By Neil Keefe
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I was recapping the first inning of Wednesday’s Yankees-Tigers game for my dad because he missed the beginning of the game, and I said, “Jeter had a hit to lead off the game.” And he replied, “Like, a real hit? Or a slow roller to third base?”
I never thought it would get to this point, but really I just didn’t want to believe it would ever get to this point. And the point I’m referring to is the point where the world turns on Derek Jeter because maybe he has finally lost it for good. The fact that I have to even write this shows things aren’t going the way I hoped (but maybe this will serve as one big reverse jinx for me to helping turn around Jeter’s season). I feel like I’m one of a few still supporting No. 2, still sticking by No. 2 and still believing in No. 2, mainly because I don’t want to believe anything else.
At times I forget that there won’t always be No. 2 and a No. 42 for the Yankees. The Core Four to me was really always about Jeter and Mariano Rivera because Andy Pettitte already left once before and while Jorge Posada didn’t leave, he wasn’t really a part of the 1996 team. Without Pettitte on the team, it’s not that weird because I already got over him leaving once when he went to Houston in 2004. And with Posada it was weird that he wasn’t catching on Opening Day, but it served as a good way to transition him from being in the lineup every game, to being the DH, to next year being to the point where he most likely won’t be on the team. But for No. 2 and No. 42 it will be different, and for me it will be really different with No. 2.
None of my friends that are Mets fans or Red Sox fans that are my age can relate to this, and that’s why I don’t think they understand why I can’t accept the fact that Jeter might never get back what he had before and what he had as recently as two years ago.
The generation of Yankees before me had to go through this with Don Mattingly. The face of the franchise for their childhood and the beginning of their adulthood was no longer playing at the level that made them fans in the first place. I caught the tail end of the Mattingly era. My first Yankees game in person was in 1991 at the age of four, and a No. 23 shirt was the first player shirt I wore. Mattingly retired after 1995, after my ninth birthday. Derek Jeter became the starting shortstop for the Yankees the following spring, and instantly filled the void of my favorite player left by Mattingly.
Jeter has been the starting shortstop of the Yankees since I was nine years old. NINE YEARS OLD! I’m 24 now. That’s my entire life of being able to really fully understand baseball, and care about baseball. Sure, I remember marveling over cards of Matt Nokes and Steve Sax and Hensley Meulens and can vaguely remember a few moments of the team under Stump Merrill, but I remember everything about Derek Jeter.
I remember everything about Jeter because whenever I have missed a Yankees game during his career, the first thing I check after the final score is how Jeter did. After the Yankees’ record, Jeter’s personal stats became the most important thing to me. It’s sick, but I can recite his average and home run and RBI totals from every season. I think I think I’ll conquer his on-base percentages next.
The negativity surrounding Jeter was bad with the team at 16-9 and in first place on Monday. Now they’re still in first at 17-12, but with three straight losses to the Tigers, who the Yankees threw a flotation device to and saved their season, the anti-Jeter club is growing tenfold and will probably pick up another hundred members before you finish reading this.
With Brett Gardner getting back on track, people accepting what Jorge Posada has become and Phil Hughes’ future put on hold, Jeter has become the most talked about Yankee and the center of attention for the AL East leaders. The state of Jeter can be broken down into four points that everyone is talking about. Here is my take on the four.
On November 11, I wrote the following:
I am a believer that he will bounce back in 2011. I am also a believer that he was injured for the majority of 2010 because the drop in his numbers just seems to be too drastic for a player of his caliber despite his age and there has to be another reason aside from age that his batting average would fall 64 points.
I still don’t know why he dropped off the way he did from 2009 to 2010 and why he is still dropping in 2011. I know it’s not his swing and I know he didn’t need to try to change his swing when he’s almost 37. Why change something that got you to the majors, got you more hits than other Yankee ever and is going to get you to the Hall of Fame? I respect Kevin Long and what he has done to help some of the players fix their mechanics, but I don’t think it was needed with this person in this case.
Last Friday against the Blue Jays’ Octavio Dotel, Jeter came to the plate with the Yankees trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning and the bases loaded with one out. Jeter struck out on a 2-2 count on a high fastball, which immediately set off the critics that Jeter can no longer catch up to the high fastball. The problem is that Jeter has never been good at hitting the high fastball. It’s always frustrated me that he loves that pitch, but always swings through it. But because of his problems, incorrect criticisms are being made as people begin to pile it on.
I don’t know why Jeter is living on swinging bunts and infield hits and why he isn’t driving or why he hasn’t hit a home run since Aug. 24, 2010. I wish there were a real reason for this other than that he’s getting old. But even though he hasn’t given us that vintage Jeter at-bat in a clutch situation yet, I still believe in him in the big spot. Call me crazy, but I do.
The Yankees have played 18 percent of their season, so there’s a lot of baseball left, but they have also played a pretty good amount of baseball. When asked very early on about the possibility of moving Jeter down in the order, Joe Girardi said he would wait until around 100 at-bats before making any changes. Jeter has now had 108 at-bats. He’s hitting .250 with only two of his 27 hits going for extra bases.
I’m one of the biggest proponents of “What have you done for me lately?” Anyone who follows my tweets knows this. But with Jeter it’s different. Maybe that’s wrong or unfair, but that’s just how it is. And the reasoning I gave Mike Hurley of NESN for my negative remarks about A.J. Burnett during last season and this past offseason was because “I’m against anyone that gets in the way of my teams winning and A.J. Burnett got in the way of the Yankees winning in 2010.”
I don’t think Jeter is in the way of the Yankees winning (yet), but there are a lot of people that currently do. Not that they think he shouldn’t be in the starting lineup, but that he should be moved down in the lineup.
Some people think it’s unreasonable that Gardner and Posada have been moved down in the lineup because of their struggles and not Jeter. And to that I say, “Well he’s Derek Jeter, and they’re not.” But I do agree at some point Jeter will have to be moved down if this continues.
But if that move does happen, it will be the beginning of the end. Think about those nights when you say, “I’m only going to have one beer because I have to get up early” and you end up staying out all night, shutting down the bar and then sleeping through whatever you had the next day and making an excuse for it. That’s what will happen if Jeter is moved from the top of the order. One decision after another that negatively impacts his future. Because once Girardi can makes that first move to publicly accept the fact that Derek Jeter is no longer Derek Jeter, it will be that much easier for him to make more and more decisions about Jeter. And while it might be good for the team (MIGHT), it won’t be good for No. 2.
It’s become more of a surprise when Jeter gets to balls to his left and makes a play or does the 360 throw to first, and Twitter has become the home for jokes about his range. It’s obvious that Jeter is no longer the defender he once was. Did he deserve to win the Gold Glove last year? No. Do balls get through the middle that should be outs that other shortstops in the league would make a play on? Yes.
But on Thursday, Yankees fans got a taste of life without Jeter at shortstop. And limited range to his left, or not he’s still a much better option than Eduardo Nunez, who cost the Yankees a chance to win Thursday’s game. Nunez committed two throwing errors and now has five errors in 21 innings at short. This is the guy that some Yankees fans were OK with letting Jeter leave and becoming the replacement at shortstop. That would have been a lot of fun.
I don’t think Jeter will be winning the Gold Glove again in 2011 after last year’s public outcry over him winning it, but he doesn’t need to be the best shortstop in baseball. He just can’t be hurting the Yankees there like Nunez has, and he isn’t.
I was hoping if Jeter got off to a slow start it would be disguised the way people talk about A-Rod reaching home run milestones as if that whole steroid admission thing during spring training in 2009 never happened. But with his new contract that some people thought he didn’t deserve (though where were these people when Burnett was getting $82.5 million, or when Kei Igawa and the “abused” Pedro Feliciano were getting overpaid to not pitch for the Yankees?) it was inevitably going to become the main issue with the Yankees if he got off to a slow start or if the team slumped at any time. With three losses in a row to the Tigers, it’s the perfect storm for the anti-Jeter party.
I compare my wish of people not talking about Jeter to the way they choose to forget whatever A-Rod was doing with his cousin because the two players will forever be linked together. I haven’t read Ian O’Connor’s book yet, but I plan on it. As a Jeter and Yankees fan, I just wish the timing were better for its release. It reminds me of the end of the 2006 regular season when Tom Verducci published that Sports Illustrated story about the divide in the Yankees clubhouse. The playoffs started a week later, and the Yankees were out in four games to the Tigers who were 19-31 in their last 50 games. Did the Yankees lose because of the story? No, they lost because their rotation after Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina was Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright. But it couldn’t have helped.
I actually thought the new book highlighting Jeter and A-Rod’s rocky relationship was going to have a longer lasting impact than it did. It was pretty much in and out of the headlines in a week, and that’s good for Jeter and the Yankees. The last thing he needs to be worrying about right now is answering questions about things that happened several years ago.
Last season I started to fully realize that Mariano Rivera won’t always come out of the bullpen to “Enter Sandman” and close out games for the Yankees. And when Jeter was going through his contract negotiations in the fall and in the winter, it was the first time it really hit me that one day in the near future he wouldn’t be there anymore either.
I’ve always wondered why Derek Jeter is the quickest one to acknowledge the Bleacher Creatures during Roll Call. He barely lets Section 203 get through one “DER-EK JE-ETER, clap clap, clap clap clap” as if he’s tired or sick of it because he’s been always been a part of Roll Call and it seems like he will be a part of it forever. Except he won’t.
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