Saturday, February 15, 2014

N.Y. Yankees: On Derek Jeter's Retirement

From the desk of:   BLAME CARLOS MAY


New York Yankees: The Captain - Derek Jeter Says The 2014 Season Will Be His Last.

By 1974, I was a young five tool fanchild.  I was born a very secure Mets fan, entertained my pop's love for the Yankees, been to both stadiums, knew how to keep score, and started collecting baseball cards on my own.

Fleeting are the summers.  Forty have passed in my life as a baseball fan.  But, much like the snow piling ever higher outside my house, the passage of time is chilling to ponder.

I spent the years 1974 and 1975 taking mental snapshots of the massive renovations taking place at historic Yankee Stadium.  In the interim, the team played its games at my house, Shea Stadium.  Nevertheless, routine trips to visit relatives meant taking the F.D.R. uptown to the George Washington Bridge, which provided me with an ongoing account of progress.  I was always alert with anticipation, waiting for the moment we drove by.

In 1976, the year of Yankee Stadium's grand reopening, my pop closed out the season by taking me to Game Five of the ALCS - you know, the insane Chris Chambliss home run game.  The images of that night, and watching the transformation of the old stadium, stay with me today.  As an adult, and father myself, I caught chills the day I positioned myself across the river, at that exact point of view, for a final series of photos just prior to her demolition.

The House That Ruth Built was gone.  The loss was great, but my memories, I knew would last forever. Among them, I include the playing days of Thurman Munson, the exploits of Reggie Jackson, and the careers of Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly when they shared a field together.

You can now add the cast of recent Core players, and in particular, the career of Derek Jeter.  The Yankees shortstop of the last 18+ years, the man dubbed Mr. November, announced Wednesday he will retire at season's end.  The 11th team captain in Yankees history decided it's time to leave the game.

In my lifetime, there has perhaps been no athlete in New York City, who has gotten IT more right, than him. The Boss was never more spot on, than when he named Derek captain of the Yankees, just as he was correct in naming Thurman Munson.  I understand more each day why those two were so perfectly suited for the role.  I mean no slight towards Mattingly, but I was a bigger Winfield fan.  That said, Munson, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, are whom I would define as the modern ideal of a Yankee.  In the Steinbrenner era, I believe no players brought more balance, and commanded genuine league wide, or even cross-town respect, despite the club's prevailing early Bronx Zoo, and later Evil Empire personas, than those three.

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As part of my own personal Hall of Fame criteria, a player's late years, should rate similarly to those of, say, his prime years.  Loosely stated, I feel a player's 17th season, should somewhat resemble, say, his 7th year in the league. I believe one or two late, great seasons, serves as a punctuation mark to a potential HOF career.  It's a statement saying - I stayed great to the end.

For example, Dave Winfield did that in 1992, by posting 108 RBI at age 40, for the eighth 100+ RBI season of his career - a prestigious level of production by any measure.  Seven times?  Not so much.  Winfield additionally amassed 75 home runs in his final three full seasons.  He then only managed another 123 games over the next two seasons, and retired.  Had Dave Winfield not lost all of 1989 to injury, 500 home runs, and 2,000 RBI were very distinct possibilities.

Derek Jeter's 2012 regular season qualifies as one of those punctuation marks.  And like Winfield, Derek was sidelined for an entire season, all except for 17 games last year.  I'm not sure, however, if that helped or harmed his career numbers.  It just makes this season all the more intriguing.

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There is also much about Derek Jeter that reminds me of Pete Rose.  Why bring Rose into this?  They shared an unrelenting, rabid determination, and thirst for competition at the highest level, and, because Derek Jeter could conceivably wind up 5th, 6th, or 7th on baseball's all-time hits list.  Currently in 6th place, is Tris Speaker, with 3,514 hits.  Derek needs 198 hits to match Speaker.

Pete Rose's last great season came at age 40, during the 1981 strike-shortened campaign, in which he led the N.L. in hits, and batted .325 for the season.  That's a punctuation mark.  He retired five years later, after passing Ty Cobb for 1st place on the all-time hits list.  Of course, Pete Rose held on till age 45, with the sole intention of chasing down Ty Cobb's record, so naturally, there was an expected drop in Charlie Hustle's production.  But had Rose retired after the 1981 season at age 40, he would still have amassed 3,697 hits. Derek Jeter currently sits at 3,316 and counting.  That's a difference of only 381 hits before a single pitch gets thrown in 2014.

Derek Jeter will turn 40 years old this June, and his bounce back 2012 season is right up there with Pete Rose's 1981 campaign.  Derek once again surpassed 200 hits, and in fact, led the league with 216, and batted .316 for the season.  That's punctuation.

Baseball's all-time hit king averaged 639 at-bats a season over his 24 year career.  Entering his 20th campaign, Jeter has averaged 661 at-bats a season.  Pete Rose eclipsed 200 hits in a season ten times, while Jeter has done so eight times.

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Upon completion of Derek's final game as a Yankee, the Core FIVE era will officially come to an end. Despite arriving in the Bronx a few years earlier, I will always include Bernie Williams among the core, along with Andy, Mo, and Jorge Posada.

Bernie's enduring legacy could have been further enhanced, but he never provided that punctuating season at the end of his career.  He, in effect, ruined his .300 career batting average with four final pedestrian seasons before Brian Cashman unceremoniously pushed him out the door.  He batted above .300 for eight straight seasons, but (unofficially) retired after 16 seasons with the Yankees, owning a .297 batting average.

Like Bernie, the great Mickey Mantle probably held on too long, and likewise ruined his career batting average.  The Mick retired with a .299 mark.  In his mind, and with his words, Mickey was defiant to the end, insisting he was a .300 hitter.  Unfortunately, his baseball card disagreed by a fraction, and he always regretted that.

When Derek Jeter signed his current contract, his lifetime batting average stood at .314, which means he's lost two points over the last three years.  That's been my main concern regarding Jeter's latter years - I want him to retire with a career batting average above the .310 mark.  Over a 20 year career, I would view that as a majestic baseball achievement.  With the hopeful completion of a healthy, and even mildly productive 2014 season, his lifetime average will likely rank 15th all-time for players with 20 or more years of service.

Pete Rose was far from being a home run hitter, but remains one of the greatest players I ever saw - period! Home runs do not a Hall of Famer make.  Rose retired with a .303 career batting average, and holds a considerable advantage in doubles, while Derek Jeter easily beats Rose in home runs, and was an overall higher slugger.

Derek currently has 256 home runs, and with any luck, can reach 270+ before he retires, if, he sticks to his career average of 16 per season.  Keeping in mind that he has primarily been a lead-off, or number two hitter, here are other milestones within reach this season:

39 more RBI for 1,300
24 runs scored for 1,900
2 stolen bases for 350
25 more doubles for 550

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It wasn't too long ago that Derek Jeter was being ranked behind contemporaries such as the beleaguered Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, and other various shortstops of the day.  Of the former shortstops mentioned, two have been established as cheaters of the game, and the third couldn't withstand the test of time.

Not coincidentally, Nomar Garciaparra also owns a .312 career batting average, but only lasted 14 years before injuries forced him into retirement.  It was ironic that during the 2004 season, then Red Sox GM Theo Epstein traded then face of the franchise, Nomar Garciaparra.  The Sox went on to win their first World Series in 86 years without him, and two more for good measure.  In 2009, Derek Jeter earned his fifth ring as a Yankee.

Derek Jeter's Hall of Fame career needs no championing from me.  His career spans two decades of sustained excellence that speaks for itself.  He not only outlasted, and outclassed his contemporaries, he will retire as one of baseball's all-time titans.

How about that....

Mets fan

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