Some random Jeter thoughts

-First of all, and somewhat paradoxically, I probably find myself liking Jeter more today than I ever really have before. It’s probably for more or less the same reason I’ve always liked A-Rod; I kind of feel bad for him. After all, it’s not like he’s done anything wrong, he’s just had a few birthdays too many. He’s still carrying himself the same way he always has, he just can’t do some of the things he used to. That’s not a reason to crucify him, yet some in the local media seem downright giddy about the prospect of souring the accomplishment of his 3,000th hit with this stuff.

-Speaking of the media, how pathetic are they in general? There’s a really annoying tendency in the political media for “analysts,” especially during election season, to refer to “the media” in the third person, as though they somehow aren’t a part of “the media,” and tell you what “the media” will say as though they have no control over it. There’s a healthy dose of that in local writers preening about how “the media” will react to a lineup change or how so and so will threaten to “overshadow” Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Horsepucky. The only way anything will overshadow the milestone is if the media decides it will, because at the end of the day, nothing makes it into a story unless the writer/editor of that story decides it will.  This is just another example of writers trying to shirk responsibility for the more dubious aspects of writing for an MSM outlet where the main goal is to sell newspapers.

-Similarly, can we drop the “clubhouse concerns” defense for keeping Jeter at the top of the lineup? The assumption here is that Jeter will create clubhouse issues if he’s asked to move to the bottom of the lineup and seems paradoxically offensive to me. After all, for as much as I’m supposed to be the “anti-Jeter” guy, I’m the one who thinks he’s earned the right to have me assume the best of him until demonstrated otherwise, and so until there’s some actual reason to believe this, I’m just discounting it altogether. If someone wants to go on the record or one of the beat writers wants to make a straight-forward claim to this effect, then come out and say it already. Otherwise, the assumption is a baseless one that assumes the worst about Jeter for no particular reason.

-That said, the lineup change does need to happen. It just does. Even if the return will just be marginal, there’s no good reason not to do it, and absent that the team should make the decision that’s best for the team. At the end of the day I suspect it will be best for everyone, Jeter included. Just do it already.

-But while I’m saying nice things about Jeter, knock the All-Star game complaining off already. Maybe my memory is just failing me, but I really do not recall this much complaining about fading legends getting automatic spots in the game when it was Ripken, Griffey, Gwynn, etc. This seems to be a very recent, Jeter-centric phenomena to me, and the lack of self-awareness is just tiresome. I’m not interested in judging whether these spots going to Hall of Famers whose recent performances don’t justify them is right or wrong, it just is what it is. If you’re going to complain about the fans decreeing they want to see Jeter start the All-Star game instead of Asdrubal Cabrera, you either have to complain about all of the other old guys who took spots they “didn’t deserve,” or at least admit that you’re changing the social norms in question now. But please don’t act like this is some great affront against decency and the sanctity of the Midsummer Classic by Derek Jeter and the people who vote for him.

-Also, there has just been way too much truly ridiculous emotion involved in this since last autumn. It probably started with people who acted as though it was some crime against baseball that the Yankees’ front office was willing to merely overpay Jeter for the next 4 years, rather than drastically overpay him, and carried over to the implicit accusation that having him batting in the bottom of the lineup as a 37 year old would somehow be an insult or a punishment. I don’t necessarily blame Jeter himself for any of that, but this goes back to a larger point about Jeter’s so-called defenders not helping him. Rather, by pretending he’s not going to get old, or insisting that everyone should ignore that he’s getting old, they’re really just setting him up to fail, rather than letting him be eased into a role he can fill well, and in which he’ll be an asset to the Yankees of whom no one will wonder if he’s hurting the team.

There’s nothing “anti-Jeter” about that, unless you think that acknowledging Jeter will succumb to time and age just like every other Hall of Famer has at some point constitutes a negative viewpoint of him.

-Finally, in 20-30 years none of this will matter. The fact that Jeter aged, had to be put into a reduced role for the good of the team, or whatever won’t preclude him from being a first ballot Hall of Famer, and won’t alter your memories of Jeter one bit. It just doesn’t work like that. Every athlete, good, great, bad, or somewhere in between ultimately gets old, and that makes the act of getting old completely unremarkable. No one remembers the last, sad, years of guys like Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. Sure, we might be familiar with them, and we might think about them if we really choose to, but when I say “Willie Mays,” you think the Say Hey Kid, The Catch, the 660 home runs, and maybe even wonder if he wasn’t the best baseball player who ever lived. In 30 years, when someone says “Derek Jeter,” I’ll think of Mr. November, The Flip, The Dive (you stupid, stupid, man), and all of the playoff appearances, World Series titles, and that silky-smooth inside out swing.

Acknowledging that, though he’s still effective, Jeter isn’t quite the player he was when he was younger won’t take away your memories or diminish Jeter the player in any way, unless you choose to let it for some reason. Time can take a step off of your time to first-base, it can steal your bat speed or your range in the field, and it can dim your highly toned reflexes, if ever so slightly. But it can’t touch memories, and it can’t shake legends. Those are forever, even if the men they embody aren’t.

I’m sure that probably isn’t all I want to say, and ten minutes after publishing this I’ll probably think of something else, but those are the big things that have been bugging me and gnawing at the back of my brain for the past few weeks or so. Make of them what you will.


About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

9 thoughts on “Some random Jeter thoughts

  1. Well said…except you might want to take back that bit about the "last, sad years" of Mickey Mantle. He had an OPS+ of 170, 149, 142 and WARs of 3.7, 4.1, 3.6 in his last three seasons.

    • I suppose that's all relative. Like Ruth, his last years were decent on their own terms, but well below what he had done a few years prior.

    • Though I've always heard stories about how he was hurting more than usual, slowed down, etc.

      • Mantle played in a lot of pain and went from being a good centerfielder to being an OK first baseman. But his offensive stats were very good, not just good-for-an-old-guy. Keep in mind that his last two years 1967 and 68 were both years in which offense fell of a cliff. So the raw numbers look modest — It is highly unlikely Jeter will be anywhere near as valuable on offense as Mantle was in his last three years.

  2. Understood. Of course Mantle wasn't nearly the player he was when he was younger at the end of his career. And it's difficult to compare different eras, but Mantle's final year OPS+ would rank him in the AL's top ten this year. I'm just saying to characterize his last years as "sad" is a bit much. But Mantle did know enough to call it quits the year he turned 36.

    Interesting fact: A couple of years ago, when the Yankees re-signed A-Rod I looked at the top MVP vote getters for the previous decade and I believe Barry Bonds was the only player to finish in the top ten in either league after the age of 36.

  3. As Jeter approaches 3,000 hits, I'd recommend that Yankee fans focus on the positives, and not on silly business of how much Jeter makes (he earns it back, and more) and where he bats (statistically close to meaningless, as many have convincingly argued).

    Jeter will be the first career Yankee elected to the Hall of Fame since Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, both of whom retired over 40 years ago. Of course, Mo Rivera will be elected to the Hall at around the same time as Jeter, but home-grown players like Mo and Jeter do not come along very often. The only lifetime Yankees I've seen comparable to Jeter and Mo ARE Ford and Mantle, plus Berra. I'm one of the few guys around here old enough to remember those other guys. On the current squad, maybe Cano has a chance to join this select group, or we might go another 30 years (roughly the period between Mantle's retirement and Jeter's rookie year) before we get another home-grown Yankee like Jeter.

    Jeter's career has been a terrific time to be a Yankee fan, and he deserves some of the credit for this.

    • Thanks for the reminder; it WILL be cool to have a Yankee in the Hall that started (and finished) as a Yankee. All the others were just rentals and mercenaries. — although, that is as much a knock on the team's skills in recruitment, the draft, and development as much as an indictment to the players. I'm sure a lot of good players who ended up with the Yankees would have been happy to start there also.

      • …because all other teams have HoF'ers that play for them, get real.

        Take any team, and try to come up with a player for 10 dominate years (rough standard for a HoF player). There may be 50-odd solid impact players (all-stars) each year, now try to take those guys and look at even a five year window and you'll likely see that list less than half, now try that for 10 or more years and there will be maybe 5-6 players. Compare those 5-6 guys and realize that 30 teams have gone over thousands of elite athletes, and those 5-6 really don't change much due to their longevity and now you expect the NYY to have these occuring more often.

        It took a hundred years to have a 15 year great middle infielder, yeah they had some great ones before and will after…but for 15 years? Enjoy what you have today as it is highly unlikely you'll have it tomorrow. I'm just hoping he has another great year and a couple average years but will take three below average years without complaint.

  4. As a Red Sox fan for 50+ years, I've shed very few tears for the Yankees over the years, but it WAS sad to watch Mantle in his last years. Yes, he could still hit, and in fact he played on for those last two years in serious pain out of loyalty to the team, which in those years desperately needed anyone who could hit the ball. The sad part was watching a man who had been one of the great combinations of speed and power in centerfielding history hobbling around first base, looking at times like he could barely walk. I think seeing this made a lot of people more favorable to the DH rule — his hitting would have been a lot more enjoyable if you didn't have to watch him play in the field.

    A word of advice from a Yankee-hater. Jeter has been a great player, and you'd better enjoy him while you can – he doesn't have many years left to play.