Friday, July 1, 2011

Will Derek Jeter Prove Me Wrong?

If you follow me on twitter or read my last post about Derek Jeter, you know I laugh at the notion of Jeter being this great captain and leader. I have received lots of feedback, especially from angry Yankee fans who passionately defend Jeter as the ultimate team guy, the ultimate captain, a leader without an ego, a guy who puts the team first, a man who is all about winning. We are about to find out if Jeter really is all those things or if he is a bigger fraud than Jim Tressel.

It was announced today that Derek Jeter would be returning on the fourth of July. It is now 2011, Jeter is 37 years old, his skills are in rapid decline and now he is trying to come back from an injury. He has an on base percentage of .324 this season and all indications are that he will be back in the lead-off spot when he returns.    Jeter can make me eat my words by doing the following:

  • Express to Girardi that he is willing to bat anywhere in the lineup.
  • Be willing to play less and take on a mentoring role of Nunez.
  • Be open about switching positions in the next couple of years
  • Acknowledge to the press he is not the player he used to be but is willing to do anything it takes to help the team to win

If Jeter were to do those things it would make Joe Girardi's job easier and it would make life much easier for the rest of his teammates. There would be no more controversy about disrespecting Jeter. Yankee fans could cheer for the leadership of Jeter and his teammates would rally around him like never before. He truly would be a great captain. Does anyone think Jeter will actually do any of those things? It is what he should do. It is what someone who is described to be a team guy and a winner would do. The harsh reality is that Jeter isn't that type of guy, he never has been. Let's take a look at Jeter's past which I believe is a great predictor of what he will do, or should I say won't do over the next few months and next few years of his career.

Disabled List?
Jeter was injured on May 13th. The Yankees were about to start their inter-league schedule and were very worried about the depth of their bench. The logical decision was to place Jeter on the disabled list and bring an infielder up from Scranton. This would give the Yankees depth and give them the best chance of winning. Jeter wanted no part of the DL. He said he would be ready in a week and not to place him on the DL. He wanted the Yankees to play short handed for a week in National League parks while his calf healed and his ego was massaged.. Derek is far from stupid. He knows what a disadvantage it would be to play with a 24 man roster for a week, yet he fought the decision making it hard on Girardi and Cashman, making it fodder for talk radio and bringing more distractions to the Yankee clubhouse. The Yankees of course did the right thing and it is a good thing they did because Jeter was not close to returning a week later. Imagine that.

Supporting a Quitter
When Jorge Posada decided to quit on his team because he felt disrespected for being dropped to ninth in the batting order it was Jeter who supported Posada and what he did. Wouldn't a great leader come out and express that what Posada did was wrong in an effort to show the younger players that the team comes first? Jeter sided with Posada. He did so because Jeter knows the debate about where he should be in the batting order is about to rear it's ugly head and by supporting Posada he was making a statement to Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman that he won't move without putting up a fight regardless if the team would benefit from the move.

The Shortstop
When Alex Rodriguez came to the Yankees in 2004 he was the best shortstop in baseball, not just offensively but defensively. AROD would be forced to play third base though. AROD would have to make the transition to a new team, playing in the pressure cooker of New York City and learning a new position. Wouldn't it have made more sense if Jeter moved to another position? Wouldn't the Yankees have been better if the best shortstop on the team played shortstop? Wouldn't a great captain see this and volunteer to move?

Supporting Alex?
Jeter didn't move and to make matters worse he let his personal feelings and ego get in the way of the team success. He had a falling out with Alex and Jeter didn't hide his feelings towards AROD from his teammates and the Yankee fans. Yankee fans began to boo a struggling Rodriguez and when Brian Cashman asked the captain to be more supportive of Alex in the press and to enourage fans to be patient, Jeter refused. Jeter felt it wasn't his job to tell the fans how to feel. Of course he had done it in years past when it came to other players who were getting booed, most notably Jason Giambi.  Jeter knew ARODAROD is not the most likable guy in the world and many of his issues have been of his own creation, but Jeter didn't help matters. AROD struggled in postseason after postseason with the Yankees until 2009. Ever wonder what might have happened from 2004 through 2008 if AROD got to play shortstop?If the Yankee captain had shown his support of him? Something tells me the Yankees would have a couple more rings. Jeter wanted to win on his terms or not win at all. He got his wish and the Yankees went a decade without a ring including the biggest collapse in the history of postseason baseball in 2004.

Assuming Jeter does return on Monday he will have missed a total of 18 games. In the 15 games he has missed so far the Yankees are 12-3 and went from trailing the Red Sox to leading them by 2.5 games. This isn't anything new, the last time Jeter missed a large portion  of time due to injury was the start of the 2003 season. Jeter missed 37 games then and the Yankees went 26-11. Combined that is a 38-14 record. The Yankees haven't exactly struggled without their captain.

These numbers make the Jeter apologists cringe. Derek is chasing down 3,000 hits and is a first ballot hall of famer, but Jeter falls short in the stats department when comparing him to the true greats of the game. The Jeter mantra that is sung by his fans though is that he is the ultimate winner first and foremost and that individual stats don't tell the whole story. They preach intangibles and according to the Jeter fans he is the king of intangibles. However, the 38-14 record without him is a clear indication that Jeter needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need him. These numbers also give credibility to the notion that if Jeter had played his career in Pittsburgh or Kansas City he would be just another player.

Jason Varitek hit two home-runs on Thursday, moments before the Yankees announced Jeter would be returning in a few days. I thought it was a fitting omen given the fact that Varitek has the exact leadership traits that fans falsely portray Jeter to have. Will Jeter prove me wrong? Check the batting order on July 4th and you tell me.

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