I sense a turning tide of public opinion in Yankee-land. Derek Jeter, the All Star short stop, the long-time heart and soul of the Yankees, seems to be losing the fans. Sure, the ladies still love him, but that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?
It started a few weeks ago with a post on PeteAbe’s blog. In a Spring Training rundown, Abraham presented twenty pressing topics for the Yankees. Ending the list was a question: Is Derek Jeter still Derek Jeter?
With those six simple words, Abraham broke the Derek Jeter barrier. Are Yankee fans, many wondered, now allowed to criticize New York’s golden boy? Can we dump on the Captain? Apparently, the answers to those questions came out as yes.
Over the last few weeks, Yankee fans commenting on various blogs have been more vocal than usual about their skepticism toward Derek Jeter. With Number 2 set to rake in $20 million this year, fans are wondering if, after a supposed down year, Jeter is really worth it anymore. And now, with the whole brouhaha over his fielding — something I’m not touching with a ten-foot pole right now — and his penchant for landing more headlines on Page Six than on the back pages of the sports, Yankee fans are voicing concerns.
Let’s step back from the ledge, though, and look at Derek Jeter. First, the numbers: In 2007, Derek hit .322 with a .388 OPB and a .452 SLG. And those are supposed to be his down-year numbers. What fans are forgetting is that in 2006, Jeter turned in an MVP-caliber season when he hit .343/.417/.483 with 34 stolen bases and 118 runs scored. While his slugging dipped below his career average in 2007, by all accounts, Jeter had another fantastic season.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Ken Rosenthal speculated that Jeter has something of a shot at Pete Rose’s hit record. While that shot is rather miniscule, Jeter, who turns 34 this season, is sitting on 2356 hits. I’d say that he has a very good shot to end his career in the top ten all time hits leaders and possibly even in the top five. That’s not too shabby.
Some people critical of Jeter point to his numbers last year in clutch situations. He was just three for 17 in the ALCS, and those numbers tend to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths over the off-season. With runners in scoring position in 2007, he hit .354/.426/.456. With the bases loaded he hit .500/.538/.583 and drove in 12 runs in 13 plate appearances. Who’s complaining now?
On the other side of the ball are those critical of his Page Six activities. They’d rather see Derek focusing on baseball instead of women. To them, I simply offer up the defense that Derek is human, and he’s only young once. Cut him some slack.
Where I think the criticisms have long been valid however are in talking about his role as the Yankee captain. Derek Jeter is one of the more bland figures to serve as captain, and I don’t think he’s done much of anything to warrant the role. As the anointed leader of the team, he offers up fairly routine material to the media and doesn’t seem too willing to put his neck on the line. On the field, he is a stellar player and the perfect example of hustle, a key trait in teaching young kids to play.
But it seems more and more that this team on the field belongs to the guy who brings more fire to his play: Jorge Posada. It may just be a matter of observation, and it may not matter because Jeter and Posada are close friends both on and off the team. But to me, it seems like the rest of the team takes its cue more from Jorge than from Derek.
In the end, those are simply small beans. Derek Jeter is still without a doubt a prolific offensive short stop and a great Yankee. If fans can’t see that forest for the trees, then maybe they’re simply being too pessimistic about the whole thing.