Does it make me a bad Yankees fan that I kinda wonder to myself why Derek Jeter‘s getting so much attention this season?
Does it make me any worse that I kind of feel this way . . . every season?
I mean–facts are facts, and by the time Jeter hangs his cleats up at the end of this season, he’ll at worst have the sixth-most hits in baseball history and the most playoff games played (plus playoff hits, doubles, total bases, etc.) by a lot. He has five championships, has appeared in 14 All-Star Games, and somehow even has five Gold Gloves.
That last paragraph alone tells you that this has been a career that deserves to be celebrated. But for me, Jeter’s never been the best player in his sport, has arguably never been the best player at his position, and in my humble-but-biased Yankees fan opinion, was never really the clear-cut best player on his team in any given season.
So why are we treating him like he’s the greatest baseball player to ever baseball? Sure, he did finish top-three in MVP voting three times in his career, but let’s examine those seasons.
In 1998, Jeter played on the second-winningest team in MLB history as the Yankees won 114 regular season games and the World Series. That team featured Paul O’Neill posting a .317/24/116 line; Bernie Williams hitting for .339/26/97; and Tino Martinezgoing for .281/28/123. As impressive as Jeter’s .324/19/84/30 steals were, he wasn’t necessarily the MVP of their lineup, and that’s ignoring a rotation with David Cone, David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and inarguably the greatest relief pitcher of all time inMariano Rivera.
The 2006 season, the one where I thought Jeter was actually robbed of the MVP, saw Alex Rodriguez go .290/35/121 and Jason Giambi–post “intestinal parasite”–go .253/37/113 in 139 games. 2009, another championship season, saw six Yankees hit at least 24 home runs, highlighted by .292/39/122 by Mark Teixeira, A-Rod’s .286/30/100 in 124 games, and Robinson Cano‘s .320/25/85 line. Rivera was still on both of these teams.
Obviously none of what I’ve said so far is to the point of “see, Jeter’s not that special.” Of course he’s a special player. I just think we tend to forget how great of a situation he’s ALWAYS been in, and prefer to give him credit for greater success because he’s “old school” and “traditional,” two ideas that drive me fucking crazy about baseball.
I try to watch as many Yankees games as I possibly can with my dad. Like I’d imagine a ton of baseball fans do, my dad loves Jeter because he represents old school baseball. They love Jeter for being a singles hitter and always running it out. They resent guys who hustle less than him, and anytime anyone doesn’t have the same on-field demeanor as Jeter, it somehow equates to them being less of a baseball player.
This absolutely drove me, but really my dad, bat-shit crazy when it came to Cano.
In nine years in pinstripes, Cano hit .309 while slugging 204 home runs and driving in 822 runs, while winning two Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards, not to mention he missed only 14 games over his last seven seasons with the team. Unquestionably the team’s best player from 2010-13, any time Cano didn’t dive for an out-of-reach ground ball, didn’t run with his head down on balls he ripped into the gaps, laughed off an error, or–gasp–didn’t run his hardest down the first baseline on routine ground balls, my dad would yell something similar to, “Cano you fucking suck! Jeter would . . . ”
By the way, Yankees fans booed Cano when he returned to Yankee Stadium earlier this season. When he signed with Seattle in the offseason, the “overpaid” (can’t even make up the Yankee irony here) sentiment was shared by a large portion of the ol’ base. I realized that my dad’s ridiculousness was not unique.
What’s the deal with not letting baseball grow and expand? Why do we have to celebrate people who “do the right thing” and exonerate anyone who might have hot dog tendencies but could still be a transcendent talent? How was Yasiel Puig not an All-Star his rookie season, when he was hitting .391 and looking like Bo Jackson reincarnated?
Not to go all Jadakiss and ask rhetorical questions, and not to make this about me STILL being bitter that the Yankees let Cano walk, but what’s the fascination with tradition? Why does Jeter’s attitude have to be a throwback compared with Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, and other men who would have died for the love of the game?
I mean, a big part of me does get it. He’s essentially the heart of a team that won five championships, providing me a similar baseball upbringing to that of previous generations of Yankees fans, which means that Jeter’s name has to be mentioned in the same breathe as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Micky Mantle, and the like. I just find it silly to treat a guy who hasn’t been the best player of his generation like he’s the best player of his generation. And even worse, to pretend that baseball’s doomed because their marquee name will no longer be a part of their touring circus.
As if leaving the game in the hands of guys like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Puig, and Miguel Cabrera will doom baseball.
This Russ Bengtson tweet kind of perfectly sums up my problem with baseball, and what I find ridiculous about the Jeter worship, especially at this stage.
Derek Jeter's at-bats are announced by a dead guy and he'll wear a patch paying tribute to himself. Perfect.
— Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson) September 2, 2014
I can understand that the guy only played in 17 games last season and baseball (Yankees) fans want to appreciate a great career, but for the better part of the last five seasons, Jeter has been a shell of himself while still receiving the credit and notoriety that has only been reserved for guys like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and Wayne Gretzky in other sports.
From just an on-field perspective, does Jeter belong in the same group as those guys?
And if he does, why hasn’t a peep been made about Barry Bonds since he last stepped on a baseball field in 2007?
I know the answer to both of those questions, but I’m going to end my rant with one more example of why we should maybe turn down for Jeter.
A couple of nights ago the Yankees were getting routed by the Red Sox. Jeter comes up in the top of the fifth, bases loaded with two outs, and the Yankees down 7-2. What do you think he does? The Yankees’ insufferable play-by-play guy Michael Kayannounces “a soft hit ground ball” as Jeter gets called out to end the inning.
After the umpires reviewed the play, the call was overturned. Jeter was ruled safe, driving in a run because of his “unmatched hustle.” Great way to end the month of August, which he hit .207 during.
Dad proclaims, “Gotta give that Jetes credit, he fuckin’ always runs it out . . . ”