Commentary

The stars fail to align for Derek Jeter

For once, Yankees' charmed Captain takes kind of blow only mere mortals expect

Updated: April 18, 2013, 8:24 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

There are few athletes in any sport who have had as smooth a trip to the finish line as Derek Jeter.

From the time he became the Yankees' starting shortstop as a 22-year-old, Jeter has led a charmed athletic life.

He was a rookie of the year, a four-time world champion, a multimillionaire and "The Captain" of the New York Yankees all before his 30th birthday.

And his reputation on the field is exceeded only by his image off the field. Despite being one of the most eligible, and apparently active, bachelors in the most opportune -- and dangerous -- city in the world, not once has Jeter embarrassed himself or his family or the organization he so proudly represents.

A lot of this is due to Jeter's character and upbringing, both of which are exemplary.

And a good portion of it has to do with luck, which for the first 37 years of Derek Jeter's life had been nothing short of extraordinary.

That is why the news that came out of Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, that Jeter had suffered yet another crack in his compromised left ankle, was so shocking.

That is the kind of thing that happens to other athletes, lesser men, mere mortals. Not to Derek Jeter.

That's how star-kissed Derek Jeter's life has been to this point, that what would be considered a rather ordinary, if unfortunate, occurrence in the life of most professional athletes feels like something unfathomable and even tragic when it happens to Jeter.

And that is why so many baseball fans, Yankees fans and otherwise, are reacting in much the same way today: "Derek will come back from this, just you wait and see!"

And he might, but the events of the past six months tell you otherwise. Jeter did everything anyone could have asked of him and anyone could have expected of him to make it back for Opening Day this season.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesThe usual rules don't apply to Derek Jeter, right? Wrong, as it turns out.

To think that somehow, having suffered yet another fracture in the area that was already damaged, he will be able to make it back in another two months when the previous six were not enough, is to be in deep denial about the realities of professional athletics, the aging process and the simple fact of being a human being.

We have been conditioned to believe that none of those rules apply to Derek Jeter.

But the truth is, what happened to Derek Jeter sometime this spring -- we still do not know exactly at what point in his rehab the new fracture occurred nor how long he has been trying to work through it -- is generally the inevitable result of a human body pushed very hard for very long.

It has happened to many athletes just as talented as Derek Jeter and to many young men every bit as virtuous.

What separates Derek Jeter, for instance, from Don Mattingly, who suffered a back injury at the peak of his career and never got a World Series and never became the player he seemed destined to be?

Or Darrelle Revis, who might never be the same player after suffering a serious knee injury and might never get to see a Super Bowl from anything other than the stands?

Or Jason Sehorn, a multitalented defensive back who was Revis Island when Revis was still in grade school? He ran back a punt in an exhibition game, tore up his knee and was finished.

How about Joe Namath? Grant Hill? Sandy Koufax?

All of them were destined to be more than they were, but for crippling injuries.

The difference between them and Jeter is that Jeter was fortunate enough to realize all his dreams before the cruel hammer of athletic catastrophe fell upon him. Somehow, he managed to avoid it for 17 major league seasons.

That is an accomplishment nearly as remarkable as the 3,200 hits, the World Series championships, the fabulous contracts and endorsement deals, and the procession of beautiful paramours without a single public misstep.

It is possible that Jeter will come back after the All-Star break and play the way he did last year, when he led all of baseball in hits and batted an impressive .316. His remarkable history tells you that to discount the possibility would be foolish.

After all, Mariano Rivera, nearly five years older than Jeter, made it back to take one glorious season-long victory lap after suffering a serious knee injury last May.

But take Jeter's name out of the equation and just plug in "38-year-old shortstop, 17 seasons on his résumé, two broken ankles in the past six months," and how likely does it really seem?

For nearly two decades, Derek Jeter has been a remarkable athlete and a remarkable man.

But the same way it proved too unrealistic to think he could come back from a severely broken ankle to play major league baseball again in less than six months, so, too, is it fanciful to believe that his fairy-tale career will have a storybook ending.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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