Monday, August 9, 2010

Mr. Flash and Mr. Quiet

For weeks, we heard about The Chase. Any day now, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was going to hit his 600th career home run in the major leagues, a huge milestone even in the steroids era. Fans anticipated; radio shows discussed, exulted, decried; ESPN broke in to its regular programming for live coverage of each of A-Rod's potentially historic at-bats. (Or is that "ats-bat"? "RsBI"?) Flashbulbs popped with each swing. A-Rod grounded out to second, or got a single. We waited.

And waited. And waited some more.

Finally, on a Wednesday night, it happened; the ball left the yard, A-Rod circled the bases, and the heavens sang. Finally, The Chase was over, and baseball fans everywhere, their supplies of food, water, and attention span nearly exhausted, were released from captivity. Never mind that if human beings had been born with four fingers on each hand, Rodriguez would have passed the 600 homers mark 216 home runs ago (Base-8 math joke, ha ha); or that the performance-enhancing drug usage that he has kinda, sorta admitted to might have goosed his career totals by, oh, I don't know, say, 216 home runs or so; 600 is still a pantaloon-load of round-trippers.

Oh, and then, four days later, Derek Jeter quietly passed Babe Ruth on the all-time career hits list. The moment passed quickly; I only knew it had happened because a note of congratulations appeared on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, and the ESPN announcers took a break from congratulating each other on their own careers to mention it on the game telecast. Jeter modestly held his batting helmet aloft to acknowledge the crowd's applause, and then the game continued.

Um...hel-llllo! Did you hear me? Is this on [tap-tap]? I said, an actual human being, biochemically unenhanced (as far as we know), passed Babe Ruth in a major offensive category! You remember Ruth, right? Big guy? Liked hot dogs? Visited kids in hospitals? Dominated his era? Built a stadium? Most famous dude in the world, in his time? And yet, there wasn't much hype or fanfare for Jeter's accomplishment, nor a lot of drama, nor network break-ins ("breaks-in"?); just another memorable day in the outstanding professional career of the Quiet Captain of the New York Yankees. And maybe, just maybe, Jeter's dignified, Dimaggio-like celebration, just four days after A-Rod's cathartic, swaggering stagger across the finish line, was also calculated to serve as a understated, nearly undetectable dig at his limelight-seeking, headline-grabbing teammate and rival.

That's how it's always been in the Big Apple: Mr. Flash and Mr. Quiet. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson. Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Dave DeBusschere. Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. Carol Alt and Ron Greschner. (Just seeing if you were awake.) "Broadway Joe" Namath and...everyone else on the Jets. And now, A-Rod and Jeter. One draws the flashbulbs; the other just produces, and leads by example. Both are needed for championships. Both annoy the bejesus out of each other. The daily drama doesn't seem to have cost them any rings, though, and the internal competition may have even spurred them to greater heights. Piecing together a Lincoln-esque "Team of Rivals" ("Teams of Rival"?) is, after all, the Steinbrenner Way. Sports in New York.

This time, Jeter got the last laugh. So, Alex, when are you getting to 700?

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