Thursday, September 25, 2014

Criticize Jeter? That's ridiculous

One of the hundred/thousand Derek Jeter "Farewell"
collectibles (from
       Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium is tonight (weather permitting), and it's a bittersweet time for us Yankees fans.
       Of course, it's been a bittersweet season -- a second consecutive year without the Yankees in the playoffs. As I write this, the Yankees officially were eliminated from contention ... but that's been a month-and-a-half in the making.
       Obvious to me, and some of my Yankees friends scolded me for giving up weeks ago. But it seemed as if the season-long Derek Jeter Farewell Tour overshadowed the business of winning baseball games.
       It has been the most miserable of Jeter's 20 years in the big leagues, team-wise and personal, not counting last year when he hardly played as he recuperated and rehabbed from the ankle broken in the 2012 playoffs. He mostly could only watch as another Yankees legend, the magnificent closer Mariano Rivera, preceded him on the Farewell journey.
       One of my longtime friends -- I'd say old friends, but we're all old -- is very much a baseball fan, a Cardinals fan, but each day he checks the Yankees' box score for one reason: How did Jeter do?
       He's not a Yankees fan; he's a Jeter fan. I don't know how you could not be.
       Well, wait. Keith Olbermann -- the blowhard political/sports commentator/analyst/circus clown who is back with ESPN Sports because he's failed, and been fired, in three or four other jobs -- told the world Tuesday how overrated Derek Jeter is.
         If you haven't seen it, it is 6 minutes, 47 seconds of Olbermann shtick -- a ranting, snarling, sarcastic, bombastic attack on Jeter's legacy, full of facts and figures, and opinions, and even laughs (you can hear them in the background).
          This is what Olbermann does, has done for 3 1/2 decades -- tear into people and issues, whether it's sports, politics, entertainment. He needs the attention, and I suppose, the ratings that come with it.
           He got it here, of course. The post of his commentary on Facebook drew thousands of comments/reactions -- most of them defending Jeter, but many also agreeing with Olbermann.
           On July 15, the day of this year's All-Star Game, when the "Re2pect" ad ran and featured everyone tipping their hat to Jeter, I wrote a blog piece -- -- in which I said he was one of the most respected athletes of anyone's lifetime.
            I must've been wrong. At least Keith Olbermann -- and the hundreds of Yankees/Jeter "haters" who responded to his degradation of the Jeter legacy -- think so.
            Look, I didn't have to watch this video. I hardly ever watch anything Olbermann does -- he's right there with Skip Bayless in the "turnoff" category, even though Olbermann's political views are as slanted as mine. But I watched this because it was on Jeter and I wanted to hear the "other" side.
            My wife often reminds me that "people don't belong on pedestals," be they athletes, world or national leaders, actors/entertainers, even clergymen. So, Jeter, get off that pedestal.
            Actually, Olbermann makes a lot of pertinent arguments.
            Jeter was never one of the great hitting shortstops of all time, not one of the greatest fielders. Some come to mind right away -- Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith, Joe Cronin, Honus Wagner, Lou Boudreau, a young Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Barry Larkin.
           But to suggest he's not one of the top 10 Yankees ever -- and it is a strong group -- is marginal. Who's in charge of the official rankings? It's all just subjective.
           You start with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rivera, Ford ... and then who? Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, Allie Reynolds, Rizzuto, Jackson, Maris ... I mean, the list goes on and on. We've got our own rankings, and Jeter does OK in those.
           And Keith did not say that Jeter is not a future Hall of Famer; he's not that ignorant.
              For years, I've heard and read how Jeter's "lack of range" defensively was hurting the Yankees, how the sabermetrics experts had him ranked among the major leagues' worst in the "Wins Above Replacement" category (whatever that is). If you pay attention to that kind of crap, good for you. A guy in the office where I used to work reminded me of it often.
              What I pay attention to, what was always Jeter's priority, is how the Yankees fared in wins and losses, in the standings. And my standard reply: How many losses was Jeter's defense -- or supposed lack thereof -- exactly responsible for? I'll answer it: Very, very few.
               It's a team game, and Derek Jeter above all else was a team player. And a leader beyond compare of any Yankees player I have experienced. For him, it's been all about competing, about playing the game, about winning.
               He cost them so many games they appeared in the playoffs in each of the first 12 years of the fulltime Yankees career and 16 of the first 17 years. They won seven American League pennants, and five World Series, and played in 10 AL Championship Series, and all Jeter did was hit .308 in the postseason (158 games, almost a full season), and .321 in the World Series, and .484 in 27 officdial All-Star Game at-bats.
               Jeter's career batting average -- probably .310 -- is going to compare well with the Hall of Fame shortstops. And it was .313 before these difficult last two seasons.
               Yes, he had great talent around him, the best players money could buy. And they had a great talent and leader to follow.
               So, Olbermann pointed out, they won four World Series in his first five years, and six AL pennants in his first eight, when he was not yet the team leader. That's a slanted argument; he was such a key factor in so many of their big moments.
               And one World Series title in his last 14 years; yes, and how many MLB players never even get to a World Series? Think they even contend for playoff spots without his steady presence at shortstop? You look at his stats, and he was so consistent in almost every way, even nearly 100 strikeouts a season. For instance, through 2012, he hit at least .291 -- often in the .300s -- every year, except .270 in 2010. In 2012, he was fifth in the AL at .316.
                OK, this season has been woeful -- for Derek and for the team. That .253 batting average is so out of whack; a more telling sign of age: only 23 extra base hits. (His career low for doubles -- not even adding triples and home runs -- was 24 in 2011.)
                These Yankees were April's team; they were in first place for much of that month, but never again after May 21. Never got more than seven games above .500, never won more than five in a row (or lost more than five in a row). Their best month was 15-11; their worst 12-15. Still, because the AL East was as weak as it's been in years, they were only 1 1/2 games out of first on June 22, only three out on July 26.
                But when the Baltimore Orioles took off and deservedly ran away with the division title, the Yankees (and everyone else) couldn't keep up.  The Yankees went 5-13 against those Orioles, and were only 34-38 in division play. A 6-7 record against the woeful Astros and Rangers didn't help. Mediocre in every way.
                A lot of injuries -- no excuse for a team with as many resources -- to aging and even young players, four starting pitchers out for almost all or at least a half season; few suitable or capable replacements; a bunch of underachieving or not-up-to-it players; and specifically -- most critically -- , a Yankees offense as impotent as any in the last 20 years. Even the bullpen, a strength many times, lost about 20 games.
               Jeter, at age 40, just wore down. He batted .207 in August and went 0-for-28 at one point in September. Only a late 11-for-29 surge and seven-game hitting streak kept him from sinking more.
               There has been lots of criticism, Olbermann included (of course), of manager Joe Girardi keeping Jeter in the No. 2 spot in the batting order and not dropping him. Girardi pointed out repeatedly -- and I totally agree -- that no one else was doing enough to warrant being moved into that spot.
                But at least Jeter was healthy (unlike his teammate at first base whose chronic right injury and other assorted ailments caused him to miss dozens of games).
                He wanted to prove he could play a full season again, that the 2012 ankle injury wasn't a career killer. As so many suggested, he could have retired over the past winter.
                He had a choice in the spring -- play and have people ask him every day if he was going to retire at the end of the season or announce it before the season began and go through the Farewell Tour. He chose the latter, first announcing it on Facebook.
               Olbermann was critical of the Farewell Tour, of the many Jeter tributes in every fashion (the "days," the going-away gifts at every visiting park, the patches on the uniform sleeves and the caps). I don't think Jeter relished all the attention -- he's always been fairly private -- but on the other hand, I read that he's saving all uniform parts (jerseys, caps, socks, shoes, etc.) and he might profit from the sale of those.
                And, well, there have been dozens, hundreds, of Jeter collectibles -- paintings and souvenirs -- all for sale ... Farewell Captain, indeed. Probably as many of those as his total number of career hits (that's 3,461 regular-season, 200 postseason). That's a lot of collectibles.
                But also, he might donate those profits to his Turn 2 Foundation, which from all accounts, is one of the most successful charitable endeavors for youths) in all athletics.
                A point: Jeter is the modern-day star athlete -- always in the spotlight, scrutinized in every way, a constant presence in endorsements and interviews, a spokesman -- a talisman, if you will --  for the Yankees and baseball in general. A modern-day hero.
                 And while he's regarded much of the time as a bland interview, reluctant to share much of himself, almost always diplomatic, politically correct, not critical of anyone or anything, an upbeat, honest presence on the field, always playing full out, and a clubhouse leader and available interview (win or lose), he's been mostly free of controversy.
               He has dated beautiful women, stars, but he's been able to keep most of his private life private ... unlike the guy who played third base next to him for 10 years (when he wasn't hurt or suspended). That guy was wrapped in controversy; he's the anti-Jeter.
                Jeter has opened up some recently. Here is a link to an "inside" look at his life:
                I do agree with the final point in Olbermann's rant: Jeter should sit out the season's final three games -- at Boston's Fenway Park, no less. Tonight's game should be it; there's nothing left for him to prove. The games are meaningless for the Yankees ... and that rarely happened in his career.
                But Olbermann's sarcastic ending, his bitter signoff, is disgusting, just unnecessary.
                I feel sure that Jeter won't be fazed. He might have a quick snarky retort, a jab at Olbermann -- he is human and I have seen him show a little disdain at the media's intrusion. But he never elaborates. It's quick, and it's done.
               It's so unlike the things we've read and heard about my other greatest Yankees hero, Mickey Mantle. He was a great teammate, but he could be just downright rude and crude with fans and media.
               The point is, the point of the Farewell Tour and all this acclaim -- Derek Jeter everywhere: This guy is, as I've written often, a total class act. Olbermann ignored that; he had an argument to make, and he made it. Fine, he's entitled.
               Olbermann knows little about class, except for the last three letters of the word, which he is and which he's shown so many times over the years.
                This was his latest petty act, a grandstand play. It's pathetic. It's pitiful. It's sorry television. Go back to your spitting match with your good pal, Bill O'Reilly. Leave Jeter alone.
                No question Jeter is baseball's most celebrated player of our generation, a true role model. Even as a 20-year-old and now, he has character to admire. And we do. We bid him farewell on the field. Watching him play has been one of life's pleasures.


  1. From Tim Looney: Yankees fans will miss him! Baseball will miss him!

  2. From Linda Graybiel: Hot dogs, apple pie, and Derek Jeter!

  3. From Patrick Booras: Shortstop is the toughest, most grueling, most vitalposition to play on the field. Winning teams have good shortstops. Derek Jeter is a winner, thus he and his Yankees teammates won .... and won big for most of 20 years. Anyone who can play shortstop in the major leagues for most of 20 years -- all in the spotlight of New York -- is one of the best players in the game. I want Derek Jeter on my team.

  4. From Herman Garner: Very well done; expresses my opinion of the Jeter situation perfectly. I totally agree with Girardi's reasoning for keeping him second in the batting order -- who else was going to go there? Certainly, Jeter did not have a Jeter-like season but there were plenty of other Yankees who had worse seasons and who had much less goodwill deposited in the Yankees fan's bank. I was slightly uncomfortable with the #2 patches on the unis and the #2 flags at the Stadium and the commercialization of the farewell tour could be a bit much. Hopefully, he will donate his share to the Turn 2 Foundation.
    He was a great Yankee and a great player. What is he -- 5th or 6th alltime for hits? He is a slam dunk HOF on his first ballot. He was at his best in pressure situations. And he never got in trouble, always handled himself well in the brightest of spotlights.
    I have been very nostalgic about Jeter's retirement. I thought it was because it was just another marker of growing old, but someone pointed out that I was old when Jeter started. It is the end of a wonderful era and I salute the Captain. He brought me a lot of pleasure for a long time and I never had to apologize or make excuses for him being a jerk.

  5. From Teddy Allen: Good job today! I enjoyed the Olbermann skit, but I looked at it one step removed. I wish Jeets had been an Oriole is all I can say.

  6. From Jon Stephenson: Derek Jeter = Vin Scully. A-Rod = Keith Olbermann.
    Enough said; as in the case of Bill Russell, COUNT THE RINGS, JACK! And if you can't count that high, go back to MSNBC where your IQ cannot exceed your age to be hired.

  7. From Thomas Youngblood: Good column. Not a baseball guy, but Jeter looks like one of the really good ones.

  8. From Jimmy Russell: Good piece. I am glad you mentioned Olbermann’s lack of success in other jobs. He has been run off a lot of places. As a political person, he was the WORST. I was glad when he got fired. I was amazed that ESPN took him back.
    Jeter can stand on his own performance. He does not need the opinion of Keith Olbermann or any others. He has hit .253 this year. This is not his standard, I know, but a lot of major leaguers have that as a career average. He has done it all; he needs to justify his performance to no one. I think he is the only Yankee to get 3,000 hits, a little surprising.
    I also think Maris will be one of the top 10 Yankees. You would have to say they have had a lot of great ones.