On a Sunday afternoon when baseball’s shame was on display in Cooperstown, the captain of the New York Yankees stepped into the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium and delivered the first pitch he saw into the right-field stands.
At that moment a couple of days ago, Derek Jeter reminded baseball fans why they watch, why they root, why they hope and why they obsess.
Derek Jeter may not be the cure for all that ails the national pastime—or, for that matter, all that ails the Bronx Bombers. But he certainly provides a counterpoint to the narrative of scandal and decline that has dominated the 2013 baseball season.
Mr. Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup last Sunday after missing all but one of the team’s 100-plus games so far this year. Injuries have taken their toll on the 39-year-old’s body, and his absence has been keenly felt. The Yankees have floundered without him, sinking to fourth place in the American League East and inspiring fears of an autumn without playoff baseball in the Bronx.
Even more disturbing, another injured Yankee, Alex Rodriguez, has dominated the sports pages for all the wrong reasons. Although Mr. Rodriguez hasn’t played a major league game yet this year, he has kept his name in the news by engaging in a public dispute with management over his rehabilitation schedule. But there may be no rehabilitation for Mr. Rodriguez’s reputation: most baseball insiders believe that he soon will be severely disciplined for his role in a new baseball doping scandal.
The old doping scandal caught up with baseball on the very day Mr. Jeter returned to the lineup. In the faux birthplace of baseball, Cooperstown, the game’s legends assembled for the annual induction of new members to the game’s Hall of Fame. For the first time in nearly a half-century, no living baseball players were declared to be immortals. That’s because baseball writers, who choose the Hall of Fame’s members, refused to support players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs during the 1990s. So record-setting retirees like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens were passed over. Their absence from the ceremony was sad testimony to a soiled era of baseball history.
But all is not lost, not while the elegant Mr. Jeter remains in Yankees pinstripes. His home run on Sunday certainly was the stuff of legend, but it was also a typical Jeter moment. His flair for the dramatic, his ability to produce when it matters and his sterling reputation as one of the game’s good guys are all testimony to the better angels of baseball’s nature.
No one player is bigger than the game. But on a Sunday afternoon in the scandal-scarred season of 2013, Derek Jeter showed that one player with integrity, charisma and talent can elevate the game’s reputation with a single, memorable swing of the bat.