Friday, September 11, 2009

Pride, Tradition and Men of Integrity

A guest post from my friend Jack in tribute to Derek Jeter.

Seventy years ago, in his very last game, the captain of the NY Yankees, 35 year old Lou Gehrig, got his 2,721st hit. Last night, the present captain, 35 year old Derek Jeter, got one more than that to become the all time franchise hit leader. When my wife heard I was writing a post for Robert’s blog about this she said: “You must be nuts, he’s just another high priced athlete.” Or words to that effect. She makes a good point, but the topic of high priced athletes should be left for another time. Derek Jeter, however, is more than just another athlete, and for those reading this that have no interest in baseball, stay with me because this is about more than just baseball. Baseball, the great American pastime, is a part of the fabric of our society and culture, and in many ways a reflection of the way we live. The game I love has been tarnished of late by the cheaters, liars and thieves who used performance enhancing drugs to gain advantage. Likewise, it seems there is no shortage of cheaters, liars and thieves on Wall St., Washington D.C. and corporate board rooms.

Derek Jeter is representative of all that is good for baseball and America. I continually ask myself: who should our kids look up to, emulate and idolize? They need positive role models setting the standard for good citizenship. Research shows that the role models who are followed, meaning trusted are those with the following characteristics: they possess strength, they possess likeness (to the ones following them), they are warm, and they are imperfect. Jeter has a lifetime batting average of .317. That means 68.3% of his plate appearances end in failure. He displays strength through the exhibition of competent performance while integrating imperfection with overcoming adversity and that gives other people a point with which to both identify and be inspired by.

This is not to glorify Derek Jeter. When he retires after amassing many more records the Yankee organization will do that very well. He’ll be placed alongside the other immortals in Monument Park: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio. When I asked my wife who our kids should idolize she responded without a moment’s hesitation: “the thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses who give a million percent every day to make the world a better place.” Or words to that effect. She makes another good point. The immigrant parents of Lou Gehrig scrimped and saved to send their son to Columbia University to become an engineer. Initially they were very unhappy about his choice of baseball. Had he chosen engineering we would have been deprived of one of the greatest inspirational speeches of the twentieth century when he faced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease that bears his name and killed him at age 37. It’s interesting to note that Derek Jeter’s father is a doctor and his mother is a teacher. If you watch Yankee baseball games you see them in various cities from coast to coast. To get the last word in with my wife (without having to say “yes dear”) I reminded her we met at an ALS fundraiser.

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