Derek Jeter is my favorite player — that is, my family’s favorite player. I have played the 3,000th-hit homer over and over. It is my favorite baseball moment of the new century, with the possible exception of Johnny Damon’s race to third base in the World Series against the Phillies. Now, let’s move on. First of all, let’s dispense with the hyperbole.
Reggie Jackson, who is the biggest gasbag in baseball — in other words, the perfect guy for Mike Lupica to go to for a quote — said yesterday, “What does 3,000 mean to me? It doesn’t just mean that you have talent. It means that you have character, here or anywhere else.” Right. So much character that the top two all-time leaders in hits are Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, two bastions of character. Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio, who never reached 3,000, must therefore be lacking.
But putting aside all the usual BS that accompanies a moment like Jeter’s, it’s not too soon to cut to the reality: What are the Yankees going to do with Derek Jeter? How seriously are they taking this year’s pennant race?
Jeter has been struggling all season to keep his batting average above .260, and no matter how dramatic his Saturday afternoon homer, that still makes just three for the season. Looming above him, like a neon sign on an overhead blimp, is this key fact: No team has ever won a pennant with a shortstop as old as Derek Jeter is right now. What do the Yankees intend to do about that fact? Where do they intend to play him next season? Even if they decide to make a move with Nick Swisher, does anyone seriously think that Jeter can step in and play right field on a two-month notice? Does anyone seriously think he can still hit well enough to be a DH?
What the Yankees have done is allow the chase for 3,000 hits to obscure the very important point that the team’s future for the next two years is going to hang primarily on what they decide to do — or not to do — with Derek Jeter.
Amazingly, this issue seems to have shifted from a discussion of Jeter to a discussion of Alex Rodriguez. I can cite many places for this — BleacherReport.com, for instance, whose story is headlined “Why Wounded Alex Rodriguez Will Hold Team Hostage for Years” — but it’s always good to go to straight to Lupica, whose column is invariably an averaging out of all the bad ideas that are out there. This from yesterday’s column, in which he sullied an otherwise nice tribute to the late, great boxing writer George Kimball:
In the four years before A-Rod became a Yankee, including the years when he says he was juicing in Texas, he averaged just about 50 home runs a year.
In his first four years with the Yankees, he averaged 43.
If he hits the same 30 this year he has hit the last two, he will have averaged 31 home runs for his second four-year term with our kids from the Bronx.
Stop me if you see a trend here.
Okay, Mike, stop. I see a trend. I see an angry Red Sox fan who continually dumps on Alex Rodriguez all of the venom which for years he has refused to spill on his hometown favorites, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Over the previous three seasons, A-Rod, with various small injuries, has missed 87 games. Yet, he has averaged 109 RBIs per season. Would anyone care to calculate the value the Yankees have gotten from that? This season, he was close to .300 with a .366 OBP and on track to drive in about 100 runs. When he comes back from knee surgery, the record from the past few years indicates that he will be as strong as ever.
After tearing his minicus, he was hitting .321. The Daily News, the paper Lupica writes for, declared a couple of days ago that “A-Rod finished the first half as the Yankees best hitter.”
Can we stop pretending that the problem here is Alex Rodriguez? And can someone make at least one constructive suggestion as to what we’re going to do about the problem of Derek Jeter?