Frank Harris III
4:52 PM EDT, August 29, 2012
Once upon a time in baseball, it was easy to enjoy greatness.
Today, in the shadow of performance-enhancing drugs (known as PEDs), enjoying the players who stack up awe-inspiring numbers just ain't easy. Players, rightly or wrongly, are under the shadow of PEDs and hindered by recent news such as that of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, who were both having stellar seasons before being suspended after testing positive for PEDs.
ESPN's Skip Bayless, of "First Take," recently brought New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter into the equation, questioning how Jeter was doing it.
"It" being leading the majors in hits, doubling his home run output and swinging right up there among the leaders in batting average at the age of 38, an age when most players start to decline.
Performance-enhancing drugs was what Bayless was hinting at. Although baseball has done much to address the use of PEDs, the problem evidently remains as some athletes continue to try to beat age, time and the drug tests — so I understand the healthy skepticism of Bayless.
It is the healthy skepticism of a journalist.
Still, the thing is, well, this is not Cabrera, Colon, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez or any of the many other players caught or suspected of using PEDs to enhance their performance.
This is Derek Jeter.
Healthy skepticism aside, it never crossed my mind, never entered the realm of my consciousness that Jeter is doing it — having a great year — other than the right way. I chalked it up to him working hard and making the necessary adjustments as he grew older.
That is to say, I believe in Derek Jeter. I believe in his love for the game. I believe in his work ethic. I believe in his character. I believe he is too much a student of the game and a person who appreciates the game too much to seek and gain an unfair advantage.
I also believe he respects his parents too much to do anything to disappoint them
I say this not having met the man, but having seen the dignity and class with which he carries himself in the public eye.
I realize it is a leap of faith in this day and age to declare your belief in an athlete. There is always the behind-the-scenes story, the startling revelation that could break tomorrow, next week or years later that could make you regret your faith and make you feel just plain silly.
Consider the names McGwire and Sosa and how they had that magical summer in '98 when they lit up the game with their slugging prowess in their chase for Roger Maris' then-elusive home run record. Who now doesn't think their magic came from PEDs?
But this is Derek Jeter.
Perhaps my belief in Jeter is a throwback to my youth, when I lived and breathed baseball and thought all that was good was baseball, and all that was baseball was good.
It was a time, once upon a time, when it was easy to enjoy greatness.
There was Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and Ron Santo of the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago. When they would play my favorite team at that time — the St. Louis Cardinals, who had Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.
The whole league was filled with greatness — Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Rod Carew, Sandy Koufax and so many others.
I was just a boy, but I truly appreciated their greatness. I thought they would play forever. But like all ballplayers, age and time caught them in a rundown and tagged them out so a new generation of players could take their place.
A new generation will arrive that will have us enjoying collective greatness without reservations or regrets. For now, I hold on to watching Jeter in his greatness as he plays out this year and whatever years he has left before time and age catch him in the last great rundown — and tag him out.
Till then, with no reservations, I'm enjoying the greatness of Derek Jeter.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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