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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Bud Selig found Derek Jeter an oasis on their farewell tours

The Yankees' Derek Jeter, right, embraces MLB commissioner

The Yankees' Derek Jeter, right, embraces MLB commissioner Bud Selig after he presented Jeter with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award at a press conference before a game between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A year after engaging A-Rod in Biogenesis-related warfare, Bud Selig was a peacetime commissioner on his farewell tour during yesterday's visit to Yankee Stadium.

Rather than a legal binder stuffed with evidence, Selig brought with him the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award. We'll give you one guess who that sterling silver trophy was for.

"What Joe D meant to my generation is what Derek Jeter has meant to his," Selig gushed. "I've been overjoyed to see Derek join the heroes of my youth -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and others. He's a champion in every way. A role model to millions of children.

"He's the finest ambassador that I could have hoped for throughout my entire tenure as commissioner. It's a privilege to say thank you Derek and what a storybook career it's been."

Speaking of fairy-tale endings, Jeter, 40, and Selig, 80, couldn't have planned their exits any better. The Yankees' captain has enjoyed a drama-free parade to Game No. 162, never once having to share the Bronx stage with Alex Rodriguez, who is always the spotlight's favorite target.

Think that's not important to Jeter? Check out this week's profile on him in New York magazine, when the author tries to slip in an A-Rod question and gets quickly rebuffed. "This is not an Alex story," Jeter snaps.

He's right, of course. This has been the Season of Jeter, uninterrupted, and Selig is grateful for that. Last year's battle with Rodriguez was an exhausting fight to the finish -- from the July suspension to the appeal verdict in January to the subsequent lawsuits -- and out of sight has mostly been out of mind for this commissioner.

Until Selig was reminded Tuesday of A-Rod's looming return. His suspension is done after Sunday's season finale, but Rodriguez should no longer be much of a problem for Selig, who only has roughly four months left in office. Once Rob Manfred takes over on Jan. 25, A-Rod becomes his responsibility, and Selig can watch at a safe distance -- just like Jeter.

"That's a situation between him and the New York Yankees," Selig said of Rodriguez's return. "Major League Baseball? We've done all we can and should do and so the rest is up to Alex and the Yankees."

Selig didn't shrink from the A-Rod inquiries before Tuesday's game, but he was careful to tiptoe his way through that minefield. The commissioner has been at this too long, and with retirement around the corner, there's no point in getting down in that muck again. Especially with Selig seated beside Jeter, the perfect photo-op for the final week of the 2014 regular season.

If A-Rod was Public Enemy No. 1, then Jeter has become MLB's patron saint, a flawless icon held up by Selig to represent everything that's good. We know that sounds over the top, but you've seen the TV commercials, and Selig is all too willing to tap into that Jeter worship in selling the game. Too bad for him that Jeter is a finite resource.

"I cannot tell you how much Derek Jeter has meant to this sport and to me personally," Selig said. "I was thinking coming over here today -- I've looked forward coming to this more than anything I can remember.

"What I've noticed in watching Derek is the respect he gets from players on other teams. How it manifests itself and how it shows. It's very unusual in sports. You can learn a lot from watching Derek Jeter. How he's conducted himself is just remarkable."

Selig has nine more stadiums to visit before wrapping up his 22-year tenure as commissioner, only a couple seasons more than Jeter's incredible run. He'll be at Fenway Park this weekend to honor Jeter one last time in what should be the perfect setting for saying goodbye.

MLB already has found its successor to Selig in Manfred. But who can the sport look to for a Jeter replacement? That answer wasn't readily available Tuesday. Selig mentioned how everyone wondered who would follow in the footsteps of a Jackie Robinson or Sandy Koufax and yet baseball seemed to always produce another player to look up to.

All we do know is that as Jeter heads for the door, A-Rod looms large on the horizon. Selig's timing could not be any better.

New York Sports