Rare indeed is the athlete who transcends the uniform he wears, especially when it represents a brand widely despised by opponents, fans and media resentful of the success of others. Jean Beliveau was one of those athletes. So was Ken Stabler. And so is Derek Jeter, who's playing his final weekend in the only major league baseball uniform he's ever worn. Oh, there were people who hated on Beliveau and Stabler, just as Jeter has his detractors, but that says more about the haters than it does about anyone else.
Beliveau was and remains the epitome of class and dignity. He always handled the demands of public life with unfailing grace. He would have made a great Royal, which is probably why his name was routinely floated as a candidate for Governor-General in the years following his retirement.
Stabler wore his character defects on his sleeve as the leader of a band of misfits and miscreants that was part football team-part motorcycle gang, but he was a lovable rogue, along the lines of Willie Nelson, Johnny Knoxville or Jax Teller before Sons of Anarchy became a parody of itself.
Jeter's off-the-field legacy falls somewhere between Beliveau and Stabler. His laundry list of actress and supermodel girlfriends hints at a bad boy side, but the Yankees never had to bail Jeter out of jail or release a statement apologizing for, defending or otherwise rationalizing his behavior.
It must be that charmed life that sticks in the craw of Jeter-haters. It can't be anything else. His career speaks for itself. The bogus claim that Jeter is overrated and wouldn't have had the same success or acclaim if he'd played for a team other than the Yankees reeks of sour grapes.
Take it from me. Having come of age as a Red Sox fan in the 1970s and 80s, I know from sour grapes. Bucky (Fucking) Dent ruined my life in 1978. I was still bitter one year later when I bought a "Yankees Suck" t-shirt from an unlicensed vendor on Landsdowne Street in the shadow of the Green Monster - an act of petty aggression that became a second-generation family tradition when I bought my daughter a "Yankees Suck" t-shirt on the same spot two decades later.
At some point, though, you grow up and emotion no longer clouds your judgement - at least not in simple, trivial matters like sports. I still don't much care for the Yankees, but as a baseball fan, I'm grateful that I was able to watch and appreciate Derek Jeter's career in its entirety. He is not only a Yankees legend; he's a baseball legend. Anyone who says otherwise is a child or a fool.
No offence to the children, because at least they've got a shot at growing out of it.