All-Star Game front for Jeter love-fest

Baseball, more than any American sport, is all about legacy, history and stats. Those attributes make the MLB All-Star game not just a fun exhibition, but a celebration of our collective pastime.

The MLB’s history goes back to 1876, but in 2014 the story was all about two modern pillars of the sport. For first ballot Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and sometimes infamous commissioner Bud Selig, it would be their last All-Star game in their current roles.

Both men, who have quite differently shaped the story of baseball in the last two decades, announced before this season that they would retire at its completion. Selig will never be considered a popular or respected figure, but the summer festivities showed Jeter may go down as one of the most beloved baseball players of all time.

The game itself was just a backdrop for a fawning session for the ages. On the Fox broadcast, every replay and sideline interview was all about Jeter. Even on the field players were grinning and joking, back slapping and hand shaking, everyone centered on the Yankee shortstop.

Jeter didn’t disappoint with his play either. While only in the game for three innings, he went 2–2 with a double and single. For All-Star game achievements Jeter notched a few for the record books: oldest player to have multiple hits in the All-Star game (40 years old) and second best all-time batting average at .481 (13–27).

All-Star games have become a singular moment in a season to honor the greats in sport. Maybe the first truly memorable one was the NBA 1992 All-Star game where Magic Johnson returned after the HIV virus forced his early retirement. It was more than a once-in-a-lifetime sports moment; it transcended its medium and became a cultural lesson about disease and perseverance. It also had a storybook ending with Magic winning the MVP award, leading the West to victory behind 25 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Even Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas, playing for the rival East, cheered and supported Magic on that night.

Baseball noticed that feel-good moment and has duplicated the effect multiple times now with their mid-summer classic. Cal Ripkin Jr. was in his 19th and final All-Star game when Alex Rodriguez famously switched to third base (the game was in Seattle, A-Rod’s team at the time) to let Ripkin Jr. start at shortstop. Ripkin Jr. was named MVP at the end and it remains a classic moment that embodies good sportsmanship and love of the game.

Fast forward a decade-plus and one finds another celebrated All-Star send-off, and like Jeter, this person wore pinstripes. In 2013 Yankee’s closer Mariano Rivera stepped on the All-Star rubber one last time. The game was a shutout victory for the American League and Rivera was named MVP. He was the first reliever to win the award, and just like Jeter this year, Rivera was buffeted by standing ovations and palpable respect.

Unlike Magic, Ripkin Jr. and Rivera, Jeter did not win MVP honors in his final All-Star appearance. The award went to Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who just edged out Jeter’s performance with a triple and go-ahead double to propel the AL to their second straight All-Star victory. Trout, 22, became the second youngest All-Star MVP, the only younger player was Ken Griffey Jr. who won the award in 1992.

MLB has made moves to fashion their All-Star game into more than just a celebration and exhibition. Since 2003, the winning league is granted home field advantage in the World Series. The objective is to make the game more competitive, and recent years seem to show that home field is a relevant factor for winning. The last five World Series’ have been won by the team with home field advantage.

Jeter, a five-time World Series champion, will certainly go down as one of the greatest skill players the game has ever seen. His accolades include 14 All-Star selections, five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers and the all-time hits lead for both shortstops and the Yankee franchise.

You know you’re truly great when you sit atop a list containing Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle,
Joe Dimaggio and Yogi Berra. Jeter not only has the top spot on that list, he has nearly 700 more hits than second place Gehrig.

For a team that inspires near universal hatred outside of New York, Jeter’s popularity is simply astonishing. He was homegrown and earned the world’s respect through his play on the field. It will probably be another generation before we see someone with the physical, mental and leadership abilities of Jeter. The rest of the world is just hoping the Yankees don’t draft that next guy.