It is a bonus for baseball fans that Derek Jeter’s final season as a New York Yankee will be one that Alex Rodriguez spends in baseball banishment. Jeter will be feted in 2014, A-Rod will be forgotten.
It would have been indecorous and incongruous to see them sharing the left side of the Yankees infield, Jeter at shortstop and Rodriguez at third base, the captain and the charlatan, grace under pressure next to disgrace under pressure. Who wanted to have to hold their nose to salute Jeter?
Once friendly rivals, now awkward teammates, Jeter and A-Rod are headed down different paths in baseball history. Jeter will be remembered as one of baseball’s classiest competitors and a consummate winner.
A-Rod, sitting out the 2014 season with the longest performance-enhancing drug suspension in major league history, will be remembered as one of baseball’s biggest frauds and fallen heroes.
A-Rod always wanted to be like Jeter, universally beloved, admired, and respected. Now, he is the anti-Jeter in every possible way.
Rodriguez became the Lance Armstrong of baseball, lying, intimidating, litigating, and trampling on the integrity of his sport in an effort to preserve what was left of the facade of greatness that covered up the ugly truth of a PED user.
Rather than have to testify under oath, A-Rod decided last Friday to drop the frivolous and fruitless lawsuit he had filed against Major League Baseball, commissioner Bud Selig, and, most unnecessarily, his fellow players in the form of the MLB Players Association. They can be shredded and used as confetti to celebrate Jeter.
Rodriguez had filed the lawsuits over his suspension, part of the punishments levied to 14 players by MLB for using and obtaining PEDs from a South Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, and its dubious doctor, Anthony Bosch.
A-Rod was the only player who appealed his Biogenesis suspension. It remains an absolute disgrace that he was allowed to use a specious appeal with no basis in exculpation to play in 44 games last year.
Ryan Dempster, the Red Sox pitcher who drilled A-Rod in August, sat out more games due to suspension (five) in 2013 than Rodriguez.
A-Rod’s suspension, which was initially 211 games — the final 49 games of the 2013 regular season plus all of 2014 — was reduced to 162 (plus the postseason) by an independent arbitrator in January.
The arbitrator who ruled on the suspension, Fredric Horowitz, wrote in his decision, which became public after A-Rod filed his lawsuit in federal court, that Rodriguez “committed the most egregious violations of the JDA [Joint Drug Agreement] reported to date.”
As the paeans and panegyrics rolled in for Jeter, who announced on Wednesday that he was retiring following the 2014 season, you wonder what Rodriguez was thinking.
MLB, which has traded public barbs with Rodriguez since his suspension, issued this glowing statement about Jeter, attributed to Selig.
“In the 21-plus years in which I have served as commissioner, Major League Baseball has had no finer ambassador than Derek Jeter. Since his championship rookie season of 1996, Derek has represented all the best of the national pastime on and off the field. He is one of the most accomplished and memorable players of his — or any — era.
“Derek is the kind of person that generations have emulated proudly, and he remains an exemplary face of our sport. Major League Baseball looks forward to celebrating his remarkable career throughout the 2014 season.”
There could not be greater juxtaposition between the status Jeter and A-Rod hold in baseball. Jeter is universally loved throughout baseball, put on a pinstripe pedestal. Rodriguez has alienated most of baseball. He is a pinstripe pariah.
Ironically, Jeter’s historical greatness is further enhanced by Rodriguez’s shame. Jeter’s numbers pale in comparison to A-Rod’s, but knowing A-Rod’s numbers are faker than collagen implants helps Jeter.
Jeter, Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra were once the holy trinity of shortstops in baseball, compared and debated in barbershops, bars, and dorm rooms. The group was expanded to a quartet that included Miguel Tejada, who won an MVP in 2002 with the Oakland A’s.
Barring a shocking revelation of PED use, Jeter is the only one of the four shortstops destined for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Rodriguez and Tejada are known PED users, each with suspensions topping 100 games. Garciaparra, who once drew comparisons to Joe DiMaggio from none other than Ted Williams, fizzled out in his 30s. His body broke down after he left Boston embittered in 2004, in part the residue of the Red Sox trying to trade him in the offseason to make way for Rodriguez.
Jeter’s greatness can’t be quantified by individual numbers, particularly during the steroid era. Yes, no one has played more games (2,602), had more hits (3,316) or stolen more bases (348) in a Yankees uniform than Jeter, and only a pair of fellows named Ruth and Gehrig have scored more runs.
But 20 years from now when a son or daughter or niece or nephew asks why Jeter is considered such a great player, you’re not going to be able to just point to baseball-reference.com. He has never hit 30 home runs in a season. He has driven in 100 runs just once in his 19-year career. He hasn’t won an MVP.
Knowing that Rodriguez’s inflated numbers — he is fifth on the all-time home run register with 654 — are as spurious as his Biogenesis suspension defense will only provide context to Jeter’s career.
It was fitting that Jeter announced his retirement on Facebook on Bill Russell’s 80th birthday because measuring the full impact either man had on their teams and the games they played in by individual numbers is futile. Their champion’s mien transcends raw data.
It will be a privilege for Red Sox fans to provide Jeter’s final regular-season sendoff Sept. 28 at Fenway Park, a rival recognized and venerated.
A-Rod’s exile coinciding with Jeter’s encore, the Baseball Gods have a sense of justice and symmetry.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.