Friday, February 14, 2014

Obamacare’s war on jobs
Political Cartoons by Glenn Foden
In the ongoing saga of the Affordable Care Act, oddly referred to by Democrats as the law of the land even as it is amended at will by presidential fiat, we are beginning to understand the extent of its war on jobs.
First, the Congressional Budget Office triples its estimate of the drop in the workforce resulting from the disincentive introduced by Obamacare’s insurance subsidies: 2 million by 2017, 2.3 million by 2021.
Democratic talking points gamely defend this as a good thing because these jobs are being given up voluntarily. Nancy Pelosi spoke lyrically about how Obamacare subsidies will allow people to leave unfulfilling jobs to pursue their passions: “Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.”
Nothing so lyrical has been written about work since Marx (in “The German Ideology”) described a communist society that “makes it possible for me to . . . hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner.”
Pelosi’s vision is equally idyllic except for one thing: The taxes of the American factory worker — grinding away dutifully at his repetitive mind-numbing job — will be subsidizing the voluntary unemployment of the artiste in search of his muse. A rather paradoxical position for the party that poses as tribune of the working man.
In the reductio ad absurdum of entitlement liberalism, White House spokesman Jay Carney was similarly enthusiastic about this Obamacare-induced job loss. Why, Obamacare creates the “opportunity” that “allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, and if they will work.”
If they will work? Pre-Obama, people always had the right to quit work to tend full time to the study of butterflies. It’s a free country. The twist in the new liberal dispensation is that the butterfly guy is to be subsidized by the taxes of people who actually work.
In the traditional opportunity society, government provides the tools — education, training and various incentives — to achieve the dignity of work and its promise of self-improvement and social mobility. In the new opportunity society, you are given the opportunity for idleness while living parasitically off everyone else. Why those everyone elses should remain at their jobs — hey! I wanna dance, too! — is a puzzle Carney has yet to explain.
The honest liberal reply to the CBO report is that a disincentive to work is inherent in any means-tested government benefit. It’s the unavoidable price of helping those in need because for every new dollar you earn, you lose part of your subsidy and thus keep less and less of your nominal income.
That’s inevitable. And that’s why we have learned to tie welfare, for example, to a work requirement. Otherwise, beneficiaries could choose to live off the dole forever. That’s why the 1996 Gingrich-Clinton welfare reform succeeded in reducing welfare rolls by two-thirds. It is not surprising that the same Obama administration that has been weakening the work requirement for welfare is welcoming the disincentive to work inherent in Obamacare.
But Obamacare’s war on jobs goes beyond voluntary idleness. The administration is now conceding, inadvertently but unmistakably, Obamacare’s other effect — involuntary job loss. On Monday, the administration unilaterally postponed and weakened the employer mandatealready suspended through 2015, for yet another year.
But doesn’t this undermine the whole idea of universal health coverage? Of course it does, but Obamacare was so structured that it is crushing small business and killing jobs. It creates a major incentive for small businesses to cut back to under 50 employees to avoid the mandate. Your business becomes a 49er by either firing workers or reducing their hours to below 30 a week. Because that doesn’t count as full time, you escape both the employer mandate to buy health insurance and the fine for not doing so.
With the weakest recovery since World War II, historically high chronic unemploymentand a shockingly low workforce participation rate, the administration correctly fears the economic consequences of its own law — and of the political fallout for Democrats as millions more Americans lose their jobs or are involuntarily reduced to part-time status.
Conservatives have been warning about this for five years. This is not rocket science. Both the voluntary and forced job losses were utterly predictable. Pelosi insisted we would have to pass the law to know what’s in it. Now we know.

From Russia with Euphemisms

In the Olympic coverage, Soviet horrors are being swept under the rug. 

Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” to describe the galling normalcy of Nazi mass-murderer Adolf Eichmann. Covering his trial in Jerusalem, she described Eichmann as less a cartoonish villain than a dull, remorseless, paper-pushing functionary just “doing his job.”

The phrase “banality of evil” was instantly controversial, largely because it was misunderstood. Arendt was not trying to minimize Nazism’s evil but to capture its enormity. The staggering moral horror of the Holocaust was that it made complicity “normal.” Liquidating the Jews was not just the stuff of mobs and demagogues but of bureaucracies and bureaucrats.

Now consider the stunted and ritualistic conversation (“controversy” is too vibrant a word for the mundane Internet chatter) about the Soviet Union sparked by the Winter Olympics. The humdrum shrugging at the overwhelming evil of Soviet Communism leaves me nostalgic for the Eichmann controversy. At least Arendt and her critics agreed that evil itself was in the dock; they merely haggled over the best words to put in the indictment.

What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union? In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.

In America, we constantly, almost obsessively, wrestle with the “legacy of slavery.” That speaks well of us. But what does it say that so few care that the Soviet Union was built — literally — on the legacy of slavery? The founding fathers of the Russian Revolution — Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky — started “small,” merely throwing hundreds of thousands of people into kontslagerya (concentration camps).

By the time Western intellectuals and youthful folksingers like Pete Seeger were lavishing praise on the Soviet Union as the greatest experiment in the world, Joseph Stalin was corralling millions of his own people into slavery. Not metaphorical slavery, but real slavery complete with systematized torture, rape, and starvation. Watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you’d have no idea that from the Moscow metro system to, literally, the roads to Sochi, the Soviet Union — the supposed epitome of modernity and “scientific socialism” — was built on a mountain of broken lives and unremembered corpses.

To read Anne Applebaum’s magisterial Gulag: A History is to subject yourself to relentless tales of unimaginable barbarity. A slave who falls in the snow is not helped up by his comrades but is instantly stripped of his clothes and left to die. His last words: “It’s so cold.”

Hava Volovich, a once-obscure newspaper editor turned slave laborer, has a baby, Eleonora, in captivity. Eleonora spends her first months in a room where “bedbugs poured down like sand from the ceiling and walls.” A year later, Eleonora is wasting away, starving in a cold ward at slave “mothers’ camp.” She begs her mother to take her back “home” to that bedbug-infested hovel. Working all day in the forest to earn food rations, Hava manages to visit her child each night. Finally, Eleonora in her misery refuses even her mother’s embrace, wanting only to drift away in bed. Eleonora dies, hungry and cold, at 15 months. Her mother writes: “In giving birth to my only child, I committed the worst crime there is.”

Multiply these stories by a million. Ten million.

“To eat your own children is a barbarian act.” So read posters distributed by Soviet authorities in the Ukraine, where 6 to 8 million people were forcibly starved to death so that the socialist Stalin could sell every speck of grain to the West, including seed stock for the next year’s harvest and food for the farmers themselves. The posters were the Soviet response to the cannibalism they orchestrated.

If it is conventional wisdom that the Nazi Holocaust was worse than the Soviet Terror, you would at least think earning the silver in the Devil’s Olympics would earn something more than feckless wordsmithery and smug eye-rolling from journalists and intellectuals. Imagine if instead of Sochi these games were in Germany, and suppose the organizers floated out the swastika while NBC talked of the “pivotal experiment” of Nazism. Imagine the controversy.

But when the hammer and sickle float by, there’s no outrage. There is only the evil of banality.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Derek Jeter Lived a Dream, and Never Disappointed

By Tyler Kepner
February 12. 2014

The greatest compliment we can give Derek Jeter, as he prepares to leave the grandest
stage in baseball, is that he never let us down. He has made thousands of outs and
hundreds of errors and finished most of his seasons without a championship. Yet he
never disappointed us.

This is no small feat for the modern athlete, in an age of endless traps and

From cheating to preening to taunting — even to defensible acts, like fleeing to a
new team in free agency — the hero, almost invariably, breaks our heart sometime. Not

He grew up beside a baseball diamond in Kalamazoo, Mich., dreaming of playing
shortstop for the Yankees, and that is what he has done. He has never played another
position, never been anything but No. 2 for the Yankees. But this season, he announced
Wednesday, will be his last.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more
like a job, it would be time to move forward,” Jeter said in a statement on Facebook,
adding later: “I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be
my last year playing professional baseball.”

When Jeter played his first game at the old Yankee Stadium, on June 2, 1995, the
announced crowd was 16,959. By 2008, when he closed the ballpark with a speech to
the fans, the average attendance topped 53,000. For the Yankees, Jeter was the rightplayer at the right time, a model of stability and the embodiment of their ideals.

Jeter has compiled 3,316 hits (10th on baseball’s career list), winning five
championships while making more than $250 million in salary. But his impact has
always been greater than his numbers.

When Jeter joined the organization, as a high schooler drafted sixth over all in
1992, the Yankees were enduring their fourth consecutive losing season, driven to
disarray by the principal owner, George Steinbrenner, who was suspended at the time.
Jeter would become a centerpiece of the Yankees’ rebuilding, and the team has had
only winning records since, building a new stadium and launching a lucrative cable
network in the process.

Jeter has had plenty of help, from homegrown stars like Bernie Williams and
Jorge Posada to pricey imports like Mark Teixeira and C. C. Sabathia. But Jeter, the
captain, has always been out front. When injuries limited him to 17 games last season,
the Yankees lost attendance and ratings and fell in the standings.

“I’ve gone to Yankees games and I’ve asked kids outside the park, ‘Who are you
going to go see?’ ” said Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter. “Nine out of 10 kids
say, ‘Derek Jeter.’

“What a marquee player.”

Groch, who now works for the Milwaukee Brewers, continued: “Remember that
word: marquee. Babe Ruth was marquee. The money Ruth brought to the Yankees was
unbelievable, and Derek Jeter’s done the same thing. You could look at tons of
statistics, but they’ll never show you that.”

Jeter is perhaps the most secure, self-confident player in baseball, a sharp
contrast to the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, whose season-long suspension means that he
will never again be teammates with Jeter. Groch said he noticed these traits while
scouting Jeter, who smiled under pressure and showed the leadership skills of a chief

His skills stood out, too, of course, and the inside-out swing that would rifle so
many hits to right field intrigued Groch. Sometimes, if a hitter punches too many balls
the opposite way, it means he cannot catch up to the fastball. Groch asked the young
Jeter if he or the pitcher was dictating the action.

Jeter replied that it was his choice. He was using his ability to wait a split-second
longer so he could react to more pitches. And when he got a letter-high fastball over
the middle, Groch said, Jeter could still pull it over the left-field wall, the way he
would for a pivotal homer in the 2000 World Series against the Mets, and for his
3,000th hit in 2011.

By then, Jeter was so accomplished that it was easy to forget his initial struggles,
his 56 errors in Class A in 1993. His defense, especially his lack of range, would remaina flash point deep into his career, with many believing he was vastly overrated in the
field. But he made himself reliable enough to stay at shortstop, and in 1994 he was the
consensus minor league player of the year. He was on his way.

Jeter was the American League rookie of the year in 1996, when the Yankees won
the World Series, and the glare never bothered him. He remains a bachelor who dates
starlets, but his rules of engagement with the news media have worked because of his
unrelenting consistency. He never answers questions about his personal life — ever —
and so is rarely even asked.

No superstar in sports is more accessible than Jeter, who is available by his locker
before and after almost every game, mainly to take pressure off teammates. Group
interviews can play out like jousting matches, which Jeter always wins. He cannot be
baited into saying something that will linger as a story. He does not raise his voice,
rarely shows irritation and never goes off the record.

Jeter is often called boring, but that is not quite right. His reverence for Yankees
history, and his place in it, is endearing. He insists on using a recording of the late Bob
Sheppard, the public-address announcer whose career began the same day as Mickey
Mantle’s, before his home at-bats.

At the old Stadium, Jeter dressed next to the empty locker of another captain,
Thurman Munson, who was killed in a plane crash in 1979. When Phil Rizzuto, his
long-ago predecessor at shortstop, died in 2007, Jeter revealed that Rizzuto’s
autograph was the only one in his collection.

Jeter asked for just one artifact from the original Stadium: the overhead sign from
the dugout runway with Joe DiMaggio’s famous quotation, thanking the Lord for
making him a Yankee.

In his retirement statement on Wednesday, Jeter began by saying thank you.

By announcing his intention, Jeter all but ensures a farewell tour with gifts at
each opposing ballpark, as Mariano Rivera experienced last season. Ceremony does
not seem to be Jeter’s style, but he said he wanted to soak in his final moments, and
who would deny him the privilege?

Last week, Groch sent an email to Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, a former minor
leaguer he also signed years ago. Groch asked Close to give his regards to Jeter and his
family, and added a plea about the captain’s exit.

“Don’t let him go out not playing shortstop,” Groch said he told Close. “Don’t let
him go out playing left field or third base. Let him go out like Mo. Let him go out the
way he deserves.”

Image: Gregory Heisler, SI

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Derek Jeter represented everything a superstar should be

By Tom Verducci
February 12, 2014

Derek Jeter strokes hit number 3,000 on July 9, 2011

So fatigued and dispirited was Yankees righthander David Cone as he walked off the mound in Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series in Seattle that for the next week he would seldom leave his New York apartment and he could not raise his right arm enough to even comb his air. Cone threw 147 pitches -- still the most in any LDS game -- the last of which resulted in a bases-loaded walk that tied a game the Yankees would lose. What happened when a forlorn Cone reached the dugout provided a subtle hint of what the next two decades in baseball would look like. The first one to get off the bench to console and congratulate him was a 21-year-old kid who wasn't even on the active roster: Derek Jeter.

Jeter was the consummate leader. He arrived in the big leagues fully baked. He understood from day one that it was better to be defined by championships than by statistics. He started with that premise, and upon that layered extraordinary talent and remarkable physical and mental toughness to become the archetype of what a Major League Baseball franchise player should be.

Jeter announced Wednesday this will be his final season playing baseball. A friend of Jeter's who did not want to be identified, and who knew the announcement was coming, said Jeter "is in a great place physically and mentally. He just feels really, really good about this." The friend said Jeter didn't want to be asked all season about retirement, and wanted to enjoy his last season without having to constantly parry the issue. He wanted to enjoy his exit with the fans, similar to how Mariano Rivera did last year.

Jeter is expected to hold a news conference next week in Tampa when the position players report to Yankees camp. He is going out on his own terms. Take a good look, folks, and appreciate one last season to watch the finest player of his generation and the greatest shortstop since Honus Wagner hung up his spikes in 1917.

"When you consider every dynamic of this sport he is the greatest player of this era," said Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. "He's a Hall of Fame player even without all the intangibles. But when you consider the championships, the character, the leadership and the way he represented baseball without fail with class and dignity and honor, there was nobody better. And he did it playing every day in the spotlight. He is everything you would want in a player."

Union chief and former teammate Tony Clark said in a statement, "For nearly 20 years, there has been no greater ambassador to the game of baseball than Derek Jeter."

It is true enough; such was Jeter's natural savoir faire in and out of spikes that he is the rare person whom men, women and children all wanted to follow. But the greatness of his ability actually became underrated because of the attention given his intangibles -- the way a casual fan praised them and the way a sabermetrician dismissed them.

If you would like to keep Wagner as the greatest shortstop of all time, go right ahead. The numbers are there. But keep this in mind, too: Baseball a hundred years ago, in quality, speed and skill, hardly resembled today's game; you might as well compare air travel today to air travel then. Teams would play entire games with one baseball -- even as pitchers were spitting licorice on it and fans were throwing it back to the field when it was hit foul. It was far easier for a great player to become great because of such uneven talent around him. In what we think of as the modern game, Jeter has built the best career at the position.

Alex Rodriguez? Please. The fraudulence to his career alone disqualifies him -- besides the fact that Jeter has played twice as many games at shortstop as Rodriguez. Cal Ripken? Close, but Ripken played 242 fewer games at shortstop, has 132 fewer hits, a much lower on-base percentage (.340-.381) and virtually the same slugging percentage (.447-.446). Arky Vaughan? He had more than a thousand fewer hits and never won a World Series.Ozzie Smith and his 28 career home runs? Robin Yount, who was done as a shortstop at age 28, or Ernie Banks, who was finished at the position at 30?

None of them match Jeter when it comes to the totality of the career at shortstop: the numbers, the longevity and the championships. Only Wagner has more hits, only Rodriguez has more runs, and, assuming Jeter plays at least 40 games there this year, only Omar Vizquel will have played more games at the position. Now when you add on the intangibles, Jeter becomes even more of the once-a-century shortstop. At the root of those intangibles are his parents, Dot and Charles. When you are around Jeter enough you cannot help but be impressed with how he was raised. In manner and strength, his reliability is extraordinary.

One day early in spring training 1997, just as Jeter was making it big on Broadway, Yankees manager Joe Torre called Jeter into his office.

"I know there are a lot of distractions out there," Torre told him. "You're a single guy in New York, you just won the Rookie of the Year award and you're a New York Yankee world champion. I just want to make sure you take nothing for granted."

"Don't worry, Mr. T.," Jeter said. "Baseball is the most important thing to me and always will be. I won't be distracted by anything."

Said Torre, "Never worried about him again. Never had to say anything else to him in all the years."

Three years later in the Subway Series against the Mets, the pressure weighed heavily on the Yankees in Game 4. They had lost Game 3 at Shea Stadium. The club was launching its own television network and the only disgrace worse to owner George Steinbrenner than losing the World Series would be to lose it to the Mets. Just before the game, with a wink in his eye, Jeter said to Torre, "I got you."

When Bobby Jones threw the first pitch over the plate Jeter smashed it for a home run. The series essentially was over at that moment.

Everywhere you turned in October after October there was Jeter. He was his own serial drama, a precursor to The Sopranos or Homeland. Playoff games became Jeter episodes. The Jeffrey Maier Homer. The Flip Game. The Leadoff Homer. Mr. November. The 5-for-5. And there was always that signature moment the camera loved: the fist pump after the last out.

Jeter was the most important force in the greatest dynasty in the expansion era, and, as a beloved iconic championship player in New York, the single most valuable player in the period of enormous economic growth for the industry. In his first eight full seasons in the majors (1996-2003), Jeter and the Yankees won 64 percent of their games and went 16-4 in postseason series, winning four World Series and missing two others by three games. During his 19 years, the Yankees have a .599 winning percentage with Jeter on the field (1,653-1,107, including postseason play).

Jeter didn't thrive on pure talent. When he showed up for instructional camp, coach Brian Butterfield had to teach him how to catch a baseball; Jeter had to learn to "take" the ball with his gloved hand and break his habit of always "giving" with it. He hit .210 in rookie ball and made 56 errors in his first full season in the minors. He hit like a man fending off a swarm of bees; his left elbow would flail out and away from his body and still does. He runs like a marionette, with elbows and knees askew. But something always stood out about the way Jeter carried himself.

"Right away it was obvious that the players -- you would notice it right away -- the players gravitated toward him," Butterfield said. "He was very well liked. He had a great disposition, a good sense of humor. He had a smile on face. When he got to working, that grin would melt into a serious look."

The quality in Jeter that may be least appreciated is his ferocity. He had absolutely no use for negativity and seethed when reporters would fish for a negative angle.

"I'm an optimist by nature," he once told me. "That's why when it comes to any negative stuff, I don't like to hear about it, I don't like to read about it, I don't like to know about it. I try to be positive."

For years reporters brought up the "eventual" move to another position, yet Jeter, like Barry Larkin and Smith, will leave the game having nothing to do with giving up shortstop. He was notoriously stubborn when it came to injuries, typically refusing x-rays on the grounds that they were meaningless because, no matter what they showed, he was playing anyway. When the bone in his ankle cracked in 2012, Jeter refused to be carted off the field. And he did not tolerate teammates who took days off or cut corners.

"One day in Kansas City," Torre said, "[reliever] Paul Quantrill came up to me unsolicited and just said, 'You know, I knew Jeter was a good player. But until now, after getting to play with him, I never knew he was this good.' I always thought that was such a great compliment."

The modern sports star is a highlight package best viewed from a distance. The more we know the less we like. We prefer to leave them as connect-the-dots pictures; we'll fill in what we don't know. We excuse bad behavior or selfishness because we love the talent. Jeter is the opposite of this phenomenon. He is best appreciated not for one skill, one season or one game, but over 20 seasons in which every day was played under the highest degree of accountability in the sport: in New York as a Yankee expected to win.

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Jeter sets up the perfect ending to a stellar career

By Bob Klapisch
February 13, 2014

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter swings at a pitch during practice at the Yankees' minor league facility Wednesday in Tampa, Fla.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter swings at a pitch during practice at the Yankees' minor league facility Wednesday in Tampa, Fla. (AP)

How fitting, how perfect for Derek Jeter to end his career at Fenway Park on Sept. 28, in the heart of enemy territory, putting the final touches on an era of Yankees-Red Sox rivalry we’ll never see again. Jeter represents the best years of this beautiful power struggle, and you better believe, if the Bombers don’t make it to the playoffs, he’ll walk away to an ovation that would otherwise be treasonous for a visiting player.

But Jeter has never been your ordinary major leaguer. From the moment he stepped on the field as a rookie in 1996, he was always slightly larger than life — more successful than the scouts projected, more talented than his skinny body suggested and more charismatic than he should have been, considering outsiders like you and me never got past the front door.

Jeter was the Joe DiMaggio of our time, a star shrouded in mystery. No one ever played it closer to the vest; when it came time to announce his retirement on Wednesday, effective at the end of the 2014 season, Jeter took even the Yankees by surprise. There were no phone calls to the front office, no arrangement for a massive press conference, just a 14-paragraph post on Facebook that allowed Jeter to control the message.

Even Joe Torre, the closest Jeter has had to a father figure in baseball, said, “I didn’t know [the announcement] was coming.”

It was clean, efficient, flawlessly executed, just like everything else Jeter has done in his career. In an industry driven by ego and gossip and off-the-record back-stabbing, Jeter hasn’t made a single enemy in 17 years. You see it in the |way opposing base runners talk to him at second base, with near-|reverence. Jeter never embarrasses an umpire by arguing too loudly |or too long; he simply leans for |a few words that, true to form, aren’t meant for public consumption.

That’s why Jeter walks away without so much has a scratch on his reputation, because he plays the game without attitude, without an agenda and, let us assume, without steroids. Not only has Jeter served as the billboard of the beautiful war with the Red Sox, he has stood for success without chemicals, without the PEDs that Alex Rodriguez became so hopelessly addicted to.

Do I know for sure Jeter was clean? I have no data to back it up, but there are times when your instincts deliver an irrefutable verdict. Or as one major league executive, who’s known Jeter for parts of three decades, said last summer, “I would bet everything in my possession that Derek was never one of the bad guys [who cheated].”

That’s precisely why Jeter’s legacy will surpass the bigger, stronger and more talented superstars of this era, because what he has achieved — the five World Series rings, the 13 All-Star Game appearances, being the only Yankee to ever reach 3,000 hits — has been through hard work and a relentless competitiveness.

So therein lies the mystery of Jeter’s sudden announcement on Wednesday, the one that rocked the Yankees family. There was no reason to believe he’d had enough of baseball. If anything, the captain had poured himself into an intense off-season regimen in anticipation of yet another comeback. Jeter told friends he wanted to keep playing well into his 40s, perhaps to crash through the 4,000-hit barrier and someday pass Pete Rose for the all-time record.

That would be Jeter’s last laugh on the steroid junkies, outlasting them all, outperforming their beloved chemicals. It was reason enough for Jeter to keep asking more from his body, even as he finally began to break down last year. He managed only 63 at-bats and batted only .190, never fully recovering from the fractured ankle he suffered in the 2012 postseason.

So why quit now? Why map out an exit strategy when the bones had finally healed and the wide open space called the 2014 season looked so inviting? Maybe because the rebirth wasn’t going exactly as Jeter had planned. Perhaps he sensed the futility of asking a 40-year-old body to respond to daily stress as it did in its 20s and 30s. If that’s so, if Jeter really does see the end, good for him for being honest enough to say so — even in his own measured way.

Jeter’s honesty is a refreshing change from the non-stop lying we’ve been forced to endure from A-Rod. That alone would be enough to fuel a farewell tour for Jeter, although, let’s face it, being honored, city by city, month after month, goes against his profile, too.
Jeter has always been a man’s-man, old-school type of athlete, born without a Look At Me gene. But he knows exactly what’s in store, now that the world is waiting to say goodbye. It’s going to be a long, weepy summer for the man who never cries.

Let’s see what happens the first time Jeter starts waving to a crowd that refuses to sit down. Let’s see how Jeter says goodbye to his fans in the Yankees’ regular-season home finale on Sept. 25. Or three days later, when Mr. Yankee tips his cap to Red Sox Nation and realizes they’re not just cheering, but saying “Thank you.” Just a hunch Jeter’s eyes will glisten and it won’t be just because of the sunlight.
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There will never be a Yankee that mattered more than Derek Jeter

No one was ever more the face of the Yankees, was more important to their brand, than Jeter has been since he ran out to shortstop for good one April afternoon in 1996.

By Mike Lupica
February 12, 2014

Derek Jeter, working out in Tampa Wednesday ahead of spring training, says his recent injury woes help him decide to end his career after one more season in pinstripes.


Derek Jeter, working out in Tampa Wednesday ahead of spring training, says his recent injury woes help him decide to end his career after one more season in pinstripes.

In so many ways, there has not been a Yankee who mattered more to the Yankees than Derek Jeter, not since Babe Ruth.

This does not make Jeter bigger than Ruth in either baseball talent, or accomplishments. It does not make him a better player than the great Mariano Rivera was a closer, does not mean he was more of a combination of skill and grace than Joe DiMaggio. Does not mean he ever thrilled people on a ballfield the way Mickey Mantle did when he was young, before injury stole so much from Mantle across all his own Yankee summers and alcohol did its job on him at night.

But in the modern world, and that really means the Yankee universe of the past 20 years, no one was ever more the face of the Yankees, was more important to their brand, than Jeter has been since he ran out to shortstop for good one April afternoon in 1996.

In all the big ways then, No. 2 has been the one.

He announces now that this coming season will be his last, and really tells you all about the modern world, and not just in baseball, by making that announcement with a Facebook post. Jeter does this before another spring training, officially his last, begins for the Yankees on the other side of Florida from where it all began for him in Fort Lauderdale a long time ago.

“I’ve experienced so many defining moments in my career,” he wrote Wednesday. “Winning the World Series as a rookie shortstop, being named the Yankees captain, closing the old and opening the new Yankee Stadium. Through it all, I’ve never stopped chasing the next one. I finally want to stop the chase and take in the world.”

There have been so many Yankee stars, of course. Ruth was the great star of all sports once, in the Roaring Twenties, such a golden age of sports because of him and Lou Gehrig and Red Grange and Jack Dempsey. Then came DiMaggio and Mantle and Yogi and Whitey Ford, the best Yankee starting pitcher of all time.

But Jeter has been as much a star as any of them, in this time when the Yankees got big again, when sports has been bigger than ever. He has been the one honoring the history of the team as well as anybody ever had, with his own grace, being the kind of winner he is, and being something else, as meaningful as all the rest of it:

For two decades he was the Yankee that kids wanted to be.

You know the Yankees sell their history and tradition with both hands, in all possible ways, and try to buy more by overpaying all these free agents over the years. More than any of that, though, for these two decades, the best promotion they had was at shortstop. They just had to send Jeter out there day after day and summer after summer.

This is not to diminish what George Steinbrenner brought back to the Yankees with money and noise and all his Barnum flair; or what Joe Torre — “Mr. Torre” to Derek Jeter, always — did in the years when he was the top manager of any professional sports team; does not diminish the accomplishments of the other members of what we have called the Core Four — Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.

But of all the Yankees in these years when the Yankees became the Yankees again, it was Jeter, No. 2, who was the one.

He acted the way old Yankee fans remembered the old Yankees acting. He was the kind of winner Yankee fans wanted their team to be. He was a member of five teams that won the World Series and played in two other Series, and now has more hits than any Yankee and has played in more games. When he got to 3,000 hits, he did it with Jeter style, putting one over the leftfield wall.

There was a time one year, when the Yankees were still on top of baseball, and I was with him at his locker as another postseason was about to begin and said to him, “This can’t go on for you like this forever.”

Jeter looked up and said, “Why not?”

There was another day, back in the ’90s, in the middle of what was the last Yankee dynasty, four World Series in five years and nearly a fifth until things fell apart against the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in 2001. It was a Sunday morning, early, in the clubhouse at the old Stadium. I was sitting with David Cone having coffee and the door opened and here came Jeter.

Cone said “good morning” and Jeter said the same, and then smiled and disappeared into the trainer’s room. When he was gone, Cone said, “It’s good being Derek.”

The winning stopped until it started up again, briefly, in 2009. The free agents came and went with the Yankees and so many high-priced juicers you lose count of sometimes, to the point where you imagine someday an Old-Timers’ Day just for them. Through it all, there was Jeter, running out to shortstop day after day, leading off, hitting famous home runs and making famous flip plays and acting as if the first few rows of the stands were part of the field when he recklessly — and successfully — chased foul balls like he was willing to chase them all the way into the parking lot.

He wrote Wednesday of his dreams and how they all began with an empty canvas. Now there is one more summer, if his legs hold out, to fill in the last parts of that canvas, perhaps with one more rousing October.

But this announcement Wednesday made you remember one more moment of grace from him, in September 2008, when he was the one speaking for the Yankees and their fans, for the whole idea of the Yankees, on the night when they officially said goodbye to the old Stadium. He talked that night about taking memories across the street and saluted the fans he called “the greatest fans in the world.” Then he led his team on a lap around the old place.

Now he begins another victory lap, across one more baseball summer, the one during which he somehow turns 40. He wasn’t the all-time home run king and he didn’t hit in 56 straight games and he never won a Triple Crown the way Mantle did. Still: You add it all up today, you remember everything he has done on the field and everything he has meant off it, how much he did to make the Yankees the Yankees again, and you know there has never been a Yankee who mattered more. Or will ever matter this much again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Today's Tune: Fleetwood Mac - Angel (Live 1979)

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master
February 17, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives at a film screening in 2012. (Tiziana Fabi/AP)

By the start of 1991, “Law & Order” was well into its first season, and its stride. Cop shows have a record of pulling good actors into their gravitational field. I once got a jolt of recognition, and of joy, when, hopping channels and pausing for a dose of “Kojak,” from 1974, I saw James Woods—green in years, but already hard-grained with incipient threat. A similar promise lurked in “The Violence of Summer,” an episode of “Law & Order” that aired on February 5, 1991. Ryan, a young man charged with rape, was led into court, followed by two co-defendants. One made no impression, but the other, though granted less time on camera, drew the eye. Casting a wicked smirk over his shoulder as he came in, he then sat down. He was dough-soft and putty-pink, with hair and eyebrows of muted orange. Viewers had a few seconds, at best, to size him up. If asked, they would have tagged him as one of nature’s punching bags—the porcine type who gets himself bullied, every recess, in a quiet nook of the playground and no longer bothers to complain.

And then he exploded. This little pig went ape. He stared across at Ryan and his finger tapped the table. “We know what you did, O.K.? You hear me, Ryan?” he said. He rose to his feet, and his voice climbed, too, by an octave. He pointed at his own face, and roared, “Look at me!” The scene played out, the law fell into disorder, guns were drawn, the plot hared on, but the instruction had been unambiguously issued, and from that moment, until Sunday, February 2, 2014, we obeyed. Philip Seymour Hoffman told us to look, and we did.

What have we been robbed of, by his death? Not so much a movie star, I think, as somebody who took our dramatic taxonomy—all those lazy, useful terms by which we like to classify and patronize our performers, even the best ones—and threw it away. Leading man, character actor, supporting player: really, who gives a damn? Either you hold an audience, so tight that it feels lashed to the seats, or you don’t. That is why the distinction between Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, at the Academy Awards, grows ever more ludicrous—essential, of course, to the smooth structure of the night, but untrue, in the long run, to the way in which we feed on film, or store it away for lavish future consumption. I sometimes watch “Rear Window” just for the kick of seeing Thelma Ritter (and that’s in a movie that already boasts Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart, for heaven’s sake), and, with the same hunger, I often watch “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007) for the scenes with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He plays a C.I.A. agent named Gust Avrakotos, and you can feel that missing “o” hanging right off the end of his first name. He has a sad mustache, smoked spectacles, and a gut flopping proudly over his belt. There is a long sequence, in the office of our lounging hero, Representative Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), that shears close to a Feydeau farce; it comes complete with phone calls, buggings, Amy Adams popping in and out of one door, and Hoffman muscling in and out of another. You can sense the director, Mike Nichols, who knows a thing or two about entrances and exits, relishing every minute and wishing that this stuff could rattle on forever. No less delectable is the onslaught that Gust unleashes in the face of his boss, at Langley, reminding him that he, a Greek-American, has “spent the past three years learning Finnish.” By way of a coda, he takes a wrench and smashes the office window—the earlier smashing of which, incidentally, he had been summoned to apologize for. Then comes the coda to the coda: as Gust marches away in the highest possible dudgeon, he pauses briefly at the desk of a female assistant to grunt, under his breath, “How was I?” Silently, she shows him: thumbs-up.

Now, you can read that moment as a mere curlicue, at the story’s edge; she means that the boss had it coming. But Nichols would scarcely have included the line if he didn’t think that it responded to an urge in his audience. Gust’s rhetoric has brought us halfway to our feet, and we, too, like Siskel and Ebert, would like to signal our appreciation. This involves nothing so vulgar as Hoffman’s breaking the fourth wall, as though it were made of glass, and pleading for our applause. Rather, like many of his peers, not least Brando, he demonstrated that life itself, when lived to the hilt, acquired a flourish of the theatrical. Again, our daily distinction, between the sincere and the insincere, will not suffice. Gust was absolutely genuine as he laid into the C.I.A. chief, but he was also quite aware of the performance that he was putting on, not just for the benefit of his fellow-employees but for the smack of his own satisfaction.

All of us, at some point, play to the gallery of ourselves. That is why we speak of “making a scene,” the phrase telling of both unfeigned outrage and calculated conceit. T. S. Eliot, at his most provoking, suggested that Othello was doing something in this vein in his majestic final speech—“cheering himself up,” in Eliot’s startling words. We are meant to imagine the Moor, in mid-oration, eying an invisible mirror, as though to check his noble frame, just as Tolstoy, in the third chapter of “War and Peace,” asks us to picture Princess Hélène, “glancing now at her beautiful round arm, altered in shape by its pressure on the table,” in the midst of a glittering reception. Hoffman was no prince, and he knew it, but he was wise enough to know that vanity burrows well below the skin.

Hence the first closeup of him in “The Master” (2012), as Lancaster Dodd, the lord of a cult, who sits marooned in light in an otherwise dark room, wearing red, like a cardinal. He is meeting a bum named Freddie, an ex-sailor and potential acolyte, but, to judge by the pose that Dodd holds, with his face half-hidden by one hand, you would think he was waiting for Rodin. Hoffman had the most expressive hands I have ever seen, and he deployed them to full advantage, whether wristily conducting his own bon mots, in “Capote” (2005), as if they were notes in a score, or greeting his new son-in-law, in “The Master,” with a pumping handshake that he is loath to release, like a wrestler’s grip. (One unsurprising fact: Hoffman wrestled in high school.) Do such affectations of power make Dodd a joke? Hoffman gave us plenty to mock in him, and yet, as we saw what the leader meant to the clinging souls around him, and to what extent he believed in his own deceptions, the laughter died in our throats.

How lonely was Hoffman? I refer not to his personal life; I know little about it, or about the ratio of demons to angels with which he had to contend. For that, there can be only pity and sorrow. Instead, I am thinking of the figure that he struck onscreen. (Like many fans, I am now chiding myself for not having witnessed him onstage, especially as Willy Loman.) He was certainly contained, to an alarming degree, and such were the gravelled depths of his voice that he often gave the impression, even in company, of murmuring to himself, as though submerged regrets and grievances were ready to overflow. Some films, I think, afforded him too much leeway in that respect. His fantasist and obscene caller, in “Happiness” (1998), Todd Solondz’s parade of suburban repressives, was horribly convincing, and toadlike in his clamminess, but he bored even his therapist, and it may not be a film that many Hoffmanites, aside from the most devout, would revisit in a hurry. In “Jack Goes Boating” (2010), the one feature he directed, he was inconsolable, and Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” (2008), likewise, found Hoffman rolling through the action in a private fog of desolation, beyond the reach of other characters, even though his part—as a theatre director who endlessly re-creates his own existence on a gigantic set—seemed like the perfect fit.

Better by far were the instances in which those solitary urges were forced to fight with his taste for the gregarious—when, in short, he barrelled in and bounced off other people. This singular player, whose dramatic eminence, like that of Charles Laughton, was as unmistakable as his physical contours, was happy to be pitched into a standoff, or into a busy ensemble. Hence his sublime political head-to-head, in “The Ides of March,” with Paul Giamatti—two dauntless actors playing two conscience-free campaign managers, neither giving half an inch of ground. The more adept and well armed his co-star, the more Hoffman brought to the fray, whether with Laura Linney, who played his sister in “The Savages” (2007), or, the same year, with Marisa Tomei, in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” This was a wonderfully taut account, from the veteran Sidney Lumet, of two brothers—Hoffman and Ethan Hawke—who knock off their parents’ jewelry store. You can guess how well that goes. The atmosphere of bad debts and impeded dreams gives Hoffman plenty to breathe, although it’s unbearable, now, to see him sprawled in a haze of heroin, in his dealer’s apartment, lamenting, “I’m not the sum of my parts. All of my parts don’t add up to one”—he pauses, seeking the right phrase—“one me.” No less wistful, but more heartening, is the next scene, when Tomei, as his faithless, useless, but affectionate wife, chats with him in bed. “I don’t know why you want to keep me,” she tells him, but Hoffman simply opens wide his hands, as if to say, That’s love.

From early on, this was what we treasured in Hoffman: his will to break the habit of solitude—all the more so because we realize how crushing an addiction it can be. There was Scotty, the boom operator he played in “Boogie Nights” (1997), a shy spirit in the fiesta of porno flicks, who made a clumsy pass at Mark Wahlberg in front of a gleaming Corvette, and then, rebuffed, sat in the front seat and wept. As for Lester Bangs, the rock journalist in “Almost Famous” (2000), nothing in Hoffman’s résumé was more wrenching than the careful, low-toned advice that Bangs dispensed over the phone, one evening, to a rookie in the same profession, steering him away from bright lights, and from the lure of loveliness. “Good-looking people, they got no spine; their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter,” he said, adding, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

How could that not speak to a million moviegoers? If they embraced Hoffman with ardor, it was in part because he looked so uncool, and so unbeautiful, and because he so obviously hailed from the same tribe as they did, and because there was a kind of beauty, after all, in the flame of feeling that got stoked inside that sweaty heft and pallor. The ordinary body housed a furnace. Besides, who’d be a romantic lead these days, in Hollywood? When did the industry last deliver a fine romance for gorgeous grownups? Yearn as we may for Cary Grant, and for Grant-like opportunities for George Clooney, we dwell in the age of Hoffman.

This is not to deny that, when required, and shorn of his formless yellowing beard, the guy could tidy up nicely. Indeed, there was an instant humor to be had from putting him in demure and even preppy gear. Remember the agonized smile of Brandt, the personal assistant in “The Big Lebowski” (1998), who, in immaculate jacket and tie, was obliged to show the Dude—dressed, as usual, as if for a sack race—around the Lebowski mansion, bursting with pride as he comes to a photograph of Nancy Reagan (“First Lady of the nation”). See how helplessly he stands there, arms flapping at his sides, half butler, half penguin, when confronted with Dudeism in full spate. Then, there was “Patch Adams”—

Whoa! “Patch Adams,” the Robin Williams fiasco from 1998, about the medic who uses clownish capers to help the sick and the dying? The film that was slightly less entertaining than bird flu? Well, yes: there is Hoffman, present and correct as a would-be doctor, his head stuck in his books. And yet, even here, he finds something to work with—turning from his desk, admitting freely that he’s a prick, but asking Patch whether terminally ill patients would prefer “a prick on their side, or some kindergarten teacher who’s going to kiss their ass.” It’s an excellent question. Track back through the Hoffman œuvre, and you discover nothing but the traces of a pro—an actor who forbade himself to look down upon a project, or, if he secretly did, to share that condescension with the viewer. Slumming was not an option. Enjoy, instead, the lustiness with which he joined in tornado-chasing as if it were a barn dance, in “Twister” (1996), or the strangely baffled look in Tom Cruise’s eyes, during “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), as he torments the villain—Hoffman—by hanging him upside down out of an airplane. We catch Hoffman’s expression, with the wind howling by, and the madness that grips it is not merely invincible but, even at this altitude, amused. Hauled back up, he refuses to divulge information, and Cruise seems honestly perplexed as to why he—chiselled, perpetually young, boundlessly popular, and aglow with world-rescuing virtue—should be making no headway with this schlub. It is not, in truth, a matter of hero versus baddie; it is a mapping of one star as it nears the trajectory of another and starts to waver.

All of which proves that genre was not something to frighten Hoffman. Early on, he saw the challenge that is laid down to every darling of the art house: ask not what the mainstream can do for you but what you can bring to the mainstream, and what precious lessons might be trawled along the way. He was twenty-four when he was cast as a smug schoolboy in “Scent of a Woman” (1992)—again, in preppy mode, with his hair neatly brushed as if by a fussy mother. He snitches on the school pranksters, thus triggering the blind rage of Al Pacino, who then stands up for the importance of not being a rat. If Hoffman took the chance to learn from the older actor, and to observe how harangues could be calibrated for the camera, you could hardly blame him. Mind you, his own perorations, in due course, would look rougher and more red-faced than any Pacino rant. Is it the fate of every generation of performer, however commanding, to seem touched with artifice when compared with what comes next? And will Hoffman, someday, seem mannered in his turn?

It’s hard to think so, such were the pains that he took to camouflage the fact that his bag of tricks contained any tricks at all. We may notice Gust, in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” poking his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, hitching up his pants, or planting himself foursquare, hands on hips, in front of the boss’s desk; but we don’t think of these details as being built up and rehearsed by Hoffman, and he doesn’t advertise them. To us, they seem like typical Gust—the basic ingredients of who he is. By contrast, I happen to think that “Capote” was more of a showcase. You can hardly blame Hoffman, and you can see why he won and deserved his Oscar for the part, but the movie itself was too readily encouraged to stand back from him in awe. When Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) scorns Capote, on a train, for paying the porter to praise his books, her censure just slides off him, and the campness of his cackle, at being found out, tells us to carry on loving the naughty imp. Hoffman’s assembly of Trumanhood was dazzling, from the bow tie to the dainty gait and the Looney Tunes contralto, but the dazzle was unrelieved and unrelaxing, like the glare of an arc lamp, and, in the end, some of us, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, found it, as Capote would say, de trop. No, for preference—for Hoffman at his height—I would go for Freddie.

Freddie Miles is a friend of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999). Freddie is trouble, and, more to the point, he can sniff trouble when it emanates from other folk. Everyone who admires the film remembers his arrival—one of the great arrivals, indeed, in the history of cinema, as he jumps from an open-top Alfa Romeo in an Italian piazza, bops toward us, kisses Dickie, pours a slug of wine, and throws it down his gullet in a single draught. But try a more legato scene, on Dickie’s yacht, when Law ducks down, belowdecks, to make waves with Gwyneth Paltrow. Freddie is left in charge of the boat. Once more, Hoffman’s technical display, if you look carefully, is off the scale, with Freddie nursing his cocktail, nibbling the olive on its stick, and casually laying a soft hand on the tiller, as if any harsher effort would be an insult to his loucheness. By now, however, he is so invested in the character, and we are so lost in his thrall, that we don’t look carefully. We just bathe in the ease of it, and we snicker along with him as he jeers at Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), up in the bow, who is spying on the lovemakers down in the hold. “Tommy, how’s the peeping?” Freddie cries, with glee unconfined. He repeats the line, with less punch, and then, in a speedy patter, adds, “Tommy Tommy Tommy Tommy Tommy.” I know of no more graceful diminuendo, at least in the comic realm. (King Lear says “Never” five times, before he dies.) It is the sound of a man who is entirely at home in the world, chuckling at another man who is still exploring it, and still amazed at the deliciousness of its sins.

The film was directed by Anthony Minghella, somebody else whose loss we could not at first believe and could ill afford. Minghella saw the fruitfulness of allowing characters, and the actors who embodied them, to take turns in the spotlight—to strut and fret their time upon the stage, and then make way. Who owns the movie is never quite decided, and the one thing more full-blooded than Hoffman’s swagger, in his first appearance, is the élan with which he yields to the blissful air of repertory—a travelling troupe, putting on a show. There is a modesty in that approach: an unexpected trait, in such a force of nature as Philip Seymour Hoffman, and in so immodest a trade as cinema. You stare at the bulk and blaze of him, and you think, That’s gone? Those other lives that he had yet to create and flesh out, in all their intensity—when do we get to see those? Never, never, never, never, never. Just enjoy what we had of him, I guess. As the kid said, “Look at me.”