Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Separating Derek Jeter's playing abilities from all the hype

A friend of mine accused me the other day of "hating" Derek Jeter. Not true. What I can't stand is the nauseating myth built around the captain, giving him superpowers that simply aren't there. And some of the mythmakers need a dose of reality potion nearly as much as Jeter does with his ridiculous contract demands.

Jeter got a 10-year, $189 million from the Yankees not because of his intangibles, or his leadership, or his calm eyes, to use a Tim McCarverism. He got that kind of cheddar because he was a great player in the prime of his career. And really, all the focus on this other stuff takes away noticing the actual tangible baseball skills he has shown over the years, albeit much less so as of late.

Why isn't him being a first-ballot Hall of Famer enough? Why do we have to hear this myth, that Jeter isn't just a great player, but he's the best person to ever walk on the baseball field? That he was a better player than A-Rod, when he never was? That he doesn't care about money? That he's the greatest leader ever? It's nonsense. That's why they're called intangibles -- because you can't measure them!

I never thought Jeter was a good captain. Even before the A-Rod stuff, there was his annual "it's not the same team" post-playoffs speech he'd make every time the Yankees would lose in the postseason. Not exactly the kind of leadership that Paul O'Neill and David Cone provided in the late '90s dynasty.

As Newsday columnist Ken Davidoff noted:

Remember, when free agent CC Sabathia voiced concerns about the Yankees' clubhouse to Cashman, the GM admitted to the big lefty that the clubhouse was "broken."

That's because Jeter, the team captain, could never work through his issues with Alex Rodriguez (and he apparently still can't, since you'd be naive to think Jeter's current contract demands have nothing to do with A-Rod). It's because Jeter did not help create an open, welcoming environment....

It did indeed take the arrival of Sabathia - and even A.J. Burnett a little bit, at least in his first year - to eliminate the "Choose a side, Jeter or A-Rod" - vibe that existed in the Yankees' clubhouse for a long time.
If Donovan McNabb could welcome dog killer Michael Vick to the Philadelphia Eagles -- a dog killer who ended up taking his job, yet -- then I don't think it was too much for Jeter to get over his issues with A-Rod. It was up to the captain to make the peace there. No less than Joe Torre admitted in "The Yankee Years" that the clubhouse was divided. How is that conducive to winning? How does that make Jeter any sort of great leader?

I remember watching A-Rod's first press conference with the Yanks, where he looked as happy as a clam. Meanwhile, Jeter mumbled through the whole thing, and looked like Vick killed his dog or something. I don't care if A-Rod is the most annoying person in the world; he was also the greatest player in baseball at the time. The fact that Jeter allowed his personal feelings to cloud what was good for the team was contrary to what he's supposed to be all about -- winning.

Then there are Jeter's ridiculous contract demands after coming off the worst season of his career. Yet except for Ken Davidoff and Bill Madden, most of the New York writers have given him a pass, just avoiding directly criticizing him. Are they worried that if they say something, Jeter will cut off their access or something? It's very peculiar.

One writer --MLB columnist
Jeter gets bonus points for the respectable way he's gone about his business the last 16 years, but he's pushing the limits. Yes, he's the face of the Yankees, but he is not bigger than the Yankees. His agent's contract suggestions, however, suggest he believes otherwise, and that's more of a slap in the face to "the Yankees brand" than anything the Yankees themselves are bringing to the table in this ridiculous melodrama....

Let's not make this a matter of respectful worship for a sacred cow. This is a negotiation between a team and a player, plain and simple. And if Jeter is adamant about receiving anything resembling $23 million a year, then the Yankees ought to instruct him to negotiate elsewhere.
I agree!
What do you think? Tell us about it!


Michael said...

Let us not forget that "team first" Jeter basically required A-Rod (who was, and probably still is, the better shortstop) to shift positions to 3B when he came over from Texas.

Uncle Mike said...

A-Rod was NEVER the better shortstop. Seriously, which great Jeter play would you have trusted him to make? Especially in A-Rod's least favorite month, October? A-Rod was better than Nomar, though. And he was better than either Rey Ordon'tez and Jose Reyes.

I wish I knew what happened to Nomar, he went from being Cal Ripken with the glove and Hank Aaron with the bat (remember, when young, the consensus was that Hank seemed likelier to bat .400 than to hit 715 homers) to being an oft-injured malcontent. Chemically induced, perhaps? They caught A-Rod; if they ever caught Nomar, they haven't told us.

Lisa Swan said...

Making a few spectacular highlight plays doesn't make Jeter a better shortstop than A-Rod. It just doesn't.

Everybody remembers the Jeter diving into the stands play (I was there, so I remember it well.) Nobody remembers that A-Rod made a nifty double play to help save the game. If it weren't for that move, Jeter never would have been able to make that signature play.

BrooklynGirl said...

Defensively, Alex has ALWAYS been regarded by his peers as the better shortstop. Yankee first baseman Mark Texiera said as much when asked about his impression of Alex when Mark came to the Texas Rangers as a rookie. But that is neither here nor there for this discussion. Because for once this isn't about Alex (or is it?)

The media(especially in NY) for some reason wants us all to believe that Jeter is near-perfect, is above it all and can do no wrong. He's "always about team" and "only cares about winning". Well if the man is all about team then when was he the ONLY player who had the voice of the late Bob Shepard announcing him as he comes to the plate? That was touching the first few times, now it's just weird. Moreover it shows disrespect to Paul Olden the venerable current Yankee announcer. You can't get more"24+1" than that. We all know Jeter is a first ballot HOF'er; he's earned it in more ways than one. But all of that doesn't ignore the fact that at critical times in his tenure as Yankee captain he has failed to do the right thing for the benefit of team chemisty when it was needed.

Now he's out there trying to get a new gig. Obviously he has overestimated his value in the market place so he's going to have to adjust. His timing wasn't as good as Alex's and it's probably killing him inside. Oh well. He's not the first (or the last) athlete to get smacked upside the head with a dose of reality. As Public Enemy used to sing "Don't believe the hype!"

He needs to work on a deal that makes sense for both parties or move on. The NY media will just have to find a new ballplayer to annoint as the "best-there-ever-was-never-been-anyone-like-him-face-of-the-franchise" guy in town.

Lisa Swan said...

BrooklynGirl, I completely agree with everything you said.

The other thing with the Bob Sheppard issue, besides the way playing it makes Derek stand out, is how Jeter 1) didn't go to his funeral, even though it was an off-day, 2) when asked later why he didn't go, he said he didn't know when it was (!), and 3) when a few columnists dared to criticize him over this, he showed none of the class and grace he's known for.

Jonmouk71 said...

The crux of the matter is this: in 1952, after winning his third straight World Series, Dimaggio walked away from a $100,000 offer to play from Yankee owner Topping (who didn't throw his money around - this is the guy that employed George Weiss) saying, "I don't want them (the fans) to remember me struggling," Does anybody believe that Jeter, if he got a 4 or 5 year contract, and continues to regress, would do the same in year 2 or 3?

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