the sitcom, I mean.
More like acolyte. Disciple. Zealot.
We Seinfeld worshippers can be an annoying lot but, thankfully (for the rest of you), we are largely confined to one heavily overpopulated—and self-absorbed—island. But we are of the belief that there is a Seinfeld moment for (almost) every one of life’s situations. Which is why, as the shortstop for the New York Yankees (“No. 2, Derek Jeter...No. 2”) takes his victory lap around Major League Baseball in this, his 20th and final season, we notice that baseball fans are divided into two camps: You’re either Jerry’s mom, Helen Seinfeld, or you’re Newman:
HELEN: I want to know what you did to this guy that he's after you.
JERRY: I didn't do anything.
HELEN: Well you must have done something.
JERRY: No, he just doesn't like me.
HELEN: Doesn't like you? How can anyone not like you?
JERRY: You know, it seems impossible.
HELEN: Doesn't like you? How can that be?
JERRY: Ma, I know this may be hard for you to understand but I am sure there are many people who do not like me.
HELEN: Huh, Jerry, don't say that.
JERRY: It's true.
HELEN: No, it's not true. You're a wonderful, wonderful boy. Everybody likes you. It's impossible not to like you. Impossible. Morty?
MORTY: Maybe some people don't like him. I could see that.
Now, before you rush directly to the Comments section, yes, the “guy” to whom Mrs. Seinfeld and her son are referring to in this scene was Crazy Joe Davola. But if you knew that, then you also are well-aware that Jerry’s main antagonist throughout most of the series, the only person, in fact, who truly loathed him, was the portly postal worker Newman.
There are Newmans aplenty circling the not-yet-expired corpse of Jeter’s pinstriped career. On Tuesday Deadspin unfurled a “Hater’s Guide To Derek Jeter” because, well, the time had come. Earlier this season Katie Nolan, whose New York-based sports show, Crowd Goes Wild, spent about as much time in the big leagues as Kevin Maas (look him up) before being designated for assignment, made a video greeting to all of Jeter’s “illegitimate children.”
You’re a wonderful boy, Derek Jeter. You have played more games (2,685) than anyone in the history of baseball’s most storied franchise, more than Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and even Lou Gehrig, whose renown is partially based on his perfect attendance record, and you still have yet to be ejected from a game. Not once. In almost 20 seasons.
You’re a wonderful boy. You have never fed the unquenchable hunger of the city’s two tabloids, the New York Post and the Daily News, for scandal. Sure, you’ve dated a lot of spectacular women—all of them chronicled on Page Six—and somehow managed to remain a bachelor into your fifth decade, but so what? Some people look at Jessica Biel or Adriana Lima and see eternal beauty, but perhaps you saw “man hands” or “close talker.” That’s your prerogative.
Wonderful. You never once relented from referring to your team’s former owner, George Steinbrenner, as “Mr. Steinbrenner” (not unlike George Costanza, by the way) or its former manager, Joe Torre, as “Mr. Torre.” You never seem to misspeak to the media, much less be misquoted. You not only have more career hits than any other Yankee, you have more than all the thousands of men who’ve ever played in the big leagues with the notable exceptions of Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner and Carl Yastrzemski—and those last two you’ll pass by the end of this month.
And yet when you came to bat for the first time on Tuesday night in Minneapolis at the All-Star Game, someone yelled, “Over-rated!” (Who let A-Rod in?)
You then went two-for-two to conclude your Major League career with a .481 batting average in 13 All-Star Games. Which is second-best all-time.
But this is exactly why, as remarkably non-polarizing as you are—while spending your entire career with one of the two or three most polarizing franchises in sports—that you are so polarizing. Why the legion of Newmans keeps swelling.
In the words of Jerry Seinfeld’s closest friend, George (and, by the way, wasn’t Jeter’s closest friend on the Yankees named Jorge?), “It’s not you, it’s me.”
It’s me, and people like me. People who can’t help but go Helen Seinfeld on your career and character. There’s an entire army of Newmans in the apartment downstairs, beady-eyed and quick-to-perspire, who are so tired of our insufferable obsequiousness. They have had it with the year-long farewell tour at every stadium you visit (so are you, by the way, but they don’t care) and of the hagiography disguised as a Nike ad—or is it the other way around?
They want you to bomb on-stage, or for Kenny Bania to kill after you bomb. Oh, they would love nothing more than to nail you for mail fraud.
It’s too easy for them to denigrate, if not you, at least your career. You were never actually “the best” at anything, statistically. You led the American League in Hits for two seasons, but beyond that, what? Home runs? RBI? Steals? Did you ever even once win a Most Valuable Player award? You are second in one career category that we know of—infield hits, behind your current teammate, Ichiro Suzuki (will baseball subject us to a third straight unctuous year-long Yankee retirement lap with Ichiro next season?)
So what if you own five World Series rings? So does Luis Sojo.
The haters use “clutch” as a term of derision with you.
But you know what, Derek? Helen is right, and you know it. Besides, you really are a lot like Jerry. You’re good, but you’re not nice to a fault. You’ve never cared if the Newmans liked you. There was a telling moment last Sunday, as you went to hand a baseball to a little girl in Baltimore—Elaine Benes was from Baltimore!—as you stood in the on-deck circle in Camden Yards. As you reached over the barrier to hand the pixie the baseball, a man in an Orioles jersey seated in the front row attempted to intercept it.
And with a lightning swiftness, you pulled the ball back (“No soup for you!”). And the look on your face was one of mild contempt, not unlike what Jerry felt for Newman. And, too, you must have been thinking as a man in an Orioles jersey surrendered a baseball that you directed into the stands to a child, Didn’t he learn anything from Tony Tarasco and Jeffrey Maier?