By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
Poor Derek Jeter.
The Yankee captain returned from the DL last night and went 0-for-4 against the Indians.
This isn't deserving of pity; guys have 'o-fer' nights from time to time.
No, I feel for Jeter today because The Sports World has decided he's an old horse in need of a friendly bullet and there's nothing he can do about it.
On the front page of ESPN.com: "O-for-Fourth"
Headlining SI.com: "No Fireworks"
The New York Times sports page: "Jeter is Back, but He's Not the Same"
All of the stories, essentially, say the same thing: Derek Jeter had a glorious prime, but it's probably over. When a man is early in his professional sports career he has slumps; when he's 37 bad days are a symptom of The End.
Every game he plays now reeks of some inevitability. Those covering nod knowingly at the struggles. If he had a double-dinger night tomorrow, they would smile small, sad little smiles . . . the way you do when your old, lame dog bounds out the door to greet you the way he used to as a puppy. You're delighted because, in that moment, you remember the two-mile runs and the half-hour games of fetch. But as he later lays, panting at your feet all you can see is the white hairs and heaving chest.
Jeter fans are guarding his life-support plug with stubborn loyalty. Like ol' Scruffy's owner, they're focused on the good times -- on The Diving Catch et al.
Why else would they vote him (2 HR, 20 RBI, .256 AVG, .320 OBP) as a starter on the 2011 All-Star team?
It makes you feel good that people appreciate how you play," he said of the selection. "Youre going to have years where your first half is going to be better than others. This year, Im not happy with my first half. But you still appreciate what the fans think about you.
Michael Sokolove wrote a story about Jeter's decline for NYT Magazine. This excerpt was highlighted by Deadspin ("Ifthe Yankees Don't Let Anyone Say Derek Jeter is Washed Up, He Won't beWashed Up"):
The prospect of this article did not sit well with the Yankees, or at least elements of its hierarchy. Jason Zillo, the team's media director, would not grant me access to the Yankees' clubhouse before games to do interviews. I have been a baseball beat writer, have written two baseball books and have routinely been granted clubhouse credentials for a quarter-century, as just about anyone connected to a reputable publication or broadcast outlet usually is. "We're not interested in helping you, so why should I let you in?" Zillo said, before further explaining that he views his role as a "gatekeeper" against stories the Yankees would rather not see in print.
Can you blame them?
Jeter is the face of the franchise. Take him permanently out of the leadoff spot and it's the end of an era. The Yankees can win without him -- they already have -- but it won't be a pretty scene when the city is forced to turn from the guy whose name is emblazoned on seven A.L. pennants and five World Series titles.
Even less can you blame Jeter.
The end of his playing career won't be a business transaction, it will be the biggest identity shift of his life. In this glaring light it seems too personal to watch.
But we will -- it's unavoidable. Maybe the tape will need to last another decade, a la Julio Franco. Maybe not. Either way, we'll all have a front-row seat.