"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

You Wanna Be Down With The King

During the first couple of months of the 1996 season, every time I saw Derek Jeter on TV I couldn’t help but think of John “No Question” Starks, the combustible shooting guard for the Knicks. It was the body language, the cock-sure posture. I adored Starks even though he was a fine mess.

Oh, no, I thought when Jeter strutted up to the plate, his ass sticking-out, chest-puffed up, here’s the second coming of that knucklehead Starks.

Of course Jeter soon showed himself to be the antithesis of Starks. He was composed and collected, even when he made the usual rookie mistakes. Twelve years later, Jeter is not only the greatest shortstop in Yankee history, and one of the most marketable players in the game, he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Jeter, the team captain, is accessible but dull with the press but his enthusiasm on the field has always been evident. He smirks when he steps into the batter’s box, engages the fans while he’s on the on-deck circle, and chats up the opposition when they reach second base. No matter how tense the situation, he looks like he is having a good time out there. He’s a natural. It’s as if he were built to be a ballplayer–mentally, physically and emotionally.

Jeter personifies Tom Boswell’s description of “a gamer.”

Baseball has a name for the player who, in the eyes of his peers, is well attuned to the demands of his discipline; he is called “a gamer.” The gamer does not drool, or pant, before the cry of “Play ball.” Quite the opposite. He is the player, like George Brett or Pete Rose, who is neither too intense, nor too lax, neither lulled into carelessness in a dull August doubleheader nor wired too tight in an October playoff game. The gamer may scream and curse when his mates show the first hints of laziness, but he makes jokes and laughs naturally in the seventh game of the Series.

Jeter also has an edge. He is acutely aware of his position, his celebrity, and his surroundings. He’s terse with reporters if they push him. He rides his teammates. In 2004, Alex Rodriguez hit a long home run one day–the kind that Jeter could only dream about hitting. After Rodriguez returned to the dugout, Jeter stuck out his chest and mocked Rodriguez. It was funny but sharp.

“Derek Jeter knows how to give teammates a hard time,” said former teammate John Flaherty on a YES broadcast a few years ago.

Later, Flaherty told a story about arriving to the Stadium one afternoon hours before game time. Jeter was taking early batting practice on the field. Hardly anybody was around. Only Jeter and a batting practice pitcher were on the field. Flaherty took off his jacket upstairs in the YES booth as Jeter continued to hit. Without turning around, Jeter yelled, “Hey, Flaherty, nice tie.”

Now when I think of Jeter, when I think of how his career will wind up, I mostly think of Cal Ripken. I think of a superstar with a tremendous amount of pride. I don’t think he’ll ever be asked to leave shortstop by the Yankees even as his fielding continues to decline. His contract is up in two years. If he remains healthy he should get 3,000 hits not too long after that.

I can’t imagine him playing anywhere but the Bronx, can’t imagine him playing anywhere but short, no matter how it impacts the team. This isn’t the ultimate team player we’re talking about, this is the team captain.

I wonder if he’ll still be having a good time by the time he reaches the end.

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1 Bum Rush   ~  Nov 26, 2008 12:56 pm

Jeter, by staying at SS for the next three years to 3000 hits, is doing far more damage all by himself. I love the guy and all he's done for the team, but his expiration date has already passed. If he were truly a team-first guy, he would have moved already. And the NY press has shown how much their adoration has led to them rolling over on their backs. The hacks in Baltimore were more forceful in getting Ripkin to move. Has there been even one column this off-season discussing the same of Jeter?

Instead folks worry about defense at a trivial defensive position (1B)...

2 jonnystrongleg   ~  Nov 26, 2008 2:14 pm

I think the Yanks had 1 chance to move Jeter and they had 2 possible positions that he could have filled - but really neither was a sure thing.

They acquired Alex Rodriguez, a slightly younger and clearly superior SS inbetween 2003 & 2004. Jeter was 29 going on 30. At this point they could have moved Jeter to:

CF - Bernie only started 93 games there in 2004 and this is the same age Robin Yount made a similar and sucessful transition. By 2005, CF was a gaping hole for the Yanks - one that has yet to be adequately filled. This is the ideal move and also the one least likely to have worked as we have no idea if Jeter could what Yount did.

3B - Problematic from a PR/ego perspective, and was a more short term solution since Arod probably would have to move off short at some point and Jeter would be blocking his spot again. But in the short term, it probably would have worked and made the Yanks defense a bit better. Can't really know if he could have hacked 3B though.

Making the decision in 2004 to keep Jeter @ SS was not terrible and they've won a lot of games with this alignment. But they'll pay the price for that call from this point forward as it's even less lilkely Jeter can make a move to an important defensive position at this age and doesn't hit enough to play an un-important one.

If the Yankees understood all of this and chose this path as the best way possible to win lots of games and keep the face of the franchise in place, I can accept the consequences now. If the Yankees were somehow unaware Jeter is a bad defensive SS, and are surprised to find themselves in this situation, then they really screwed up.

I would have rolled the dice on CF - I think he could have handled it.

3 Raf   ~  Nov 26, 2008 2:39 pm

I would have rolled the dice on CF - I think he could have handled it.

I would have too. Then again, I don't know if that topic was ever brought up in a back office somewhere.

Having said that, IIRC before the trade was made, Rodriguez was asked if he was willing to play 3b, so I don't think Jeter moving off short was even an option.

I agree with the general sentiment that Jeter isn't going to move off short until he's good and ready, even if he has the range of a basset hound.

4 Bum Rush   ~  Nov 26, 2008 2:46 pm

They could have also moved to him 2B when they acquired A-Rod since they dealt Soriano in that same deal.

Right now the option is to move him to 1B and acquire an all-glove SS. Or they could try to move pitching for a guy like Hardy. At 1B, he be an average glove at worst and with less wear and tear I could see him producing an .800-850 OPS for a year or two. That's an average 1B.

My point is that he really has gotten a free ride his entire career from the NY media especially considering he hasn't been a quote-machine. I can't think of another NY star to get the same length of rope. Can anyone? I guess it would have to do with the four rings immediately upon his arrival, so they only other comparisons are historical Yankees - Mantle, DiMaggio, etc. But they arrived on winning teams and so it was harder to see what they brought uniquely to the table.

And I'd guess that's the combination that gives him so much Teflon - a) Homegrown; b) Arrived at a time of great need; c) Doesn't say or do anything stupid; d) Produced big-time. Take any of those away and the NY press would be all over him. Now, picking on his defense seems almost beneath him no matter how bad it is hurting the team. I just wonder how bad it will have to get for him to swallow his pride and volunteer to move. Last year was pitiful.

5 Bama Yankee   ~  Nov 26, 2008 2:47 pm

[0] "Jeter also has an edge."

Alex, you've been watching too many Ford commercials... ;-)
(I wonder if Ford will drop Jeter, like GM dropped Tiger?)

Also, I'm not that worried about Jeter playing short for the next few years. When it comes to my list of Yankee priorities, moving Jeter might be at the top of the page, it's just not the first page...

6 Bum Rush   ~  Nov 26, 2008 3:17 pm


Then you, like the Yankees, would be missing a big part of why the team missed the playoffs. I have no idea how to measure the comparison, but I'd be willing to bet, given the defensive importance of the SS position, that his defense, relative to an average SS, is about equivalent to Cano's lost offense. Cano "lost" 56 bases between his production in 2007 and 2008. Does Jeter give up 56 more hits than the average SS - or 1 hit every three games? I'd say so. But how many stories have we read about Cano this off-season? And about Jeter's defense?

The NY press is a bunch of lap dogs for Jeter. Woof!

7 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 26, 2008 3:36 pm

By the way, FWIW:
WinShares, like any Stat, is not the be all to end all.
From THT: "Win Shares, invented by Bill James, is a very complicated statistic that takes all the contributions a player makes toward his team’s wins and distills them into a single number that represents the number of wins contributed to the team, times three. We have tweaked James’ original formula somewhat."

Player----: 04 05 06 07 08 Tot
CMWang: xx 07 17 16 07 47 (3.5 years)
Beckett:: 09 14 12 19 11 65
Halladay: 09 16 21 18 23 87
Sabathia: 12 13 14 24 25 88
Br. Webb: 12 19 22 22 22 97
R.Oswalt: 19 22 21 18 18 98
Santana:: 27 23 25 18 21 114

Teixeira:: 24 32 21 26 30 133
Ramirez:: 27 34 29 15 34 139
A-Rod::: 30 37 25 39 25 156
A.Pujols:: 40 38 39 32 35 184

8 The Hawk   ~  Nov 26, 2008 3:46 pm

Jeter is the best. Irreplaceable.

9 Bama Yankee   ~  Nov 26, 2008 4:41 pm

[6] On your list of priorities, would you put Jeter's defense ahead of shoring up a staff of starting pitchers that included an ace who got injured, a 20-game winner who has retired, a 36 year-old who lost as many as he won, a guy who got sold to Japan, two rookies who didn't win a game, and the killer P's?

Not to mention, finding someone to play CF, RF and 1B. (Gardner, Nady and Swisher might one answer, but they are not the best answer... so, I'd keep looking).

Moving Jeter could be addressed (although I doubt they ever look at it), but not before they fix the things that are more pressing...

10 Bum Rush   ~  Nov 26, 2008 7:05 pm

Agreed on pitching as the #1 priority. But, honestly, getting an average defensive shortstop, and shifting Jeter to 1B, could likely mean more for the team's chances than upgrading in the OF.

The difference between Abreu and Manny last year was about 80 bases. Does Jeter give up 80 more hits (one every other game) than the average SS? Maybe.

The difference between a passable Melky in 2007 and a horrid Melky in 2008 was about 50 bases. Does Jeter give up 50 more hits - like the difference with Cano - than the average SS?

So if you're really interested in improving the team, moving Jeter, and getting a decent SS, could easily be priority #2 after the pitching.

As for actual solutions, Furcal is an above average defensive shortstop and, at worst, and average shortstop. Getting him on a four-year deal seems very reasonable and would make the team probably as better as signing Teixieira. The difference between Jeter's bat and Teixeira's in 2008 was about 80 bases. Assuming that they'd be no different defensively - since Teixeira is about average - could an above average defensive shortstop, with an average stick, make up that difference? I think so.

11 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 26, 2008 7:13 pm

[10] Tex is well above average with the glove at 1B. What makes you think Jeter would be 'average' after never having had played the position. He wouldn't be as bad as Jorge, and might be average after 3 years there, but we don't have 3 years. However, if you replace Tex with Swisher, Furcal/Jeter MIGHT be much closer to Jeter/Swisher.

12 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 26, 2008 7:15 pm

P.S. While Jeter is a butcher at SS in some ways, is it possible his positioning, cut-off work, ability to charge soft grounders and his excelling at going back on pop-ups, to some degree offset his other liabilities with the glove?

13 joejoejoe   ~  Nov 26, 2008 7:32 pm

I think winning another World Series with Jeter at SS would ease the transition for him. I remember seeing footage of Jeter hosting a Make-a-wish kid around the batting cages and Bernie was coming up to get his cuts and Jeter told the kid "Ask your Dad about him. He was pretty good back in the day." There's nobody on the team with the status to rib Jeter like that and without that kind of feedback.

The all-time games played leaders at SS are Omar Vizquel and Luis Aparicio, both of them 5-9, 165. Jeter is 6-3, 200. That's a ways to get down for ground balls for 13 years at short. Hopefully one day Jeter will volunteer to be a Pete Rose type player and play all over the field. I remember Johnny Damon telling Torre he could play 1st base even though he hadn't done it since high school. That's the attitude the kind of attitude you like to see from your captain.

14 joejoejoe   ~  Nov 26, 2008 7:33 pm

Without that kind of feedback...I don't think Jeter is ever going to think he's a liability at SS.

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