There was an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” where Mac tried to give Chase Utley a fan letter he wrote. It read like so:
I feel like I can call you chase because you and me are so alike. I’d like to meet you one day, it would be great to have a catch. I know I can’t throw as fast as you but I think you’d be impressed with my speed. I love your hair, you run fast. Did you have a good relationship with your father? Me neither. These are all things we can talk about and more. I know you have no been getting my letters because I know you would write back if you did. I hope you write back this time, and we can become good friends. I am sure our relationship would be a real homerun!
Of course, “It’s Always Sunny” is a comedy show and the the main joke here was that this letter, from a grown man, was hilariously juvenile and maudlin and spoke of a man-crush from a man-child that was wholly uncomfortable.
Rick Reilly is not a man-child character in a comedy show, but he too wrote a letter to a baseball crush. This one purporting to be a letter to Derek Jeter’s future children, in which he told them just how amazing and wonderful and classy their dad was. It starts like so:
To Derek Jeter’s kids (whenever you come along):
You were born too late to know your father the way we did, so I want to take just a minute to let you know what he meant to us.
First of all, if Derek Jeter ever does have children and Rick Reilly tries to tell them about their dad, I would hope and expect the Jeter children’s security team would beat him within an inch of his life.
Second of all, the “know your father the way we did” thing is pretty insane given that there is likely no superstar baseball player in history that “we” know less about than Derek Jeter. Indeed, for all of his accomplishments and exploits, maintaining his privacy to the extent he has in this media-saturated, tell-all day and age may be the most amazing. Maybe some reporter knows a thing or two about Jeter that hasn’t come out yet due to some sourcing issues or an agreement to hold it off the record, but I know for DAMN sure that Rick Reilly doesn’t have any inside scoop on the guy. Let alone scoop that his kids wouldn’t know ten times better than he did.
But really, that sort of captures Reilly and Reilly-style journalism in a nutshell, doesn’t it? The conceit of the Boomer-era columnist that he and he alone knows about the athletes he covers and that we must go to him to get some sort of special insight. Reilly may have a sweet perch from which to write, but for all his years of writing, he has neither cracked the Jeter code nor told us anything uniquely insightful about Jeter’s public persona and especially not his playing ability. He premises this whole thing on his status as a reporter yet reports nothing.
He does manage to creep Jeter’s future hypothetical kids out, though. I mean, would you want to hear this about your dad from some stranger?
Your father was everything men wanted to be. The guy with the $15 million Trump Tower penthouse. The dude dating Miss Universe. The man with all of the talent and none of the jerk. He was everything women wanted, too. The elegant athlete who loved books, paid for everything, and had a limo waiting for them when it was time to go.
“Thanks, you strange old man. I always wanted to know about my dad’s sex life as a bachelor. All kids want to hear that about their dads, really.”
I can’t imagine how this weird, self-parody of an open letter came to be. I can’t imagine what ESPN’s editors who, I presume, are under strict instructions to simply rubber stamp everything Reilly writes and put it on the web, think about this sort of thing. I can’t imagine what reporters who have applied to ESPN and been denied or worked for ESPN and have been let go think about this clearly insane person pulling down seven figures to write this kind of thing.