Jeter And The Yankees: The Back Story

This is the way the story was told to me by one of the people they turned to.

Beginning last March in Tampa, as Derek Jeter struggled through Spring Training by going 12-for-52 with only two extra-base hits and a .561 OPS, the Yankees have been worried – and worried on several different levels. Spring Training stats are usually meaningless (Marcus Thames struck out 21 times in 19 games, made the team, and flourished) and Jeter’s probably were. But his answers to one question were not so easily dismissed.
“No. It’s not that. I just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The noise quieted down when Jeter roared out of the gate with four homers and a .330 average in April. But by the time the June Swoon hit (.243, a slugging percentage of .379) the question began to be asked again. And the answer came back as before:
“No. It’s not that. I still just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The answer never actually changed. It was Jeter who finally rendered it moot by asking a question of his own some time in the unbelievable July-August stretch (2 HR, 20 RBI, .242 over a 55-game span):
“OK, what was that you were saying again?”
The question various Yankee non-players had been asking Jeter since the spring, as the ground balls multiplied and the extra-base hits vanished, was a simple one: Do you realize you are about to be 36 years old? Do you understand that what’s happening to you isn’t some failure of strength? Are you getting the hint that you have to change your approach at the plate? It was asked in any of a dozen different forms by possibly as many would-be helpers, and only when the well ran dry as the dog days approached did Jeter finally accept the possibility.
There was some hope in September that the message was getting through when his batting average perked up to .276 and the on-base percentage was the highest it had been all season at .369. But to some degree even this renaissance represented whistling past graveyards. Everybody was getting excited by Derek Jeter’s slash line of .276/.369/.333. 
The season before it had been .334/.406./.465. 
As the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus noted before the 2010 season began, Derek Jeter was in new territory. Even with eleven .300 seasons notched into his bat, there just wasn’t any indication that any shortstops aged 36 or over – unless their names were Honus Wagner – were going to produce anything but a long walk off a short pier. The nearly 400 ground balls Jeter generated in 2010 were not a statistical anomaly. They were the expected outcome of a lifetime of swings and stats and the ravages of time.
That was the point one of the umpteen coaches and advisors who worked with Jeter during the season tried to get through to him. That was the hard undeniable fact that he was so deftly sidestepping with the answers about insufficient upper body strength. Age, not laziness on the weight machine, adds that half-second to your swing. Age, not sloth, turns those little flares over the heads of the second baseman and shortstop into smothered balls skittering into their gloves. Age, Mr. Jeter, comes for us all.
The man who told me all this filled in some of the particulars with a level of hitter’s sophistication that I hope I was just barely following. If you want to adjust to age, he tried to convey to Jeter, you must quiet down at the plate. At 22 or 25 or 30 you can stand there with the bat resting against your knee if you want to as the pitchers wind up and you might still shoot one safely into the outfield. At 36, you can’t. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.
“No. It’s not that. I just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The would-be instructor sighed. He said it had happened to him, too, maybe at an even slightly younger age, and he had been just as reluctant to admit it. I smiled and pointed to my gray hair and said remember, when you are telling him he’s not 22 any more, what you are really telling him is that he’s not just going to have to retire some day, but that he’s going to die some day. Who in the hell wants to hear that? And if you’re 36 and you’ve been doing this every day on the biggest platform in baseball without knowing real failure since you were 22, and you’ve outlasted seven double-play partners and one manager and the owner and even The Stadium, why are you actually going to believe it? And the would-be instructor smiled back and said he knew there was a reason he had decided to tell me the story and that maybe he needed to realize that this was what he was really telling Derek Jeter.
There is no suggestion here that Jeter is going to slug .465 ever again. But there is the suggestion that maybe he can do better than 2010’s .370, and that his OPS won’t come in below those of Marco Scutaro and Paul Janish and Travis Ishikawa again. It is a fairly small fix: quiet down at the plate. Lose the rocking back and forth. Lose the iconic hand extended backwards towards the umpire. Truncate the ritualistic tugs and adjustments that are beginning to remind people of Nomar Garciaparra. Think Hideki Matsui. Be still at the plate. Think about maximizing your reaction time by minimizing your movement. 
And think about $45 million over three years, which is the Yankees’ offer my friend Joel Sherman is hinting at in the newspaper, and what the latest set of grisly projections from Baseball Prospectus is suggesting (you’ll only be able to get 301 plate appearances in the third year of that prospective deal), and think of the market out there for 37-year old shortstops and realize that it is not an insult and not lowball and is in fact predicated on mutual loyalty and respect and the nauseating possibility of having to say “Now batting for Pittsburgh, the first baseman, Derek Jeter…”



    15 million for 3 years, with the last year at 1st base. Not a bad plan. Would he be any use in Left Field?


    Keith, my friend, thank you for this. You’ll never know how I relate to this article or why I relate to it. Suffice to say that it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we ALL answer to time, including Mr. Jeter. That $45 million he’ll earn over three years should make the hard knot of that bitter pill go down easier. He’s lucky. I hope he realizes that.
    Best wishes to Mr. Jeter in adapting to ?a new world.?

  3. jeterandiborn62674

    Keith, you are the worst person in the world (not really) for going after Jeter like this. Actually, I agree that Jeter may not be able to wait on the ball as long and shoot it the other way with that Jeterian swing, as Michael Kay calls it, because he may not have the bat speed to drive the ball when it gets that deep on him. He might actually be able to hit with more power as he gets older because he could be looking to pull the ball more and he’s still one of the bigger and stronger short stops in the league– as long as he doesn’t try to hit it to center field. Still, I think there’s an awful lot of gloom-and-doom after what wasn’t a bad season just a bit of a down year. And basically, we live in a culture of negativity. You cover politics– and the President in particular– and so you should know all about how quick people are to join the media bash-a-thon (yourself included). Everyone wants to get on Jeter’s case all the sudden. Well, that’s their problem. And he doesn’t have to run for reelection, thank goodness.

  4. mantlewasarockstar

    Sadly, Derek Jeter is not worth 15m/3 yrs, but that’s a deal I can live with. A penny more would be absurd.
    Also, that third year at DH not 1B; where are they gonna put Tex?


    As a RedSox fan , I can tell you this. Derek Jeter at any age is the most feared and respected Yankee. There isnt any other player on that team that I would want at bat or in the field when the game is on the line. To me it was an insult to Jeter that A-Rod makes more money, for he is clearly the heart and soul of this team . Based on the Yankees willingness to pay A-Rod for his contributions , I’d say pay Jeter for his . Who brings in the fans? The man responsible for most of the Yankee success over the last decade and beyond. Yes , hes “Mr. Yankee” and should be payed accordingly .



    Please leave MSNBC behind in the dust. Your article proves that your best destiny is as a sportswriter elevating sportswriting to the level of serious journalism, which by the way is so seldom seen these days. I agree with you – Jeter has already been properly compensated. As a lifelong Yankee fan who grew up on Davidson Ave. and Jerome Ave., 10 blocks north of the old Stadium, it hurts to see your heroes in decline. Jeter needs to be realistic, maintain his dignity, and exit stage left (as Snagglepuss would say) when the correct time comes. While painful, he will find that this action will elevate him in the public’s eye. Jeter’s greatest asset is his honesty and believability. I hope he does not cheapen himself by acting badly in the months and years ahead by hanging on long past the time his athletic skills would warrant.


  7. skipperbob

    The hardest thing for any athlete is to have to admit that age is catching up to you and affecting your performance. Those who adjust can be succesful for several more years, those who can’t – well they wont be playing for the Yankees which would be a crime. If it takes a little extra to keep him, do it. Jeter has been the face of the Yankees for so long and holds so many records it would be a shame to see him get hit #3000 somewhere else.

  8. mantlewasarockstar

    I say call his bluff. Leave 3 yrs/15m per on the table, and if say, [insert whatever other team here] offers him $20m per, let?s see him take it. Let Jeter reject more money than he?s worth and have him deal with the fallout from the public. The Yankees? front office are in a tight spot because of what he STILL means to many fans, but in the end I think they?ll do what they have to do. He?s not as iconic as Jeter but Bernie Williams was also a career player for the organization who did A LOT for the Bombers. Yet that didn?t stop them from showing him the door when the time came. I don?t think any reasonable Yankee fans feels 3 yrs/15m is beneath Jeter. But, who knows? He has been AMPLY compensated for what he?s done for the team. It?s time for him to take maybe less than what he wants but definitely more than he deserves ($15m/yr). Maybe 3yrs at $17.5m per, tops. If not, let him explain to the fans why he wanted more than he?s worth?enough to make him wear another uniform.


    I don’t blame Jeter or his handlers for asking for a silly contract from the Yankees. After all, the Yankees have a long history of silly contracts. Of course, that was when George was calling the shots. The boys appear to more sane when it comes to valuing players. I don’t blame the Yankees for their offer as over the top as it is 3 yrs. $45M. … When in negotiations the first offers are merely a starting point. As always, which side has the leverage? To me it is the Yankees in this case. We are talking about a 37-year-old SS a the downside without the help of PEDs, I assume. When I see Jeter’s skull expand like Barry Bonds’, then I will say, okay, Jeter has the leverage.

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