Baseball matters, and what Jeter means to the sport matters." -Peter Gammons
"I've tried to always handle myself the right way." -Derek Jeter, to the New York Times
"Everything that Derek has done he's done it the right way." -Troy Tulowitzki, to the Boston Globe
"You should love Derek Jeter." -Bill Bender, a fantasy baseball columnist for the Sporting News
Derek Jeter does things the right way. It's hard to say what this means until you see it, until you see him standing in the batter's box or crouched at shortstop or running the bases or even just walking around and talking and laughing with fans and other players. Oh, that's how those things are supposed to be done, you think when you see Jeter in the flesh, running and talking and hitting. You feel inadequate, knowing that you have been doing things slightly wrong, but also blessed to have witnessed Jeter, because that's just the kind of person he is.
Ever notice how Jeter never falls down when he's in the on-deck circle, never throws the ball into the outfield instead of to first, never comes to the stadium wearing the wrong jersey? "Right Way" Jeter, they call him. Some players, they can't walk without throwing up or yelling curses at the fans, something horrible like that—not Right Way.
Derek Jeter has a lot of money, but he's a normal guy, he's not buying animals just to dip them into molten gold and display them around the house, dead and shining, like Jabba the Hutt did after freezing Han Solo in carbonite. No, Jeter probably never even thought of that idea. When admiring magazine reporters profile him, he answers the door to his house in jeans and a T-shirt—this is the right way to answer the door. Over the years he's dated women who are famous for being attractive, but he's never done anything weird like release a sex tape or convert to Scientology or send people photos of his penis which they later leak to the press.
Have you seen Jeter's penis? Thought not. Right way.
If you have had sex with Jeter, he may have sent you a gift basket, just his way of saying "thank you for having sex with me, Derek Jeter." He's polite to everyone—coaches, fans, his teammates—and everyone likes him. He donates money to charity, he's never complained about his contract (he's made between $10 and $20 million per season since 2000) or asked for a trade (he's playing on the team he idolized growing up and which has been loaded with championship-caliber talent since his rookie year). He's stayed on the Yankees his whole career, which is the right way to have a career. He doesn't showboat, doesn't brag, isn't all Look at me I'm Derek Jeter I'm so fucking classy watch me hit a home run for my 3,000 hit, run the bases without looking up—right way—then point to the stands while the other motherfucking team even applauds me, that's how much class I have, it's oozing out of my fucking pores. He just plays the game.
By the way, which way do you run after you hit a pitch into play? Is it left? No, you run right. Derek Jeter knows that.
Jeter endorses products the right way. He's not showing up in some commercial going, "Hi, I'm Derek Jeter and I'd like to sell you this pill. It causes abortions." He's not going on the radio and saying, "When the captain of the New York Yankees—that's me, by the way—goes out on the town, this 14-time All-Star is pounding Four Loko, because it gets me fucked up faster and all the caffeine gets me ready for when shit jumps off. And it's gonna jump off if I'm around." Nope. He sells classy things like razors and watches and cologne and shoes. The last Nike ad he did, the point of it is literally that everyone loves him and if you don't get in on the lovefest you're going to look like an asshole. You probably are an asshole if you don't like Jeter, and Jeter likely feels a little sorry for you that you are so wrapped up in your own bitterness.
Derek Jeter does not say politically controversial things (he told Rick Reilly he would vote for Obama in 2012). No "Free Palestines!" or "Bush did 9/11" here. He does not make himself the center of attention by complaining about stuff or taking a stand. In America, being cool means looking handsome, being great at your job, and not talking very much—look at Don Draper or Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's Westerns (Eastwood's character's job was killing people). Jeter understands this. He is frictionless, a blank slate, perpetually grinning respectfully or staring seriously into a camera or at the pitcher. This is the right way to be. He looks the right way and says the right things, always. This makes him attractive to corporations looking for a classy vessel through which they can sell things; it also works out pretty well for a sport and a league that strives to be boring and responsible but with occasional bursts of daddish emotion.
Jeter hustles. He works hard. He may not be your role model, but he's the role model you're supposed to have. If there's a nagging sense that this mandate we heap praise on him is forced, that all the adulation feels somehow abstract and unmoored from reality, that even by the standards of the sports-media bubble this victory lap of a season is over-the-top, well, there's probably something wrong with you.
Harry Cheadle thinks Derek Jeter is a good baseball player. Follow him on Twitter.