Friday, March 25, 2011
A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book called “Scorecasting”. I was contacted by the book publisher’s PR company and was offered the book in exchange for writing a blurb on my Blog. I love reading and I love writing, so I was pumped to do it. I enjoyed the experience so much that when I was contacted to receive another book, I jumped at the chance. The book in question is “Derek Jeter: From the Pages of the New York Times” which is a collected works of the nation's "Newspaper of Record" that follows the Yankee shortstop from before he was drafted through the 2010 season.
Before I get into the epiphany that I realized after reading this collection of stories, I have to say that the book itself, is absolutely gorgeous. The writing, which includes dozens of stories from top writers like Buster Olney, is fantastic. And the photos are breath taking. If you’re not a Jeter or Yankee fan, you should at least consider it for your baseball library just so that you have a time capsule of the sights and words of the late 20th/early 21st Major League Baseball.*
*There are also some really humorous pictures of Jeter as a skinny—almost sickly-looking—minor leaguer. That’s almost worth the price of the book itself.
As a Red Sox and baseball fan I’m conflicted about Derek Jeter. On one hand, I’m a fan of anyone who plays baseball well and despite wearing pinstripes, Jeter definitely fits into that category. It’s really hard to argue any other way, the guy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. On the other hand, “Nomah’s bettah!” Sorry about that, old habits are hard to break, you know.
During the mid to late 1990s, there was a renaissance in shortstops throughout the American League. In Cleveland, there was defensive wizard Omar Vizquel. In Oakland, Miguel Tejada manned the position and led the small-market Athletics to the postseason year after year. In Boston, the aforementioned Nomar Garciaparra started for the Red Sox and was drawing batting comparisons to Joe DiMaggio. While these three guys were plying their trade, up in Seattle Alex Rodriguez looked like he was going to be the best of the bunch—maybe the best ever.
And Derek Jeter wore number two for the New York Yankees and patrolled the Yankee Stadium infield, but didn’t quite find a real tangible niche. He wasn’t the best defensively, that was Vizquel. He didn’t win any MVPs that was Tejada and Rodriguez. And he wasn’t the group’s best all-around hitter. In his prime, that would have been Garciaparra. Yet, Jeter out-lasted all of these players as he’s the only one still playing shortstop for his original team. There were numerous reasons: some players were brittle and prone to injuries, others were helped by artificial means and regressed once more stringent testing began and others shifted positions. The odd thing is that all of them played for at least more than three teams.
But through it all, every season, Derek Jeter, consistently made his way to shortstop in two different Yankee Stadiums. And what’s most surprising is that he’s probably going to be considered the class of that late 20th century shortstop group. That’s pretty amazing considering that while Jeter was an All-star and all-time Yankee, he didn’t have a defined skill that made him stand out from the other shortstops.
Is he a winner? Sure, but there are 24 other guys on the Yankees that enabled him to reach that pinnacle five times. Is he steady and reliable? Sure, but he’s not Cal Ripken and there’s nothing particularly sexy about coming to work every day getting a couple of base hits and making the routine plays. Was he a tabloid sensation? Sure, but it wasn’t in a Tiger Woods sort of way. Jeter was the handsome, unmarried Yankee shortstop who dated starlets left and right, but there never was anything scandalous about the way he lived the night life. For a person whose bedposts had notches from Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Mariah Carey, among others, his personal life was remarkably boring.
About the only tangible quality that you could put on Derek Jeter is that he had set of intangibles. He always seemed to get the key hit in the biggest game. As a Red Sox fan, he was the last guy I wanted to see at the plate in a big situation. He always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. Witness his famous play against the Athletics in the 2001 Playoffs where he was way out of position—but in the right place—to pick off a bad cutoff throw and then make a flip to catcher Jorge Posada that cut down Jeremy Giambi at the plate.
After reading this book, it seems to me that none of these things were accidental: he was in the right place because he was prepared. He seemed like the most dangerous hitter in tough spot because he worked hard. He outlasted the other shortstops because he has a drive to be the best.
Even after reading this book, Derek Jeter won’t ever be my favorite player—to quote Jerry Seinfeld, “I root for laundry”—but after reading the accounts of what he’s done and following the trajectory of his career, it’s easy to respect the guy and root for him. Any time I got into an argument with a Yankee fan over the merits of Jeter versus any of the other shortstops, the one chestnut that the New York guy would ultimately put out is, “Jeter does it the right way”.
As much as it pains me to say this, they may have been right.