By Jason Keidel
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I caused quite a fuss on Wednesday, picking a fight with the five boroughs over Derek Jeter. Consider this missive a détente – at least until our next bout.
While I failed to harpoon the heart of every bromance with the captain, we agree on one thing: there will come a day when Jeter is no longer the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees, and that day is about two years away.
For a moment, we can combine our brains for the cause, the angst over Jeter and the palpable void in the franchise, the aging icon combed with the loss of George Steinbrenner just last year, and perhaps a titanic truth may be revealed.
No matter your view on King George, he was good theater, from obdurate to opulent to obscene. He gave a damn about his team. His wars, warts, and winning are well chronicled. No need to recount in this column. Nor may we look for his replacement, as Steinbrenner was singular, good and bad.
But with the odd confluence of circumstances – the anniversary of his death buttressed against his birthday – we might ponder the loss of The Boss and, more importantly, of his last star pupil, Jeter, and why it bothers the Bronx and beyond so much.
Perhaps it’s not as simple as Derek’s decay reflecting poorly upon those who worship him. And perhaps it’s not that you’re sad for the man personally, because he doesn’t deserve your pity. He could win the lotto and call it a pay cut. By 40 he can pick his next job, wife, weather, or just chill in a mansion so monstrous they call it “St. Jetersburg.” He’s that dude in the Dos Equis commercial. And he’s real.
Maybe it’s as simple as we don’t have his successor, the next prodigy and progeny of the Yankees’ system, another pretty, gritty, skinny stud yet to fill his bony frame. And we’re not just talking about another .300 hitter, because they’re easy to buy. We’re looking for the next one, the avatar of Yankee Pride, a role Jeter so nobly filled for over a decade.
The Mets had it in the ‘80s, that sense of surging talent on the brink of brilliance, led by Doc and Darryl. A decade later the Bombers had it, led by Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera, affectionately coined the Core Four.
Teixeira, Sabathia, Swisher, etc., are wonderful players and people, but they’re imports, part of the Yankee narrative of ravenous consumption. They aren’t our kids. Joba was going to be that thing, until he wasn’t; likewise with Phil Hughes. Special rules were enacted for each, and both got hurt, anyway, showing us that special treatment never works, no matter the arm.
In my Jeter column last week I erroneously said you could simply replace the shortstop with Curtis Granderson. You cannot, because Granderson, though a fine player of finer character, is not from the farm. Yes, there’s a difference. Just ask Mets fans how they feel about Jose Reyes. There would be just a fraction of the frothing over the possible loss of the electric shortstop had he not been a product of the Mets’ minor league system.
Sure, the Yanks are on their annual march to the playoffs – where they will likely fall in the fall because of a dearth of dominant pitching – but there’s no buzz about the team (as much as I loathe words like buzz). Their assumed reservation for October doesn’t feel special. Detractors reasonably assert that $200 million should buy you a table at any playoff party. And I can’t argue, even as a Yankees fan.
This year, however, it feels like expectations for big deeds under brown leaves are supplanted by something greater, perhaps a spiritual hunger or chasm.
In the absence of Steinbrenner’s vivid leadership and his fading captain, there’s no replacement for either. But we don’t pay to watch owners own. We pay for play, and it seems there’s no next Jeter, no seed in the farm ready to sprout the way that kid from Kalamazoo did back in 1996.
Are you that excited about Eduardo Nunez? Austin Romine? Jesus (about to be traded) Montero? Those “Killer B” pitchers? The cognoscenti agree that the Yankees have a very fertile farm system. But it’s not something we can fathom beyond the print on a media guide. There’s no…sorry…buzz. We loved what we saw from Ivan Nova for his five minutes in the majors before he was shipped back into the dark obscurity of buses, back roads, and back doors. But it’s tough for a pitcher to become the face of a franchise, particularly the New York Yankees.
We all have friends with whom we chat and spat over sports. I once asked such a friend about trading prospects (like Hughes) for Johan Santana. He said prospects are just that until they prove otherwise, that there’s no such thing as a “can’t miss” kid. Nowhere is that endemic more emblematic than in New York now.
Some of you found Jeter’s successor in Robinson Cano. I’ve met the second baseman with a whip for a bat. You can’t help but feel better in the young man’s presence, leave a chat with a childish giggle. His smile is easy, wide, white, and sincere But there’s an on-field aloofness to his game that keeps his talent from transcending and keeps us from going gaga over him. Cano is a lovely player; he’s just not pedestal material.
Yes, you ultimately root for the laundry, knowing that the pinstripes trump personalities, and that winning a World Series is its own reward. We just wish the laundry included a few discarded diapers, kids we knew from rookie to retirement.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
Yankees fans: who will be the next face of the franchise? Let ‘er rip in the comments below…