Let’s just say for a moment that a veteran, workmanlike shortstop named Jerry Deter was enjoying an unprecedented career renaissance and was playing in an all-around fashion at age 38 that he did at 28 after two years of noticeable and statistical decline. Deter, no star and certainly not a denizen of hot nightclubs, name restaurants and totem of fans, would be under scrutiny from all corners wondering how he did it.
Would he be under suspicion of using drugs to facilitate that comeback? Would he be accused outright? And would there be this righteous indignation for simply asking the question?
On a day when veteran righty pitcher Bartolo Colon, enjoying a career comeback of his own, was suspended for 50 games for failing a PED test, ESPN broadcaster Skip Bayless stirred the pot by suggesting that Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter is a possible example of a player who has rejuvenated his career in a similar fashion by using PEDs. There was a response of anger from Jeter fans who, by and large, don’t like Bayless to begin with or even know who he is. Jeter was asked about it and replied in with a prototypical Jeter head shake and trademark coolness. What’s lost in the story is that Bayless didn’t accuse Jeter of anything. All he did was ask the question as exhibited in the quote below:
“I am not saying he uses a thing,” Bayless said. “I have no idea. But within the confines of his sport, it is fair for all of us, in fact you are remiss, if you don’t at least think about this.”
The “How dare you question Derek!!!” dynamic is all tied in with what Bayless was trying to do. Jeter is still the smoothest guy in the place who’s equally at home with a roomful of grandmothers and old-school baseball men as he is in a nightclub surrounded by adoring women; the man who honors his mother and father but still has the sly smile of someone who knows something you don’t and may have just done something you’d like to do; who could craft a life in politics after his Hall of Fame baseball career; who plays every game like it will be his last and doesn’t comprehend those who don’t follow suit; and has had the ability to navigate and deflect controversy with a deft flick of his wrist and an easy sincerity that Alex Rodriguez was never able to muster. He didn’t start sweating or have the shifty, darting eyes of one who’s trying to hide something when asked about Bayless. No one would believe him capable of using PEDs; nor would they think he’d tear down everything he built in the interest of having a few memory lane years of what he once was.
I would be shocked if Jeter was caught using anything stronger than painkillers that have been okayed by MLB. But in this day and age when players are reverting to the bygone era when time was the great equalizer and players can’t perform as well or better at age 38 as they did at 28, is it crazy to wonder? No.
ESPN is at the point where they don’t care what their personalities say as long as it generates buzz, drives ratings and conversation. The main thing is not to get sued and Bayless didn’t say anything worthy of getting sued. With information available at the click of a button, the days of loyalty to one particular writer, broadcaster or website are over. Readers click randomly and haphazardly with a small percentage regularly searching for one particular thing. ESPN writes and discusses that which begets webhits and target the right demographics. This, in turn, allows them to sell advertising based on those factors. And they’re not alone. People want to read about Tim Tebow, Bryce Harper, Lolo Jones, and Tom Brady on a daily basis, so you’ll see stories about those people whether they’re warranted on that day or not; then there’s legitimate news such as Roger Clemens’s return to the mound, and the failed tests of Colon and Melky Cabrera.
The only evidence against Jeter is this sudden return to his glory days. Jeter’s never been one to complain about injuries nor has he used them as an excuse when he’s not playing up to his lofty baseline. There’s never been a statement of, “Oh, by the way, I was playing on a tender hamstring; badly twisted ankle; achy shoulder…” He just plays. Jeter could be healthy again after an unknown malady; he could be on a hot streak; or he could be doing something he shouldn’t be doing. We don’t know.
It would be a stupid thing to do after all these years and a shortsighted choice to make—a line that Jeter would not cross—but is it a fair question to ask as all players are under suspicion? Yes.
And there are peripheral reasons that Bayless did this because I don’t think even he believes, as I don’t, that Jeter is guilty of anything at all other than playing well at an advanced age for a baseball player.