Since the start of spring training, no player in baseball has been
scrutinized as often, and criticized as much as Derek Jeter. Despite
being on the doorstep of 3,000 hits and stamping a career .314
average on the back of his baseball card, the Yankees captain
is being treated by fans, media, and the so-called "experts"
like he's Julio Lugo.
When Jeter, who has more hits than any player to ever slip
on the pinstripes, got off to a dreadful start, the fans pounced on
him like he was the second coming of Milton Bradley. He was
hitting in the low .200's with no power and no spark. It was as
if he was hitting with a wet newspaper and never played the game.
Critics said at 37-years old, Jeter's bat was too slow and his
reflexes were shot.
Vinny Bagadonuts from the Bronx called into WFAN in New York
and implored the Yankees to trade for Jose Reyes of the Mets.
Mario from Manhattan said that Jeter should just retire and the
Yankees should find a shortstop like Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins.
But Jeter has been down this road before, hasn't he? In 2004, he was
on the cover of Sports Illustrated for a feature the magazine was doing
on "Solving the Slump: The greatest mystery in sports." On May
25th of that year, Jeter was hitting .189. That's right, .189! Under
the Mendoza line with more than 150 at-bats in the books. He
finished the year hitting .292 with 23 home runs. What's today's date?
What's Jeter hitting?
Yet, the so-called "experts" of sports talk radio, the guy's who were
most likely to be the last guys picked for the elementary kick-ball teams
at recess, were declaring Jeter DOA. I do get a chuckle when these
rabid fans and talk show hosts suddenly forget all that Jeter
has done and get amnesia when it comes to their baseball skills
growing up. They couldn't make their Babe Ruth team, yet feel they
have the right to critique and criticize the most popular Yankee since
the Sultan of Swat.
Oh, did we forget that it's not even mid-May and that baseball is
a marathon and not a sprint? So what if Jeter hits .200 in May, if he
finishes at .290 when the leaves turn brown? The Yankees shortstop
does have a higher average than teammates Mark Texiera and Alex
Rodriquez, yet no one is saying peep about them. Jorge Posada is
hitting an anemic .152 but nobody is paying much attention to
a guy whose bat speed has become slower than molasses in the winter,
and an automatic out in the Yankees line-up. Up north, Dustin Pedroia
is hitting under .240, but nobody is bailing on the former AL MVP.
On Sunday, Jeter had four hits, two of them going for round trippers.
He raised his average from .251 to over .276. The next day, Wally
from White Plains calls into WFAN and says, Jeter is "The Man"
once again. Rocco in Rockland says number 2 is the number 1 Yankee
forever. The tide had turned overnight. To the fellowship of the miserable,
Jeter had made a few adjustments, and all of a sudden, he's that
future hall of famer, they all thought he was. He's the pride of the
Yankees, the face of the organization, the man who suddenly rediscovered
his bat speed like Marie Osmond surprisingly found her love for
the husband she divorced more than two decades ago. That was after
ONE game. One game out of 162.
Sports fans in New York, what is wrong with you? Before Sunday,
Jeter was Roy Smalley. After his two-HR game against Texas, he
was Roy Hobbs. Relax, get a grip, and realize that the season is
162 games long, not 30. Get it into your head that hitting a baseball
consistently is tough as hell. Don't you remember that's why you never
made it past Pony League? The great Albert Pujols is even struggling,
hitting under .250 despite being a LIFETIME .331 hitter. Hitters go
through slumps and streaks all the time. It's part of baseball. Nobody
gets crowned with a batting title on May 15th.
Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra came into the league at virtually the same
time. They, along with A-Rod, were the three kings at shortstop. Only
Jeter is still playing the position and Nomar is no longer playing the game.
Garciaparra was productive until he was 32 and finished with a .313
career average, a point behind Jeter. He broke down with injuries while
Jeter continued to play 155 games a year. And it was only two years ago,
that the Yankees captain hit .334 for the season. Has he lost a step?
Of course, most people his age do, unless they're pumping fraud
into their body.
I've heard people say that Jeter is overrated, which is an absolute joke.
No hall of fame shortstop with five rings, who will finish with more than
3,300 hits and a 3-something average can be put in that category. And
Jeter has done it while playing under an intense microscope every day.
Overhyped? Absolutely. That happens when you're the captain of the
crown jewel in all of sports that sits in the media capital of the world.
If he had played in Seattle, Jeter would still have been a great player,
but not the icon he is now. If Willie Mays had been a Yankee, he'd
probably be considered the greatest player of all-time. More hype,
more exposure, more attention, and a lot more credit when you win.
It's all goes with being a Yankee and playing in the Big Apple.
Jeter has three and half more years to go on a four-year contract.
Yankee fans, Jeter is not going anywhere, deal with it. Oh, he might
be moved to the outfield in two years, but he's staying in pinstripes
at at the top of the Bronx Bombers line-up. Remember that Jeter
knows how to bust a slump and repel the negativity that comes with
it. Will he hit .334 like he did two years ago? Probably not. But
let him get his 600 at-bats before you shovel more dirt on his grave.
The man is, has been, and always will be a great player, just give
him the chance to prove it---again.