American League manager John Farrell has received a lot of criticism over his decision to bat future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter lead-off in his last All-Star Game. Critics argue that on a team of the best players in the league, Farrell is choosing the “worst” All-Star to hit first. With the victor of the All-Star Game winning home field advantage in the World Series, Farrell must manage to win the otherwise meaningless exhibition game. Thus, Jeter should be hitting at the bottom of the order. It is not often I agree with, and rise to the defense of, a Boston Red Sox manager, but in this case he has made the correct call. Batting Jeter lead-off is the right decision for Jeter, the American League, the fans and the game of baseball itself.
Jeter is going to the Hall of Fame. He will be a first ballot inductee. He will get a monument in Monument Park alongside Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. His number 2 will be retired, the final single digit number to be retired by the Yankees. He has 14 All-Star appearances. He has a over 3,400 hits and a lifetime .311 average. He has five World Series rings. He has all the hardware a player could ask for: the Rookie of Year, an All-Star MVP, a World Series MVP, 2 Hank Aaron Awards, 5 Gold Gloves, and 5 Silver Sluggers. Every honor, accolade, achievement and award has already been earned by Jeter. His legend and legacy is more secure than Fort Knox. This is a special player in his final rodeo.
The game of baseball has not had a star and face of the game like Jeter since Mickey Mantle. Jeter is beloved not just by his hometown Yankee fans, but by fans across the sport. If you are a baseball fan, you are a Jeter fan. He has inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of young players across the United States and the world. Fellow All Stars, Brian Dozier and Troy Tulowitzki wear number in 2 in honor of the Yankee Captain. Mike Trout, the all around best player in the game, reveres Jeter, having grown up in New Jersey with a poster of the Yankee shortstop on his bedroom wall.
Jeter’s two decades in baseball spans perhaps the most controversial and antagonist time in the history of the sport. He made his major league debut in the strike-shortened 1995 season, a season after the World Series was canceled for the first time in nearly a century. He played at the height of the steroid era, yet remained not just clean, but above the fray and beyond suspicion. He saw the analytic change in the way we view the game, and despite sabermetrics best attempts to prove he wasn’t the player we thought was, our eyes saw through the math. Many supposedly better shortstops have come and gone over the years, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Rey Sanchez, Jose Reyes, et al, while Jeter has remained.
Jeter has benefited greatly from baseball and baseball has benefited greatly from him. Throughout every steroid controversy, every congressional hearing, every failed test, every labor strife, every controversy, Jeter remained steadfast. His name never scrolled the bottom of the television showing his arrest for DUI or a failed drug test or weapons charges as we see with so many other players. Jeter has never seen his comments lend themselves to controversy or been forced to apologize for a wayward tweet. Jeter simply exemplified what we look for in a baseball hero, a steadfast work ethic that leads to success while remaining humble. Jeter has never forgotten that the name on the front of the jersey is all that matters.
Thus, the decision to bat Jeter in the one hole is the easy and correct choice. He bats first, the fans get to cheer, baseball gets to send one of it’s greatest heroes off into the sunset in style. As for the game itself and the all important home field advantage? Well, when was the last time a lead-off hitter was the difference in an All-Star game anyway? Jeter isn’t going to play the whole game. He will mostly play only three to four innings and get a maximum of two at-bats. Even if he strikes out both times, the rest of the American League All-Star team has 25 other outs to win the game. No, this game will not be lost by Jeter leading off. So Farrell is correct in making the easy choice and letting the undisputed star of this game get his due. Those critics who can’t see that are truly blind to what the game of baseball is all about.