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Derek Jeter’s greatest feat? Staying irrepressibly likeable as a Yankee (and baseball) icon

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SOCHI – When Derek Jeter made his major league debut in 1995, there was no Facebook. There was nothing that suggested there would ever be a Facebook. The internet was a dial-up puzzle. Founder Mark Zuckerburg was an 11-year-old son of a dentist and psychiatrist, and he was just beginning to write programs in BASIC.

Heck, DVDs had not been invented.

In other words, Derek Jeter began playing baseball in a very different America, a very different world, when newspapers told the story of baseball, when no words crawled along the bottom of television screens, when being social meant talking to people. There are countless words and letters and phrases – iPhone, blog, tweet, smh, Droid, OPS (as statistic), Yahoo! (as noun), the cream, high-def TV, lol, iPad, replacement player, Bieber, Google (as verb), Deadspin, Moneyball – that would have sounded like absolute gibberish to Jeter at the beginning.

And yet, those are some of the words that defined his time. And him.

“I know they say when you dream you eventually wake up,” Jeter wrote Wednesday on his Facebook page as he announced his 2014 retirement. “Well for some reason I’ve never had to wake up.”

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Think of the magic trick Derek Jeter pulled off. He was, for most of his life, the most visible athlete in New York City. Kim Basinger called him a hunk. He was on the cover of GQ and eligible and obscenely rich. Reggie Jackson said he’d trade his own past for Jeter’s future. He was given a $189 million contract when he was 26 years old, and he was named the Yankees team captain just two years later.

When something awesome in baseball happened, he was often in the frame. The dive. The flip. The November homer. Every step he made was a potential backpage for the New York tabloids, every word he said might make Twitter explode. He was exalted to the heavens by his fans, detested to his core by opposing fans. He was the most visible man in a game that had such a deep steroid problem that it would get dragged before Congress. He had more hosannas thrown his way than any player of his time, and he never won an MVP award though he probably deserved a couple.

And all the while, he stayed utterly (and, to some, maddeningly) admirable.

Look at some of the greatest players of his time. Alex Rodriguez: Disgraced. Barry Bonds: Disgraced. Mark McGwire: Disgraced. Manny Ramirez: Disgraced. Albert Pujols: Floundering. Ken Griffey: Tumbled in late career. Jeff Bagwell: Can’t get elected to the Hall of Fame. Mike Piazza: Can’t get elected to the Hall of Fame.

And through all of it, Jeter soared – not only as a player but also as a modern day icon. Has any player since Cal Ripken or Hank Aaron or Joe DiMaggio been so respected simply for being himself?

When Alex Rodriguez caused that stir by walking across Dallas Braden’s pitching mound, what did Braden do? He said A-Rod should learn some respect from Derek Jeter.

When Hanley Ramirez got in to trouble for loafing after a ball, what did his manager Fredi Gonzalez say? That he wished all talented players were like Derek Jeter, but such dreams are just not realistic.

“You know, I really didn’t get Derek Jeter,” a player named Aaron Guiel told me a few years ago. “I mean, sure, you see him across the way, you know he’s a great player, great leader, all that stuff.  And then I came to play for the Yankees, and I saw it firsthand. He’s different from anybody else. The guy does so many things to help the team that you can’t even count them all.”

Guiel  said that the first day he came to the Yankees, Jeter came over, introduced himself and talked about how happy he was that Guiel was on the team. But more, he talked about how excited he was because he knew Guiel would help the team. “He knew a lot about me,” Guiel said, with some wonder in his voice.

Jeter answered a million questions from reporters – at least half of them inane, all of them repeats – and he answered them politely. Blandly but politely. He deflected negativity with the same ease with which he flicked singles to right field. He uttered clichés with energy, giving the words a little more power. The Yankees clubhouse had more multi-millionaires (and accompanying giant egos) than any in baseball, but  it never devolved into a poisonous place like so many others. The reason was Jeter. A Derek Jeter team, by definition, would be professional.

And his professionalism towered over everything.  When Alex Rodriguez took some shots at him in a magazine, it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When Rodriguez came to the Yankees and only one could play shortstop, it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When Jeter’s love life became public – with Mariah Carey or Miss Universe or Minka Kelly – it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When George Steinbrenner took a shot at Jeter for staying out too late one night during the season, it could have become a thing. It didn’t. When it seemed like everyone in baseball was being suspected of steroid use, any rumor could have become a thing. It didn’t.

His defense – despite him winning five Gold Gloves – was savaged on the Internet. That too could have become a thing. It didn’t.

And it didn’t because of Jeter’s constancy — play hard every day, run the bases hard every day, be polite every day, speak positively every day. He was the waves beating against the shore. He hit .300 every year. He scored 100 runs every year. He played 150 games every year. He led a playoff team every year. He became Twitter proof, statistic-proof,  scandal proof. In this new social, bloggy, TMZ, 24-hour world, Derek Jeter’s magic trick was not getting 3,316 or scoring 1,876 runs or being shortstop for five World Series champions.

It was staying irrepressibly likeable.

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So now, Derek Jeter has announced on Facebook that he will play just one more year. Of course he will be celebrated in every city. Millions of words about his brilliant career will spill out. A “Derek Jeter is overrated” backlash will undoubtedly gain momentum as the year goes on too. Then a backlash to the backlash.

But, in the middle of it all, in his own quiet way, Derek Jeter will be doing one of the hardest things a great athlete has to do. He will wind down. The saying goes that great men die twice – once as great and again as men. And while there will be this big, public celebration for the most significant baseball player of our time, there will also be a quiet realization within him that the end is near.

Jeter won’t let us in on that. He never did let people in too close. That, I suspect, was part of his genius. When he was a boy, his father Charles – an Army man – would have young Derek sign a contract of expectations. There was a standard to live by.  He came into an analog baseball world and he left with a letter to his fans on Facebook. He never fell for the praise or gave in to the criticism. The standard never changed. And, all the while, he kept the important stuff for himself.

Reds place Devin Mesoraco on the disabled list with a torn labrum

Cincinnati Reds' Devin Mesoraco watches from the dugout during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 30, 2016. The Pirates won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Reds have placed catcher Devin Mesoraco on the 15-day disabled list with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reportsRosecrans adds that Mesoraco and the Reds will discuss whether or not the catcher will undergo surgery.

To fill Mesoraco’s roster spot, the club called up catcher Ramon Cabrera from Triple-A Louisville. Tucker Barnhart is expected to start the lion’s share of games in Mesoraco’s absence.

Mesoraco was scuffling prior to the injury, as he was batting a mere .140/.218/.160 with only one extra-base hit and one RBI in 55 plate appearances.

Dodgers’ Josh Ravin suspended 80 games for using a banned substance

Los Angeles Dodgers' Josh Ravin, right, reacts as New York Mets' Lucas Duda (21) runs the bases after hitting a home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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Update #2 (6:53 PM EDT): Ravin released a statement through the players’ union. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times provides it:

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Update (6:35 PM EDT): MLB made the announcement.

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Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Dodgers pitcher Josh Ravin will be suspended 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance. When it is made official by Major League Baseball, Ravin will be the sixth major league player to earn a suspension after testing positive, joining Dee Gordon, Chris Colabello, Abraham Almonte, Daniel Stumpf, and Jenrry Mejia.

Ravin, 28, hasn’t pitched this year as he broke his arm in a car accident during spring training, but was expected to return before the end of May. He debuted in the majors last season, making nine relief appearances for the Dodgers. He yielded seven runs on 13 hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. Ravin made 22 appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City as well.

Ravin will be eligible to return in early August.

The Braves made a flurry of roster moves ahead of Monday’s game

Atlanta Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On the heels of Sunday’s transaction snafu, the Braves made a flurry of roster moves — seven, to be exact — on Monday, the club announced. Pitcher Mike Foltynewicz was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. The contracts of utilityman Chase d’Arnaud, outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, and infielder Reid Brignac were selected from Gwinnett. Pitcher John Gant and utilityman Jace Peterson were optioned to Gwinnett. Outfielder Drew Stubbs was designated for assignment.

Whew.

Foltynewicz is starting Monday night’s game against the Mets, opposite Bartolo Colon. In four starts with Gwinnett, Foltynewicz put up a 2.05 ERA with a 20/14 K/BB ratio in 22 innings. Control has always been an issue for the right-hander, though he was able to limit the walks to 29 over 86 2/3 major league innings last year.

The Braves enter play Monday at 6-18, the worst record in baseball. The club is reportedly embracing the tank and is now trying to buy draft picks by taking on bad contracts.

J.J. Hardy to miss four to eight weeks with a hairline fracture in his right foot

Baltimore Orioles' J.J. Hardy watches his double during the second inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Baltimore. Delmon Young scored on the play. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is expected to miss four to eight weeks due to a hairline fracture in his right foot, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Hardy suffered the injury fouling a ball off of his foot in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game against the White Sox.

The Orioles have some options when it comes to replacing Hardy. Third baseman Manny Machado could move to shortstop, his natural position, and Ryan Flaherty would cover third base. Paul Janish is another option, but he’ll be leaving Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday for the birth of his child. As Kubatko notes, both Pedro Alvarez and Chris Davis could also play third base in a pinch.

Hardy, 33, is batting .244/.291/.410 with a pair of home runs and eight RBI over 86 plate appearances to begin the season. That’s markedly better than the meager .219/.253/.311 line he put up last year.