By Jeb Lund
Derek Jeter re-injured his leg within three at-bats. After he missed the entire season due to an ankle break from the 2012 ALCS and another fracture in spring training, the Yankees rushed Jeter back to the majors. He had never played a full nine innings in the field while rehabbing in the minors. The team that expects to contend for a championship every year lost its captain again before he could even complete a game.
It's hard to know if anyone should be enjoying this.
Not the injury, of course. Though there are some sociopathic fan die-hards who probably revel in opponent injury, there is nothing amusing about pain. We tend to conflate athletes' bodies with machinery -- at least in part due to CGI commercials from Gillette, Gatorade and Nike that make the connection banally explicit -- thinking of body parts as essentially interchangeable components. Someone is "out with" an ankle or a knee, and at some point the routine use of that terminology makes us forget that human agony and terror are involved in those injuries. So, no, the injury itself is not fun at all.
That aside, however, this Yankees season has been a rich salad bar of schadenfreude for Yankee haters. Like going to a Sizzler and finding it teeming with humiliation and irony, signs flashing "CROW: ALL YOU CAN EAT" in the window. For every Hot Stove season in which the Yankees take and take and take from beloved homegrown talent, this year is the year in which they give and give.
A-Rod is out with a torn labrum again, while potentially facing suspension for buying performance-enhancing drugs from a Miami group called Biogenesis of America, a group so comically shady that Carl Hiaasen could have started it as a satire on Florida's moral and regulatory laxity. (If Biogenesis has a receptionist with a terrifying facial deformity or ungodly large frame, you'll know he was behind it.) Kevin Youkilis is out until the middle of August with a herniation of whatever gland it is that makes him such an insufferable wad. Mark Teixeira sprained his frown. Then there's all this. For years, fans have been waiting to enjoy the consequences of the Yankees' team assembly via buying older proven successes a la carte, and here it is, finally.
Then there's the matter of Jeter's return. First of all, the welter of overall team injuries surely played a part, with the front office hoping that a beloved star's long-awaited return might help overshadow the fact that the rest of the team keeps going down like old Majors, sainted aunts and cruel dowagers being stabbed, shot, poisoned and garroted in an Agatha Christie novel.
Secondly, the Yankees thought that they could jump the timetable on his rehab and omit meeting key benchmarks for stress and endurance on his leg. They thought bringing him up just to DH would be low impact enough that the rest could be skipped. "I guess you've gotta be careful even when it's just a DH situation," GM Brian Cashman said, remarking on Jeter's re-injuring his leg after only five innings. "If there's a lesson to be learned on that, moving up one day appeared to be a harmless circumstance at the time. But listen, you go through the [rehab] process for a reason." The process exists for a reason! My god, give this man a certificate of SCIENCE EXISTS FOR A REASON to commend the occasion.
Thirdly, Jeter has been collecting on a $17 million salary this year (nearly $7 million more than the highest paid Tampa Bay Ray, to put this in perspective) to diligently rehab an injury, theoretically return to playing a position at which he has a career -63.8 UZR and where that rating has been worsening every year since 2009, and, mostly to be 39 years old. That last item isn't particularly entertaining on its face, but to fans of teams with limited resources -- who have to make hard decisions between rewarding loyalty and legacy and spending wisely for the future -- there's a certain pleasure in affirming that no amount of blithely cut checks stops time.
In almost any other case, all of this would be delicious. Except, dammit, it's happening to Derek Jeter, who stands at No. 2 behind Mariano Rivera on the Least Intolerable Yankee list.
Yes, Derek Jeter does awful or irritating things. Slide for no reason. Hang out with Jorge Posada. Pump his arms and clap like a Little League coach saying, "Make some noise out there!" Mariah Carey. And, yes, he will never let go of his eternal tendency to throw absurd jump balls -- leaping up and further into the outfield to somehow assist the ball's flight downward and back into the infield, the second most bafflingly counter-intuitive act of baseball physics after sliding into first.
But the thing to remember about Jeter is that almost everything about him that sends fans of other teams crawling up the walls is not his fault. Jeter didn't decide that he singlehandedly won the 2001 ALDS against the A's. He never said that he has calm eyes, and he never said that he has an unparalleled sense of the moment. It is physically impossible for Derek Jeter to give himself the kind of lavish, passionate multi-tongued bath that is rigorously applied to him by Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Orel Hersheiser, John Kruk, Curt Schilling and a cast of thousands. Likewise, Derek Jeter is in no way responsible for the nationwide announcer tendency to use, as a cue to discuss Derek Jeter during ballgames in which his team is not playing, literally any word, phenomena or event detectable within the boundaries of the known world.
That's what makes Jeter's abortive comeback so difficult to process. All the circumstances but one are perfect for shameful joy. If you're a fan of practically any team but the Yankees, the Yankees are getting everything that they so richly deserve. Announcer blather aside, the only guy who doesn't deserve it is Jeter.
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