It seems kind of counter intuitive to write about a topic I don't want people to focus on. Maybe it is. But, I think it's worth talking about. Derek Jeter made his 14th and final All Star Game appearance, and he ended in style by going 2-2 with a run scored in a fun 5-3 American League victory. But all people can talk about in the wake of what should have been a lighthearted affair is the "grooved pitch" controversy that the media and Adam Wainwright stirred up. Wainwright claimed that he was only joking when he said that he was tossing Jeter a meatball so that he could have a nice moment. There are some that think that he was just backtracking, and others believe he was just covering himself up for a poor pitching performance. My opinion on all of that: it doesn't matter.
Derek Jeter was going to have a memorable night for himself regardless of what he did at the plate. Let's be honest--we didn't expect him to pick up a couple of hits. He could have had a couple of strikeouts and an error and it still would have been awesome. He got a wonderful standing ovation and they played the Bob Shepphard walk-up announcement, and the rest was just background noise. FOX's coverage was certainly questionable (namely the sheer number of times Jeter was mentioned and the inability to mention Tony Gwynn), but the moment itself was not. This was Jeter's moment, and nothing should have ruined that.
But now, the articles will come. "Was the pitch grooved?", "Was Wainwright just kidding?", and "What does this mean for the All-Star Game?" themed articles will and already have been cropping up, which is obviously ridiculous. This should have been about the All-Star Game, the All-Stars themselves, definitely Tony Gwynn, and Derek Jeter,
We've seen this thing happen before. When Cal Ripken Jr. played in his last All-Star Game, there was some controversy as to whether Chan-Ho Park threw him a pipe ball to give himself a great moment in his last appearance. But when we look back on this game, this "controversy" isn't mentioned. It's mentioned how awesome it was that Ripken did that, even after his level of play had declined. It may come up in the future, but only in reference to this current incident. I'm hoping that Jeter's performance and night isn't mired in that way, that future highlight reels show the night as honoring a great player, not as a discrepancy over whether the hits were real or not.
And back to the point of Ripken's last All-Star Game--are people seriously bothered that a game can belong to a retiring player? When Ripken made his last appearance, it was the last time the whole country could all watch collectively one of the best shortstops of all time. Maybe people were bothered by this. I don't know--there wasn't Twitter back then. Some people were rather upset that the night was taken away from more deserving All-Stars who were actually playing well now, and that Derek Jeter shouldn't have the spotlight on him, nor should he even be the starting shortstop. For me, this isn't a problem.
Call me the homer that I am, but honoring Derek Jeter--at least for this night--is a pretty important thing to do. I don't think he's perfect (I don't hesitate to criticize him when I feel it's just), but he's an icon for the sport. Icons like that generate national interest and intrigue for a sport that is generally a regional obsession in this day and age. Why do you think that FOX and ESPN want to show Yankee games on national television? It isn't because people want to watch Kelly Johnson play left field, but because they (often times) want to see Derek Jeter. It may be luck, but it can't all be. He was a great player, but he was also the Captain of a team that arguably had one of the most successful stretches in the history of professional sports, especially in a time where competitive balancing counters that. He handled the fame, attention, and media with poise. Like it or not, but Derek Jeter is and will continue to be remembered as an important cultural figure.
I think that the circumstances around the game will fade with time. The grooved pitch will be in the back burner, the "Jeter haters" will eventually subside, and all that will be left is the player and his moment. When you just look at that, it was pretty special.