When Mark Teixeira hit a long home run to left field in the first inning I figured the Yanks would make it a short night for Bruce Chen. It was a two-run shot and the longest homer I recall seeing Teixeira hitting from the right side since he’s been in New York.
Chen settled in, the Royals scored a couple of runs against C.C. in the bottom of the first, and it remained 2-2 until two outs in the top of the seventh when Eduardo Nunez–yes, that Eduardo Nunez–broke the tie with an RBI triple. Chris Stewart–yup, that Chris Stewart–added an RBI and then Derek Jeter–indeed, that Derek Jeter (he of the .404 batting average)–ripped a two-run homer to end Chen’s night the way it was intended.
C.C. went eight and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth as the Yanks three-game losing streak is history.
It was only the bottom of the fourth inning and the Yankees were feeling good about themselves. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira helped the team out to a 5-1 lead. Hisanori Takahashi, the long man in the Angels bullpen–a junkballing nibbler–walked Russell Martin to start the inning and then Brett Gardner fouled off a bunch of pitches before hitting a single to center field. Derek Jeter took the first three pitches, all balls. Then he snuck a look over at someone in the Yankee dugout.
I figured the look, the hint of a smile, meant he was going to swing, 3-0 if he got a meatball. Sure enough Takahashi laid one right down the middle. Jeter took a huge swing and almost came out of his shoes. It was a swing to make Reggie proud. The ball was fouled back. Jeter fouled off the next pitch too. Then he smacked one over the fence in right field for a three-run homer.
Ivan Nova gave two back in the fifth and another run in the sixth. Could have been more trouble in the sixth but Rodriguez made a nice play to end the inning.
But because this is Sunday Night Baseball things are not meant to be brief or easy. So Rafael Soriano walked the lead-off hitter in the seventh and that man came around to score on a base hit by Albert Pujols. Soriano recorded two outs but left the game with the bases loaded, the Yanks lead cut to 8-5. Fortunately, our nerves were settled when David Robertson got Mark Trumbo to fly out to right field on a 2-2 pitch.
(My mind was calculating: does this set up Mariano vs. Albert?)
A walk and stolen base by Robbie Cano and then a two-out single by Nick Swisher put the Yanks back up by four. Better still, Jason Isringhausen came in and gave up an absolute bomb to Raul Ibanez.
Fuggin thing reached the upper deck in right field.
All Tori Hunter could say was: “Wow.”
Mariano vs. Albert would have to wait. Tonight, it was Logan vs. Albert and Logan struck him out, go figure that.
One of the least reported aspects of Derek Jeter’s game is his sense of playfulness on the field.
Last night, Eduardo Nunez almost dropped a pop up in the ninth inning. The wind took the ball and Nunez for a ride but he eventually snagged the ball and made the out. Sure enough, there was Jeter with a big smile on his face. If Nunez had dropped the ball he wouldn’t have laughed–at least not until they were out of camera range. He is always tactful.
Still, Jeter never gets cheated on having fun, does he?
“If I didn’t’ think I was still capable of doing everything, I wouldn’t be playing,” Jeter said. “If I didn’t think I was capable of playing the game at a high level, I would go home. If I wasn’t enjoying myself, enjoying the competition, then it’d be time to go home. Right now, I think I’m capable, and I’m enjoying myself. I can’t comment on what would force me to retire, go home, stop playing. But I have a lot of confidence. I’ve always had a lot of confidence. If that starts to waver, then I wouldn’t do it.”
Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit recently, had you heard? Not only did he notch his safety, he owned the game in which he reached the cherished milestone. I thought that was as remarkable as the career achievement – with so much promised, he still managed to over-deliver on the contract.
The fans didn’t have to wait around for it. He needed two hits and and got them his first two trips to the plate. It was homer to boot. And then he stuck around, got three more hits and won a dramatic game versus a division rival with a tie-breaking hit in the bottom of the eighth. He turned his 3000th hit into an unforgettable event. That’s Jeter’s gift; that’s his style.
I had to wonder if any other member of the 3000 hit club ever rose to the occasion in such a fashion. I remember Pete Rose pursuing 4000 and Ty Cobb’s record. And at that time Rod Carew was piling up hits and sealing his place in rap lyrics. But honestly, how they got there was lost to me.
I wonder if that is an unconscious reason behind the rampant Jeter bashing surrounding the hit and All-Star pass? His performance and Yankee fans’ constant retelling of his performance will make his 3000th hit indelible. But other Hall of Famers are not so lucky. Is it because they didn’t do it with as much style as Derek? Or is it another example of the New York Yankees and their fans blocking out the sun?
Turns out, I think, to be both. I checked out each milestone hit from Pete Rose’s 4000th all the way through Derek Jeter’s 3000th to see what I missed, what I should have seen, along the way. Look, there’s no way around it, Jeter’s milestone game was the best. The homer and the five hits would have given him a solid argument, the game winning RBI in the eighth ends the discussion.
But I had no idea how many other great Hall of Famers just dominated their games like Jeter did. As recently as 2007, Craig Biggio also had five hits on his big day. I confess, until a few mentions in the media after Jeter’s five hits, I had no idea that happened.
Tony Gwynn and Geroge Brett had four hits a piece. Wade Boggs had three hits and was the first to celebrate 3000 with a home run trot (that I remembered). Paul Molitor, who also had three hits, is the only guy to do it with a triple.
I was paying attention as 15 players passed huge hit totals, and ten of them did it with multi-hit games. Seven had three or more. Their cumulative average in these 15 games is .594. It’s too small a sample from which to draw a conclusion, but it does make you wonder if elite players, pumped up for this kind of moment, might benifit from the extra adrenaline or something.
As bad as it was to take shots at Jeter as he approached 3000 (of these 15 players, eight had OPS+ below 100 during their chase and only two or three of them could be considered to have had “good” seasons), it is equally terrible to celebrate his triumph as if it has never been done before.
It’s like the Red Sox fans celebrating the 2004 World Series as if it was the first title ever won by anybody in the history of anything. When you lose context, you piss off everyone but your core constituents. And as much as Derek Jeter deserves to celebrate, the celebration is about putting his name directly underneath and alongside Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron and all the other all-time greats in this club.
He didn’t jump to the top of the list just because he went five for five.
That was his gift to Yankee fans.
When I revisited this story in my head last night I realized a mistake. It’s not Boston’s fans or Jeter’s fans who are to blame for over-reacting to the 2004 World Series or to the 3000th hit. They’re not the ones who are required to interject perspective during their uninhibited expressions of joy. It’s the national media who are responsible. But instead of playing that role and providing context for the rest of the sporting world, now they pander to the local fan base to make a buck.
And of course, being a good winner about such things and not rubbing it in goes a very long way to dispelling the blowback. So that’s where the fans come in, and as we all knows fans of all stripes, every faction has their guilty parties.
Jeter is both the game’s first postracial superstar and the Yankees’ first African-American icon, reaching a status that even Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, was unable to achieve.
No, his biracial heritage alone doesn’t make Jeter any better than either black or white superstars to come before him – but the matter-of-fact embrace of his background even before Barack Obama became our first biracial President is culturally significant and should not be a mere footnote as we celebrate his great achievement.
…From the very first day, Jeter seemed totally at home in pinstripes, the Yankees’ next “Everyman.” Coming of age at a time when racial labels don’t mean as much as they once did, he was the child of a black father and white mother. He neither downplayed that fact nor promoted it. It was simply a part of who he was.
Of course, the emergence of Jeter has been nowhere near as racially important as Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color line. That was a cultural earthquake, this a barely detectable tremor. But for those of biracial heritage, Jeter’s quiet success has spoken loudly precisely because of how little it has been remarked upon – by how little news it has made.
It’s something, isn’t it? But true. Race is virtually never discussed when it comes to Jeter. Go figure.
I remember the day that Derek Jeter was drafted in June of 1992. Those were dark days for the Yankees, and the shortstop position was a revolving door of mediocrity. Andy Stankiewicz played 116 games at short in 1992, and before that we endured three years of Alvaro Espinoza, and two seasons each from Rafael Santana, Wayne Tolleson, Bobby Meacham, and Roy Smalley. When Jeter was drafted, all I hoped for was a serviceable player who might last a while. A Hall of Famer? I didn’t know what that looked like.
What I don’t remember is when he became my favorite player. There was no moment. I was twenty-six years old when the twenty-one year Jeter assumed the starting job at shortstop, but when I looked at him, I saw myself. Just like Jeter, I had been born of a black father and a white mother, I had grown up a Yankee fan in Michigan, and my childhood ambition had been to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. He was I, if my dreams had come true.
You know how it is with your favorite player. His name is the first you find in the morning box score, you feel a strange type of pride when he’s elected to start an All-Star game, and his at bats serve as mileposts during the course of a three-hour ballgame. And so it was for me with Jeter. Even in seasons when the Yankees clinched a playoff position in early September, I still tracked Jeter’s hits as he pushed towards 200, and I probably started thinking about the possibility of 3,000 hits as long as ten years ago.
And with Jeter, I think I’ve finally figured out why it is that old fans always have old players as their favorites. I’m old enough now to realize that I probably will never have another favorite player. There will be guys that I’ll like more than others on the roster — Robinson Canó, for example, or maybe even Jesús Montero if he develops — but that’s all they’ll ever be.
Thirty years from now my granddaughter will be telling about the most recent exploits of her favorite player, and I’ll listen intently before giving my variation of what we’ve all heard before: “You should’ve seen Derek Jeter play; he was something to see.” I’ll probably start with the jump pass from deep in the hole, pantomime the inside-out swing, and explain how he was better with his back to the plate than any shortstop I’d ever seen. I’ll recount the dive into the stands against Boston, the flip to get Giambi in the playoffs, and the World Series home run that earned the Mr. November nickname.
But the memory that I’ll do my best to give her comes from Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series on October 3, 2006. Jeter had singled in the first, doubled in the third, singled in the fourth, and doubled again in the sixth as the Yankees opened a comfortable lead and seemed poised to cruise through the series against the overmatched Detroit Tigers. When Jeter came up in the eighth with the game already in hand, it was a love fest. With fans standing and MVP chants raining down from the upper deck, Jeter took a 1-1 pitch from Jamie Walker and crushed it to center field for a home run, the perfect cap to a perfect five-for-five night. The M-V-P chants quickly gave way to the ubiquitous “De-rek-Jee-ter!” sing-song, which rolled around the Stadium until Jeter came out for a curtain call, then continued through Bobby Abreu’s at bat.
In the clubhouse that night back-up catcher Sal Fasano explained it in words that have stayed with me ever since: “It gives you goose bumps. It’s amazing to see the love the New York fans have for Jeter. It’s like when you were a kid when your favorite player hit a home run and you jumped up and down. Well, here there are 50,000 people, and to all of them Jeter is their favorite player.”
That’s who he’ll always be to me. I’ll do my best to help my granddaughter understand.
“When he enters a room, there is always a recording of Bob Sheppard announcing his presence …”
“The Oxford English Dictionary apologized to him for neglecting to include the word ‘Jeterian’”
“He has brought such honor to his uniform number, when little kids have to go to the bathroom, their mothers say ‘do you have to do a number 3?’”
“He is . . . the most interesting shortstop the Yankees have had since Tony Fernandez.”
(CUT TO SHOT OF JETER SEATED AT TABLE SURROUNDED BY MINKA KELLY AND HER EQUALLY-ATTRACTIVE GAL PALS)
“I don’t often drink . . . but when I do, I never drive my new 2011 Ford Edge with the cool Panoramic Vista roof immediately afterwards.”
* * *
Once upon a time, in the days before free agency, “franchise players” were plentiful. Most of the upper echelon teams had at least one such player. Even some of the sad sack teams had their icon.
Here’s a list of the “2,000 or more games in career, all for one team” retired players club
Nowadays, the Braves’ Chipper Jones and the Yankees captain are two of the few active “iconic” players in baseball, easily identified by their career-long associations with their respective teams.
With career-long associations with one franchise comes the inevitable march up the team leaderboard for many counting stats, and hits is probably the “showcase” number. Here are the current franchise leaders for each team (excusing the Yankees for a moment):
Cal Ripken Jr.
Los Angeles (NL)
Los Angeles (AL)
Todd Helton (active)
Michael Young (active)
New York (NL)
Given the Yankees history, its surprising to note that the Bombers have never had a 3,000 hit man. Though Joltin’ Joe, The Mick and the Iron Horse all eclipsed 2,000 hits in a Yankee uni, Joe DiMaggio lost three prime years to the service and Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig saw their productivity diminished due to injury and illness respectively.
So when Derek Sanderson Jeter came upon the scene in 1995, no one could have foreseen that this polite, photogenic and disciplined shortstop would stand upon the precipice of Yankee history on the night of September 11, 2009. Jeter’s inside-out, line drive to right-center machine of a swing had pumped out 2,721 hits to that point, knotting him with Gehrig.
Despite it being the eighth anniversary of the Taliban attacks that killed nearly 3,000 New Yorkers, and despite a rainshower that delayed the start of the game by nearly 90 minutes, there was electricity and anticipation in the new Stadium that night. A near-capacity crowd of 46,771 braved the elements to cheer on The Captain.
The Yanks faced Chris Tillman of the Orioles. Tillman was making only his ninth career start in the Majors. Leading off the bottom of the first, Jeter struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch, but Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer later in the inning, and the Yanks still led 3-1 when Jeter stepped to the plate leading off the third.
He took the first two pitches for balls, then in truly “Jeterian” form, rapped a single between Orioles’ first baseman Luke Scott and the foul line, with Nick Markakis tracking the ball down as it made its way towards the right field corner. Jeter rounded first, clapped his hands and returned to the base. He shook first base coach Mick Kelleher’s hand, handed him his shin guard, and then, the Yankees filed out of the dugout amidst a thunderous two-minute standing ovation and chants of “Jeter! Jeter!” from the crowd. Jeter’s father could be seen high-fiving anyone and everyone he could up in one of the Yankee suites. In the opposing dugout, the Orioles clapped in appreciation of the achievement.
It was an odd sight, as the Yanks (and Orioles) were all wearing red caps for the memory of “9/11″, but the night belonged to Yankee navy blue and white. Jeter would end up two for four on the night, leaving the game after a second rain delay. The Yanks would end up losing the game 10-4, but with a nine game lead in the division heading into play and only 20 games remaining, the loss was rendered especially insignificant. Derek Jeter had broken the 72-year-old hits record of Lou Gehrig, and the “new” Yankee Stadium had its first truly memorable moment.
The countdown to 3,000 hits resumed Monday night in Cleveland, and Derek Jeter went 0-for-4. What’s being branded as “DJ3K” is occurring now in greater earnest than it did before Jeter pulled up lame with a strained calf and landed on the disabled list on June 13. He’ll be the first Yankee to reach the milestone, and of all the great moments in his career, this may be the singular event that speaks to his consistency and longevity. He certainly didn’t “hang on” in an attempt to achieve this personal benchmark.
And he has handled the march to inevitability in a way that has stayed true to his professional mantra: as vanilla as possible.
The interesting thing about Jeter’s career is that as integral as he has been to the team’s success, in games when he’s reached personal milestones, the team lost. And in games where “Jeter was being Jeter,” giving maximum effort and playing his customary brand of instinctive baseball, and getting hurt in the process, they won.
I covered the game on May 26, 2006, against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium when he got his 2,000th hit. He reached first base on an infield nubber that was misplayed. According to multiple newspaper reports, even Jeter’s mother thought it was an error. The decision can’t be called into question now. The Yankees lost the game. Afterward, he gave his typical “It’s a nice accomplishment, we lost, I don’t care about stats” speech. Ho-hum.
The Yankees also lost the game against the Baltimore Orioles when he broke Lou Gehrig’s team record for hits. At least No. 2,722 was a no-doubter. Same speech. Yawn.
The two moments I immediately think of when I’m asked about Derek Jeter occurred in games the Yankees won.
1) Opening Day 2003, in Toronto. The Ken Huckaby collision. It wasn’t a dirty play, it was incidental contact. With one out and the Blue Jays employing an extreme shift with Jason Giambi at the plate, Jeter, always a great base runner, tried to catch the Jays napping. The description of the play, from eNotes:
Giambi hit a soft grounder to the pitcher, Roy Halladay, who threw to first baseman Carlos Delgado for an out. Jeter, seeing Toronto out of position, rounded second and ran to third. Huckaby ran up the line to cover third and fielded Delgado’s throw. Jeter dived headfirst into the bag, while Huckaby attempted to catch the baseball and block Jeter from reaching third. In do so, Huckaby fell onto Jeter; his shin guard driving into his shoulder.
The Yankees won the game and proceeded to start 20-5. In all, they went 26-11 without him, and went 3-11 in their first 14 games upon his return.
2) July 1, 2004, at Yankee Stadium, against the Red Sox. Depending on your perspective, it’s the “game where Jeter broke his face” after going head over heels into the stands to catch a Trot Nixon pop-up in the top of the 12th inning. The Yankees won that game also. The image of Jeter walking off the field, clutching his lip and his face swollen, is one that endures. I covered that game, too. It’s the greatest regular season game I’ve ever seen. We’re not allowed to root in the press box, and in particular, the YES booth, where I was situated. Those of us in the booth may not have been rooting, but we did not suppress our emotions and baseball fandom in that moment.
So where does that leave us now? The Yankees went 14-4 without him and won seven of eight prior to Jeter’s return. They’ve built a lead over the Red Sox and are in the hunt for the best record in baseball with the Phillies. They’ve adjusted to life without Jeter and the distraction of the four-digit elephant in the dugout. Is the current leg of the pursuit and his place in the lineup more of a distraction than an asset? If so, it’ll be consistent with the way these moments have gone throughout Derek Jeter’s career.
“In all my years playing with him,” says Paul O’Neill, Jeter’s teammate from 1995 through 2001, “I don’t think I ever heard him have one technical discussion about the mechanics of hitting. He keeps it simple. He just plays. It’s like he’s still playing high school baseball.”
…”I worked on staying inside the ball in the minor leagues and pretty much every offseason in Tampa with [coach] Gary Denbo,” Jeter says. “But he didn’t teach it to me. That’s just how it was: Keep my hands inside the ball. It’s still the same thing. A lot of people stay inside the ball, but I don’t know about to that extreme.”
Jeter’s hands-in approach relies on making contact with the ball so late—farther in its flight path—that he can hit even inside pitches to the opposite field with authority. Entering this season, on pitches he hit to rightfield, Jeter had a .479 average and a .718 slugging percentage.
“All these years he’s stayed true to what he does best,” O’Neill says. “He had a year or two where he started to gain some strength and turned on some balls, but for the most part he is an example of taking something you do that is good and making it great. In a time when there was pressure in baseball to hit more home runs, he never caved in to that.”
It’s a defensive-looking swing. Jeter hasn’t changed his approach all these years and shortly after he returns from the disabled list he’ll reach 3,000 hits. We’ll be there cheering him on.
Is Derek Jeter headed for the disabled list? That’s a good possibility. Via Twitter, here’s Joel Sherman: “More hints Jeter to DL: My colleague, George King, says Ramiro Pena is at Stadium.” With the Yanks headed to the National League this weekend, makes sense, no?
O’Connor’s sweet Life of Derek raises a core question: Can a Jeter biography be anything less than an ode to a wonderful guy who has been the face of the Yankees for a decade and a half, since he was 22? Maybe O’Connor’s man-crush is the inevitable result of extended exposure to Jeter and his story. Without a tell-all, what’s left? The tale of a terrific fella who, as O’Connor reports, quizzes dates about their morals and has a “spectacular talent for doing the right thing at the right time.”
But O’Connor is a serious journalist, a former newspaperman and now a columnist for ESPN.com who has covered Jeter’s entire career. Surely he searched for the “other” Jeter, to balance the one who “dated supermodels at night and helped their grandmothers cross the street by day.” (Disappointingly, O’Connor’s notes do not cite any interviews with these grandmas.) Surely he wanted to find a troubled side to Jeter, so he could offer a complex picture like the ones that have emerged in definitive biographies of Joe DiMaggio (by Richard Ben Cramer) and Mickey Mantle (by Jane Leavy).
Sandomir notes that the darkness never arrives perhaps because it doesn’t exist. The book is dutifully researched, he writes, but “O’Connor rarely elevates his material beyond a narrative about Jeter’s greatness as a man and player. A straightforward storyteller, he gods up his subject without irony, detachment or recognition of the hyperbole that comes with so much positive testimony.”
If there is any darkness in the book it is reserved for Alex Rodriguez:
Rodriguez is absurdly easy to criticize. He is blunder-prone and shows none of Jeter’s sense of himself. But O’Connor’s open loathing of Rodriguez is as difficult to accept as his adoration of Jeter. “A-Rod was ruining the Yankee experience for Jeter,” he writes. Rodriguez is a “man of dishonor” after he admits to using steroids. And when he follows his agent’s advice to opt out of his Yankees contract in 2007 (he ultimately re-signed for another 10 years), O’Connor says, “On muscle memory, Alex Rodriguez played the fool.” Once the enemies find detente, with Jeter deciding that a humbled and “emasculated” Rodriguez is worth a second shot, O’Connor extends the saint-sinner imagery to an explicitly biblical level. Here he is, describing the jubilant scene after the Yankees clinched their division in 2009: “The photos captured a beaming Jeter lifting A-Rod’s cap off his head with his left hand and pouring a bottle of bubbly over A-Rod’s bowed scalp with his right. At last, the captain had baptized Rodriguez.”
As the announcer Dick Enberg says in moments of rapture, “Oh my.”
by Will Weiss |
May 19, 2011 11:10 pm |
The Yankees lineup slumps as a team and hits as a team. The slump: Wednesday night. Fourteen innings, fourteen singles, and a 1-for-14 effort with runners in scoring position was the epitome of the Yankees’ recent bout of anemia. The hits: Robinson Canó’s 2-RBI double in the 15th inning not only broke the singles brigade and the RISP issues, it was the beginning of an avalanche of offense.
Derek Jeter led off the game with a double, and Curtis Granderson followed with an RBI triple off the top of the right field wall. A productive out by Mark Teixeira had the game at 2-0 before some people realized the game had even started. Later in the inning, Brad Bergesen drilled Cano, walked Russell Martin on four pitches, threw a wild pitch and was forced to walk Jorge Posada to load the bases. Nick Swisher unloaded the bases with a double. 5-0 after a half inning. Score truck idling on Eutaw Street.
Ahead to the fourth inning, where Brett Gardner and Jeter hit back-to-back triples, and then Big Teix went yard. 9-0 and pray the rain held out. It did. The game was official. Tack-on runs in the fifth and sixth. Even Eduardo Nuñez belted a home run to cap the scoring.
The early barrage was more than enough for CC Sabathia, who was on auto-pilot from the get-go. About as economical as he gets: average of 14 pitches per inning through his 8 IP, and struck out nine. No walks. Seventy-seven percent of his pitches went for strikes.
As good as CC was, make no mistake, this game was about the offense. Up and down the lineup, it was like a huge exhalation. A channeling of several days of frustration. The Yankees did what they’re supposed to do: destroy bad pitching. And the timely hitting was there. Eight of 13 runs were scored with two outs. They went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
This was the type of victory the Yankees needed. Now if they could only have this kind of effort against teams other than the Orioles…Wait, how about the Mets?
* Jorge Posada was in the field, at first base, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored, and two walks. His long flyball out to center field in the eighth inning has him 0-for-25 vs. LHP this season. A great note on Posada, though, from YES Network’s Jack Curry, via Twitter: Since he asked out of the lineup Saturday, Posada has reached base in 7 of 9 plate appearances.
* Another beauty from Mr. Curry: Swisher had 4 RBI tonight. He had just 3 in his previous 17 games.
* When Sabathia was removed in favor of Amauri Sanit for the ninth inning, the Yankees extended their MLB record streak of consecutive games without a complete game to 337.
* Courtesy of Larry Koestler at YankeeAnalysts, the Yankees have never had their starting pitchers go 8 innings on consecutive nights. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon just did it.
The Yankees’ success over the last two decades was largely built around a core of home grown stars in Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, but it’s clear that the end is nigh for each of them. Williams and Pettitte are retired, Posada is 39 and batting just .179 in the last year of his contract, Jeter is hitting a career-worst .255 as he approaches his 37th birthday and Rivera, though still pitching brilliantly, is 41 years old.
The decline of those players has brought attention to the advancing age and cost of the Yankees roster, which currently boasts five players who are at least 34 and earning eight-digit salaries and two other players earning annual salaries north of $20 million signed through or beyond their 34th birthdays. Setting aside Posada, who will turn 40 in August and is in the final year of his four-year, $52.4 million deal, here is a look at the six players the Yankees have signed through their age-34 season or beyond.
In November 2008, not long after Mike Mussina announced his retirement, I wrote a column about the concept of “dying at the right time.” In short, dying at the right time involves deciding to leave the game, or, “die” on your own terms. I commended Mussina for having the courage and self-awareness to know that after a 20-win season, ending his career was a better option than returning for another shot at a title, at age 40, with diminished stuff.
That column was written in the context of a well-thought, fully formulated decision that likely took weeks, maybe even months, to plan. Andy Pettitte weighed it several times and took a similar path after last season.
Longtime Banterer The Hawk had some great comments on the Mussina piece, including this one:
I appreciate tenacity, competitiveness and a never-say-die spirit in athletes far more than a sense of decorum or the good taste to retire without “embarrassing” themselves. I can’t say I believe this across the board but in general I love the guys who can’t let go, who’s desire to compete wins out over pride or legacy-building.
Do you love Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada now? Sure, their desire to compete — save for Saturday’s Posada drama — is unwavering, but do you want to continue watching them turn into Benjamin Button? We want to see the youthfulness and greatness demonstrated in the first 10-12 years of their careers, but the reality is that this season they are aging rapidly. We know it. They know it. They’re holding on. Barely.
Jeter gave us a glimmer of hope with his two-home-run effort in Texas. But watching him since then, even though he’s gotten hits and his march to 3,000 is going strong, he’s still hitting less than .260. His at-bats used to be filled with expectations of line drives to right field. Now the expectations are anemic groundballs to second base. Every out he makes is riddled with Tweets and jeers of “THREE MORE YEARS OF THIS!” We know. But who’s a better option? Eduardo Nuñez? We won’t touch the defensive range issue with Jeter.
Posada should have had the easiest route. He moved away from being the everyday catcher to designated hitter, but his pride, hubris, whatever, is preventing him from accepting the current role and producing. It’s not like Posada has forgotten how to hit; he still has a good eye and can draw a walk. He isn’t adjusting to seeing more sliders, and isn’t adjusting to channeling his entire focus into four or five individual at-bats.
Sometimes, the game lets you know when it’s your time. It did for Ken Griffey, Jr., last year. Jeter and Posada are on the brink.
Would you rather see them continue to try to recapture the magic of 3 or 5 years ago, at the risk of their efforts being a detriment to the team and their own legacies? Or would you rather see them accept their fates, recognize the end of their respective careers and act accordingly?
The Yankees are a mediocre team right now and are dealing with the inevitable ugliness of their aging core. Jorge Posada is the first on the firing line, and Derek Jeter, who came to his friend’s defense, is next. Yesterday, team executives met with Jeter.
The Yankees could have publicly ignored Jeter’s all-is-well stance on Sunday. But to do so would have let his words hang there as the official record of the Yankee captain’s stance on quitting. And if the captain were to condone a player bailing on his teammates and fans … well, then what?
…They were not afraid of further angering Posada, because they knew he was wrong — and, ultimately, he knew it, too. And they were not afraid of taking on Jeter, who clearly gave up his bulletproof status when he signed his new contract last off-season.
It was all to prove a point: that a player cannot quit on his team and expect the team to pretend everything is fine. It was a teaching moment for everybody, from aspiring young players to veterans like Posada and Jeter. Someone, it turns out, actually reads those hokey signs in spring training.