Idol Worship: Why The Media (and America) Loves Derek Jeter

Kevin H. MacLeanCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2009

Unless you spent your Labor Day weekend in Antarctica or some other place that Sports Center doesn't yet broadcast, you may have noticed that Derek Jeter is about to pass Lou Gehrig on the New York Yankees all time hit list to become the sole Yankee with at least 2,722 hits.

Many have been frustrated, to put it kindly, by the extensive media coverage surrounding Jeter's pursuit of what they feel is a seemingly insignificant milestone when put against the backdrop of the whole of the baseball world.

Many site that if Jeter played on any other team this story would never even be brought up.  Which is true, but also irrelevant.  The Yankees name is the whole reason why Jeter's milestone is such a landmark event.

I am, of course, a Yankee fan.  And although Jeter has never been my favorite player on their teams through the years, no player more perfectly embodies the essence of the Yankees than Jeter.

There have been many great baseball players both in skill and character throughout the years but none seem to capture the love of the public as well as those under the bright lights of the Bronx.  Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle were all not only the biggest sports stars of their time, they were some of the biggest stars of their time in any medium.

In a time when the media kept a more friendly distance from players' personal lives the Yankee greats became a cult of personality that Derek Jeter now truly embodies.

Fans and reporters alike fell in love with Ruth's larger than life prowess and personality.  Dimaggio's humble roots and mercurial romance with Marilyn Monroe.  Mantle's small town sensibilities and home runs fit for no other place than the Big Apple.  

All of these Yankees thrived on the world's biggest stage and people could believe in them.  They were never caught up in scandal or crime.  Young children and grown men alike looked up to them as heroes.  It sounds corny and somewhat ironic to say now, but it was true.

Athletes today always seem to come with a human element.  With every aspect of their life open to criticism, we always find something about them not to like, some flaw in the design.  This is where Jeter's character becomes all the more admirable.

Despite living and playing under the most powerful of microscopes, Jeter has never so much as flinched from the pressure.  He continues to be a model of a champion and a person.  Someone that people everywhere can look up to and tell their children "that's the way it is meant to be done".

Other players respect him and even Boston sports writers venerate him.

Women are infatuated by him and men look in awe at his absolutely mythic dating track record.

Whether it is Rick Reilly melting down to a 12-year-old boy at the chance to read his mountainous pile of mail or Gene Wojciechowski claiming that Jeter is the one player that it would truly destroy baseball to have taken steroids sport writers seem as in awe of Jeter as anyone else.

And that is the second reason why Jeter's legacy is so important: steroids.

In a time in baseball when it is hard to admire anyone's milestones without the shadow of PEDs floating overhead, Jeter is the one player that fans look to as a symbol of pure baseball.  We of course can't know for certain that Jeter has played his whole career clean, but he may be the only player in baseball we feel safe believing in, that we trust.  A man who has played through the entire steroid era, did it right, and was a model of success and class the whole way.  A true champion.

So that is why it is so important that Jeter reach this milestone.  And that is why all of these Sports Center anchors are making fools of themselves by drooling over a grown man.

Jeter may not be the greatest player of his era, or even on his own team but he is the one who, like Ruth and Gehrig and Dimaggio and Mantle, is the type of player we all dreamed of being when we were young and hope to see our children become when we are old.  

That is why Jeter's 2,722nd hit is so important.


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