For the bulk of his career, Derek Jeter has been the paradigm of health. Outside of suffering a freak shoulder injury on Opening Day in 2003, he had, before this week, been on the disabled list just three other teams and had never missed more than the minimum. To reach 3000 hits and over 2350 games played, health is a requirement and a skill.
So far, the Yankees haven’t exactly missed Derek Jeter during his two games on the shelf. The club has scored 24 runs in the span, and Eduardo Nuñez, Jeter’s fill in, is now 4 for 8 with a home run and two RBIs. The Yanks’ leadoff hitters, meanwhile, are 4 for 7 with four runs scored and three walks. The numbers look gaudy both because they are and because Jeter is slowing down as soon-to-be 37-year-old middle infielders are prone to do, but in this small sample, the Yanks have survived without their captain.
Of course, replacing Jeter hasn’t always been so easy. They ran through a period of using a rogue’s gallery of short stops with Jeter out. As an exercise in nothing more than history, let’s see how they did it.
DL Trip #1: June 4 – June 19, 1998
It’s almost hard to believe Derek Jeter missed any time during the Yanks’ historical run in 1998. That year, he played in 150 games, hit .324/.384/.481, stole 30 bases, landed on his first All Star team and came in third in the MVP race. Yet, he missed time with a strained abdominal muscle suffered on a check swing in June.
During the 12 games that year which Jeter missed, the Yankees went 9-3 as Luis Sojo filled in less than admirably. The fan favorite managed to hit .180/.212/.200 over 52 plate appearances, and four of his hits came in one game against the Expos. Jeter’s return on June 19 was, needless to say, a welcome one.
DL Trip #2: May 12 – May 26, 2000
Two years later, Jeter found himself back on the DL with a strained abdominal muscle. Again, he would miss only the minimum, and again, it came in a year in which he utterly dominated at the plate. In 2000, he hit .339/.416/.481 and only came in 10th in the MVP voting. During his time on the shelf, Clay Bellinger, Alfonso Soriano and Wilson Delgado attempted to replace him. Each was worse than the last.
Bellinger, a cult favorite in the early 2000s, lasted four games at short, and he went 1 for 9 before the Yanks tried to plug Soriano into that hole. Sori made two errors on the nine balls hit to him over his four games and went just 3 for 16 at the plate. Delgado played three games at short during Jeter’s DL stint and went 4 for 12. That is the very definition of holding down the fort, but the Yanks went only 4-8 during Jeter’s absence.
DL Trip #3: March 23 – April 7, 2001
The three-time World Series Champion Yankees had to open the season with their short stop out with a strained quad. Jeter, who hurt himself in Spring Training, needed a few extra days to heal, and he had to started the season on the disabled list. This time, they opened the season with Luis Sojo at short and went 3-1 without Jeter. That .750 winning percentage, though, was no thanks to Luis who went 1 for 15. He never really was a very good hitter.
DL Trip #4: April 1 – May 13, 2003
Jeter’s injury on Opening Day in 2003 has a little bit of the “where were you when…” allure to it. I was a sophomore in college in the midst of jazz band rehearsal when I got a text message (on a phone which at the time looked a little bit something like this) from my parents freaking out about Jeter. I had no idea what had happened and quickly learned that Jeter might be out for four months. My heart sank, but the Jeter-less depression was short-lived. Luckily, that turned into six weeks, and Jeter came back in mid-May.
For the Yankees, his return that year wasn’t a moment too soon. In his absence, Enrique Wilson and Erick Almonte split time at short, and Almonte was, in a word, terrible. While playing 28 games with Jeter out, Almonte managed to hit a serviceable .272/.337/.370, and he even homered in his second plate appearance on April 2. Defensively though, he cost the team 7.4 runs in just 28 games. Enrique Wilson, with a .189/.211/.324, was a nothing on offense with Jeter out. Still, the Yanks went 25-11 before the Captain came back.
By and large then, good teams are still good teams when one of their better players lands on the DL. A well-balanced team can weather the storm of a short stop on the disabled list for a few weeks, and the Yankees have certainly proved that in the past when Jeter was a better player than he is today. It’s certainly remarkable that Jeter has gone since May 13, 2003 without being on the disabled list. Hopefully, this calf strain, suffered while he jogged off the field, isn’t a harbinger of age to come. The late 30s are not often kind on an athlete’s body, and Derek would be better served fully healing now than playing through the pain as he has done so often in his career.