We live in an age of bi-racial heroes.
It started with Tiger Woods, who took the golf world by storm and must rank as one of the top three golfers of all time (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger, Bobby Jones). Tiger called himself cablanasian (Caucasian, Black, Asian).
Barack Obama won election and reelection as president, the first person of African descent to do so. His mother was a white woman from Kansas.
And now we have Derek Jeter. Derek’s dad is African-American and his mother is of Irish and German descent.
Jeter has become the king of the Bi-racial Age.
His baseball statistics aren’t that overwhelming. Sure, he has a .310 batting average, and he ranks 6th when it comes to the most hits in history. But he wasn’t a huge home-run hitter nor did he drive in that many RBI’s nor did he swipe a ton of bases.
But Jeter transcends his statistics. He is a winner. He did all the little things that make winning possible. And he is class personified.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he played for the Yankees and that the Yankees always seem to produce winners.
Two players who toiled in relative obscurity –Tony Gwynn and Paul Konerko – had statistics that were far more impressive than Jeter. Gwynn was the best pure hitter of his era, and Konerko hit for more power than Jeter.
You can compare Jeter’s iconic status to former Baltimore Orioles short-stop Cal Ripken. But Ripkin’s accomplishments in the field – breaking Lou Gehrig’s endurance record, his home run and RBI totals – were every bit if not more impressive than Jeter’s.
Ripken, Gwynn and Konerko all shared one similar trait with Jeter: They exemplified the best of baseball.
Jeter’s ethnic background makes him all the more compelling to the American people.
Jeter’s parents met and then married overseas in Germany while they served in the US Army. Derek was born in 1974 in New Jersey and at the age of 4 his family moved to the Midwest, to Kalamazoo, Mich. He would spend the summers with his grandparents in Jersey, and it was there where he first fell in love with the Yankees.
It’s too bad for Detroit baseball fans that he didn’t spend his summers in Michigan, but then again, would Jeter have been the icon he is today had he been a Tiger?
We live in a biracial age, but also in a time of great racial animosity.
Tiger Woods has his fans and his detractors, but he is never far from controversy.
Barack Obama has uneasily straddled the race question, at times siding with protesters over cops, at times trying to preach to young African-American men the values that helped drive him to the presidency.
Only Derek Jeter has remained largely uncontroversial and beloved by all.
Perhaps that’s because he lets his baseball playing do all the talking. Perhaps it’s because he is a Yankee.
Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, showed us that a truant raised by priests in a reform school could become the icon of his age.
Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, a son of Italian immigrants, showed us that these teeming masses of new immigrants could make an immediate impact on our culture.
Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, was the Yankee version of Muhammad Ali, brash, cocky, and clutch.
Derek Jeter, with his understated efficiency and his cool demeanor, is the king of Biracial Age. He gives us all hope of a brighter tomorrow.
John Feehery publishes his Feehery Theory blog at http://www.thefeeherytheory.com/.