Very few players in sports history have earned the title “iconic.” Derek Jeter, current New York Yankees shortstop and 13-time MLB All-Star, is one of those players.

Jeter is iconic to the city of New York, the biggest and brightest sports market in the world. He’s iconic to every player who’s ever had the privilege of calling him a teammate. Iconic even to his sworn enemies, the Boston Red Sox, after nearly two decades of heated divisional races and historic playoff duels.

Jeter is a model athlete in the truest sense of the word. He is the centerpiece of a franchise that some would argue is the proudest and most accomplished not only in the sport’s history, but in the history of sports itself. Jeter is a five-time World Series champion — how many players can say that? — and, since his 1995 debut, has earned just about every other accolade in the book.

He’s surpassed the likes of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Micky Mantle and Yogi Berra to become the Yankees’ all-time leader in hits. And he’s done it all with the same winning smile that earned him the admiration of every baseball fan, young and old, years ago.

So naturally, when sports analyst Skip Bayless publicly and forcefully brought up a possible link between Jeter and performance-enhancing drugs back in August on “ESPN First Take,” I found myself in a state of denial.

Baseball, at least as much as any other sport, has had its share of shocking stories and falls from grace — see Pete Rose or the 1919 World Series. But most of us never expected Jeter to be tarred with a similar brush.

The remarks were met with shock by Bayless’ on-air adversary, Stephen A. Smith, and a lighthearted but nonetheless affected response from Jeter himself.

“Maybe Skip should be tested,” he joked.

It must be said that Derek Jeter has never been a power hitter by major league standards. His season-high home run total came in 1999, when he blasted 24 over the fence, and even that is modest compared with league leaders.

Entering 2012, Jeter’s yearly long-ball production had dropped every year since 2004 — with the exception of 2009. For most players, “power numbers” decline as a product of aging, but such a trend goes out the window when dealing with a non-power hitter.

As of Sept. 10, Jeter has 15 homers on the year, two and a half times his 2011 total. It is his highest production since 2009 and the second highest since 2005. With over 20 games remaining, that number will likely inch even higher.

The steroid era has put baseball in an ominous light. Some of the game’s biggest names over the last quarter-century have admitted to illegal substance use: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco all come to mind.

These, however, are just the players whose naming in the infamous 2007 Mitchell Report was publicized because of their home-run tallies. A further look at the list actually reveals a good number of players whose styles of play resemble Jeter’s. That being the case, then, can an argument be entertained on the remote possibility that Derek Jeter did, in fact, disobey league rules and take HGH or another PED?
Common logic says to run tests and decide the matter once and for all. Yankees’ fans and Jeter supporters would argue to the contrary.

To single one man out in such an investigation displays a unique suspicion and distrust of a player who is supposed to represent everything good and clean about sports. Simply testing Jeter, regardless of the outcome, would tarnish his reputation; in other words, testing Jeter would be Commissioner Bud Selig’s coming out and saying, “Let’s just make sure.”

Jeter, if any professional athlete ever was, is beyond “let’s just make sure.” His stoic reaction to Bayless alone likely put the argument to rest in many people’s minds.

What lifelong Yanks’ fans and Jeter obsessors need to understand is that, beyond the pinstripes and incessant gum-chewing, Derek Jeter is only a human being. In an era when scandals like the one at Penn State have shaken our faith in the most deified figures, we cannot say that Jeter is beyond suspicion.

Still, as the foundations of our legal system remind us — and as Smith retorted to Bayless — Jeter is innocent until proven guilty.

Matt Bell is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. FRESH OUT OF PHILLY appears every Friday.

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