You were the very best.
You were the very best.
It felt like post season play. The small market Cream City Nine was taking on the mighty New York Yankees…the Bronx Bombers…the Gotham Nine…the biggest of the big major league baseball teams in the world. Arguably one of the best know sports brands on the planet, the Yanks stride into a city, heads held high, looking smart and comfortable within their skins as the legends they represent on today’s playing fields are. No team has won more World Series Championships than the men in pinstripes. They are so great they may have invented pinstripes.
When they come out before the game, there are no pinstripes on the grey traveling uniforms and no names on their jerseys. ‘You can’t tell a player without a program was not invented by the Yanks because everyone knows who the players are. There are way more people than normal in the stands, showing up for BP. These are not the Pittsburgh Pirates. These are the real deal, honest to God, Yankees. They don’t even need a city locater in front of their name on their website (www.yankees.com). Everywhere you look there is a story: Mark Teixeira, 34-year-old big first baseman and former All-Star who is back after missing most of last season. He’s bigger than you think. Out jogs Ichiro. At 40 years old, he doesn’t need a last name as he is one of the greatest baseball players of this generation who was in every All Star game for a decade. Batting .373 this season and fewer than 300 hits away from 3,000, strangely he is relegated to pinch running roles which give a whole new meaning to steal a base when he is on, or an occasional Sunday start. There’s Jacoby Ellsbury, the 29-year-old former Boston center fielder and All-Star, jogging in the outfield. Isn’t that Alfonso Soriano, a former seven-time All-Star, taking ground balls? CC Sabathia, 33-year-old former hero of Milwaukee and a six-time All-Star, is taking BP. Welcome back to the Senior Circuit, CC. Brian McCann, 30-year-old former Braves’ All-Star, walking out, swinging a bat ready to go into the cage. Walking back to the dugout is Carlos Beltran, 37-year-old, 8 time All-Star, now playing right field for his fourth team. Then, last out of the dugout comes The Captain…Derek Jeter. In his farewell trip, and always a crowd favorite, he comes out just as he always has with his head held up high, jogging out to short to take a few grounders. He is the man. Even coming into the dugout to grab his bat, there is a regal kind of presence.
Then, out in the bullpen, there is the Master of Hyogo, Masahiro Tanaka, who was 24-0 in his homeland, and is still perfect in the Bigs too, throwing bullets. There is a reason he hasn’t lost sometime since 2012. His control is perfect. His demeanor is perfect. His presence is perfect. Imagining him anywhere else in major league baseball is imaginable. He is a Yankee.
It is that kind of night. The Yankees are in The Keg.
When Jeter comes to the plate, as will happen when CC Sabathia comes to the pate the next day, these Midwestern folks who know their baseball and understand the moment like few others in the game, rise and give him a standing ovation. A STANDING OVATION for an opposing player. In all of baseball, that is unheard of. But there is a reason. Derek Jeter is one of the great baseball players that has ever lived. And, he has represented his sport like few other professionals in the history of the game. Here is a guy who even warns some guy who runs out to short during the game to ask for a hug and Derek Jeter just says to the fan near his idol, “You’re going to get in trouble. “And then he repeated that the fan wanted a hug, and Jeter said, ‘Look out.’, just before security guards grabbed the guy and took him out of the ballpark. What kind of a guy is Derek Jeter?
He is the Lou Gehrig of our day.
He is the Captain of the Yankees.
On of the delights of baseball is the ability of fans to get up close and personal with the players of the game. During the years one can become fascinated with how a player not only performs on the field but how he presents himself, when seemingly nothing is happening and no one is watching.
Then just when you think you have seen a player being perfect, he picks his nose, spits baccy juice on the floor of the dugout and on his perfectly clean uniform. There are always the crotch grabbers and fixer uppers. There is an unnamed infield that always blew his nose in the right arm short sleeve of his uniform. Well it was a traveling uniform and not the home ‘whites’.
But there is one guy who honestly is above all of that. I first saw him when he came up. I’ve seen him in only two stadiums in my life. One was in old Milwaukee County Stadium and the other at BankOne/The Chase in Phoenix.
Derek Jeter appears to be perfect. He simply responds to things in a way you would think the Captain of the New York Yankees should perform. He avoids most confrontations. He smiles. He hits in the clutch. Rarely shows excessiveness. He comes back from injury by slapping a ball right up the middle. He is stoic in nearly every thing he does on the field. He is a gentleman off of the field. He has proven he is a champion. He is, in short, a hero.
That is the set up.
For many of baseball’s great players, we have placed them on the Jeter pedestal, one which places the player above any wrong doing. He smiles as though he is only smiling at you. He stairs at disbelief as no other. He responds to a strike out as if he has let not only the team down, by you the fans in the stands, and the fans over the YES Network and throughout the world via radio, down. And we all feel his pain. But as he walks back to the dugout, we feel empowered to cheer for him harder so he can make that pitcher pay the next time he steps up to the plate. You can literally see Derek Jeter transform from a mortal ballplayer into a champion whom we all know will be the real ‘Mighty Casey’ the next time at the plate or the wonderful fielder on defense. Remember, the play at the plate? You don’t even have to qualify that play. You already know it in your heart.
This past week, the Hall of Fame elected three great players. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Saw all three in their best days. Tremendous performers. Maddux was so good he could even convinced the plate itself that it was a strike that he had just thrown. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was as close to Babe Ruth in our era as we will ever see. He was big. He was powerful. And he was clean.
Why did we have to bring that up? He was clean? The other day when the election was announced, most of the discussions centered around those who were not elected. Many have been placed into the PED barrel, either through admittance or through innuendo. It was at that time I read one of the most interesting articles I have ever read on the subject. It was written by Bryan Curtis. And if you are a fan of the game, this is a must read. (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10261642/mlb-hall-fame-voting-steroid-era)
In the field of those who will be honored at Cooperstown this summer and receiving the sports highest honor will be one former manager of a couple of teams which won pennants. Nearly all of them were won with a player or players who were heavy PED users. After you read the article above, if you are a fan of his and have held him on that pedestal, you all can say it is a lie. If not, you can ask yourself, ‘Why are we honoring this guy?’. Of course he may not show because he is rumored to be the next skipper of the Seattle Mariners. Suddenly, the Mariners have more money than a game developer.
Now you see the problem that was created by the nomination to the Hall of Fame. Very few words in this article are addressing the wonderful accomplishments of the three elected. Maddux painted the corners of a plate that at times got so big, his reputation became that of Picasso on the Mound. His brush was his imagination and an arm that could put the ball where he wanted it. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was a huge man who absolutely everyone in the third base section of the stands always began to drink coffee two innings before he came to bat for fear that a foul ball would be heading their way at over 100 mph. Thus one of the reasons why the best place to see baseball is from the first base side, behind the dugout, right down the first to second line (see above).
Which brings us all the back to the Captain. As Ed Bradley, the famed CBS reporter told us back in 2005, as a child, Jeter’s parents made him sign a contract every year that set acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior. Yankees scout Dick Groch, convinced the Yankees to draft him #6 in the first round selling them on the idea by saying “the only place Derek Jeter’s going is to Cooperstown”. Today, he may finish #5 on the hits list all-time. He has a chance of moving ahead of Paul Monitor, Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner with a mediocre year. If he has a Jeter year, he will move into the fourth spot, ahead of Tris Speaker. He need 199 hits to do that.
Six years from now, when one Derek Jeter is eligible to enter the Hall of Fame, let’s not waste time talking about the injustice of why a guy who bet on baseball was not elected into the Hall. Let’s not waste time discussing why the ‘bloated one’ who pounded the ball over the fence as if he was filled with helium, wasn’t elected, yet again.
Wait! That’s it. They were all on helium. That’s why their muscles exploded overnight. That’s why the ball looked like a ping-pong ball. It was all about helium. Why didn’t the Commish think about this before.
Here’s to helium.
And to Jeter, getting into the Hall and having all of us talk about one of the greatest players who ever played the game and retelling others why he was placed on that pedestal, deserves all of our recognition. Real heroes are like that. They have earned our admiration.
I have been a Yankee fan most of my life. They, along with the Oakland A’s, have been my favorite American League teams. To be sure, I am not a live-or-die fan like Big Red or Timmy. My allegiance always goes to the Brewers. But understand, if the Yanks are in a game against anyone except Milwaukee, I’m pulling for the team in Pinstripes.
This past Monday, I watched the New Yorker’s invade Chicago for the return of A-Rod. It was quite a scene. The YES Network pulled in big numbers. To the surprise of few knowledgeable fans, his first at bat of the season was a hit. That’s what big players do. To everyone’s surprise, he ran with ease. But he was stranded at third when his teammates showed their age.
Andy Pettitte (41) was visibly graying on the mound after each pitcch, giving up 7 runs in two and two-thirds innings. Teixeira (33) was out for the season at first, replaced by Wells (34). Cano (30), the baby of the team, was at second but not next to Jeter (39) at short because Derek was on the DL for the 3rd time this season. Soriano (37) was the DH with Granderson (32) in left, somebody in center and Ichiro (39) in right with another somebody at catcher. In essence, here was a team, with A-Rod (39) at third that got very old right before our eyes. There is a real probability that five or six of these players will not be with the team next year. They will be playing for the AARP nine.
This team has never looked worse since those dreadful days when the Pride of Beloit, Jerry Kenney, played for them and wore #2.
As mentioned, the game drew a season high on YES television with a 4.34 rating translating into a viewing audience of 393,000, a 71% boost over the season’s average on the local Yankee telecast.
The option was Betty White reruns in ‘Who’s Older?’.
But there is a silver lining behind the ‘Home For The Aged’. We hear that Depends is thinking of sponsoring the team next season and coming out with a ‘Pinstripe’ version.
Jean Carlos Enrique Segura is a rising star. He began shinning in 1990 in San Juan, Dominican Republic. But this year, he has become a full-blown star of major proportion. In his first full season as the starting shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers, he has played in nearly every game and leads the National League in hits (124) with an All-Star batting average of .326. In the last ten games, he is hitting .378.
There are plenty of players who have put up great ‘can’t miss’ minor league stats and never made it big in The Show. Segura is not one of them. Since he hit organized ball, he has proven to be one of the most valuable players. Drafted by the Angels, he was selected an All-Star in 2010 at Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League. The following year he was named Arizona Fall League Rising Star for the Scottsdale nine. Last year, he was a Texas League All-Star in AA at Arkansas. Also last year he was a Futures Game Selection. This year he was an All-Star at Citi Field for the National League.
This is his first full season.
In batting, he reminds one of a young Henry Aaron at the plate. Lightening quick hands with unexpected power. Segura has hit 11 home runs in his first full season so far. In Henry’s first 1954 season, he hit 13 while batting .280. His All-Star streak began the following year when he batted .314 with 27 home runs. In fielding, Segura has committed 10 errors at shortstop while Henry had 7 errors playing left field (6) and right field (1).
But is it too early to judge a rookie? Not necessarily so. Honus Wagner in his rookie season, and probably ranked as the greatest shortstop of all time, in his first full season in 1898 for St. Louis had 10 home runs and batted .299. Strangely, he never played shortstop in his first year as most of the time he was at first base (75 games), at third base (65) and second base (10). Then there is Alex Rodriguez. During his first full season in 1996 for Seattle he set the standard with a league leading batting average of .358 while smacking 36 home runs. He committed 15 errors. He too became an All-Star in his inaugural full season. He comes back into the Yankee lineup this week in Texas. Then there is Derek Jeter, today’s Captain of the Yankees. His first full season was also in 1996 when he hit 10 home runs while batting .314. He committed 22 errors in his first full season.
Cal Ripken Jr. hammered 28 home runs in his first full season in 1982 for Baltimore while hitting .264. He had only 13 errors all that season playing shortstop. Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox in his first full season in 1932 (judging a season with over 100 games played) he batted .274 and hit 3 home runs in cavernous Comiskey Park located at 35th and Shields. He had 49 errors, with 37 coming at shortstop, 6 at second base and 6 at third base.
Yet in Milwaukee, every player who ever plays the shortstop position is judged from a point of reference called Robin Yount. In his first full season (1974) he hit .250 with 3 home runs. He matched his uniform number in the field, committing 19 errors.
The beauty of baseball is that comparison are inevitable. It is part of the game.
This season, all are experiencing the excitement of a rising star. Look for him at shortstop at Miller Park. He is a remarkable young ballplayer.
This is the time when we usually see him flying around the field making improbable plays to alert the world that he is the very best at what he does during the post season. We see him fly into the third base box seats, crashing his legs into the rail and making that great catch. We see him dashing across the first base line, flipping the ball with his glove hand to the catcher to get the running coming home. He is the Captain. He is the leader.
He is D-E-R-E-K J-E-T-E-R.
In his last game of the year, against the Detroit Tigers, he collected his 200th hit in post season. Do you understand that level of accomplishment? Here are a few facts: 18 seasons with over 3,300 hits. A 13 time All-Star with a lifetime .313 batting average. 16 seasons of post season baseball experience with 200 hits and a .308 BA. 158 post season games started. That’s nearly a season of post season games. His 200 post season hits ranks #1. Only a handful of other players who played in the big leagues have over 70 hits in post season. They are: Bernie Williams (128), Manny Ramirez (117), Chipper Jones (97), Albert Pujols (88), Alex Rodriguez (72) and Johnny Damon (72).
Imagine, while we were watching #2 play, he amassed 200 hits in post season, an astounding amount of hits, 72 more than the next best. When you talk about unbeatable records in baseball, this may be the one they talk about for decades to come. Who knows? Perhaps he will add to it next year.
Now he faces a 4 to 5 month recovery from ankle surgery. Perhaps when the warm weather of spring breaks through from a New York winter, #2 will step out of the dugout on the first base side of Yankee Stadium and jog to his familiar place at shortstop, wearing his pinstripes and that slight smile. When that happens, his place already fixed in Yankee lore will continue to grow and the endearing chants will once again be heard from the loving fans in the stands… D-E-R-E-K J-E-T-E-R.
The Captain will have returned.