Ali, like Jeter, was a proud, extraordinarily confident and almost unnaturally focused athlete.
It was those qualities that enabled Ali to overcome the monster that was Sonny Liston, the injustice of three years of professional exile, and the terror that was George Foreman.
It was those same qualities that caused Ali to carry on, long after his remarkable skills and reflexes had deserted him, resulting in beatings by Leon Spinks and Trevor Berbick, and, many neurologists believe, destined him to his fate as a prisoner in his own body, a victim of advancing Parkinson’s disease.
Thankfully, Jeter faces no such physical peril, only the embarrassment of attempting to play on beyond the expiration date of his skills. That date does not appear to have arrived—Jeter had an excellent bounce-back season in 2011, especially after his return from the disabled list in July—but there seems little doubt that like Ali, when the time comes, Jeter will be the last to know.
Jeter’s extraordinary self-belief, his unmatched focus and limitless optimism—he was perhaps the only one who truly believed he would bounce back from his difficult, and at times horrendous, 2010—are the reasons why he is Derek Jeter in the first place.
They are also the reasons why, when the signs of real decline set in, Derek Jeter will be the last to recognize them.
Posted: February 24, 2012 at 09:45 PM | 73 comment(s)
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