Results tagged ‘ Nomar Garciaparra ’

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…”
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