There are two types of baseball fans: Those who love the New York Yankees, and those who hate the Yankees. A more polarizing professional sports franchise in America you will not find.
As such, it makes some sense that we're seeing polarization in the coverage of the retiring Derek Jeter's final days in pinstripes. There appear to be two schools of thought driving the myriad career retrospectives we've been seeing: Jeter is a god, or he's an overrated product of the New York media machine.
The latter perspective is particularly puzzling to anyone who knows even a little bit about New York media. Nowhere else in the world is a celebrity's every move more scrutinized for the purpose of exposing and exaggerating every single imperfection, on and off the field, the ultimate goal being to discredit and disgrace.
Overrated? If anything, Derek Jeter is grossly underrated, and whether you love the Yankees or hate them, you're a fool if you have anything but love for Derek Jeter and all for which he stands. There will never be another player quite like him, and he deserves our eternal respect.
That relentless search for any imperfection? Here's what it turned up on the field: He's not among the all-time greats as a defensive shortstop. Here's what it turned up off the field: Pretty much nothing.
Think about that. The guy has been the most recognizable athlete in the most harsh and unforgiving media market in the world for a couple decades now, and the latter half of his career has played in concert with the explosion of social media, making it that much more difficult to get away with even the most minor indiscretion. Yet the closest thing we've seen to a controversy with Derek Jeter at the eye of the storm has been a since-proven-bogus tale of him sending each of his romantic conquests home with a gift basket that included an autographed baseball.
Call me a pig, but I'd almost like the guy even more if that story were true.
Check that. I'm not sure I could like the guy any more than I do. He's quite simply everything I think a professional athlete should be: Grateful. Loyal. Hard-working. Productive. Involved in the community. Proud but not prideful. And above all else, a winner.
Heading into this season, guess how many meaningless games he played in as a Yankee? One. In 20 years. Granted, Jeter isn't the sole reason the Yankees have been in the playoff hunt every year since he arrived in 1996 and helped restore Gotham's baseball shine, but he's sure as hell been a significant part of every great team they've had, and that he's always been at his best in the postseason tells you all you need to know about his drive and desire.
Hate the Yankees all you want. I'm right there with you. So are a ton of other baseball fans. But if you hate Derek Jeter, you're not much of a baseball fan at all.
Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of “Inside the Bigs,” which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ “The Game” (95.7 FM).