Friday, September 15, 2006

The Wheel of History

It's my belief that history is a wheel. "Inconsistency is my very essence" -says the wheel- "Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away". - Tony Wilson

Yes, that's a quote from 24 Hour Party People, one of the most frustrating good movies ever made. It's an interesting look into a fascinating subject (at least in my eyes), the explosion of the Manchester music scene, and it's full of clever lines, but it's also clear that there's a lot more going on than the movie has the inclination to deal with.

I want to talk about another 24 hour party person, one of the most polarizing non-controversial figures in sports, The King Of All He Surveys and 1058th person to have seen Mariah Carey naked, Derek Jeter. This, I believe, will be the first time anyone has ever written about Derek Jeter, who has gone criminally unnoticed by baseball fans in general, and certainly by the mainstream media. You may ask, why am I writing about this nobody, this nothing, this schnook if you will? First, is it your business what I write about? No, so pipe down. Second, I heard Tim Kurkjian refer to him as (I'm paraphrasing) the "most underrated player in baseball and perhaps in the history of creation, from the birthing of the universe from the Hiranyagarbha to the end of our current cycle of existence and the Pralaya. This is a facinating idea on a number of levels, and I want to explore it.

Jeter came up in 1995 for his first taste of the majors, but his proper rookie season was 1996 (incidentally, I remember a Sports Illustrated piece from that year discussing the future of shortstops in New York, with Jeter and Cuban heartthrob Rey Ordonez being the focus of the piece, and it's so cute to think that a guy who could play the field like a motherfucker but who couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper sack could be the "future" of a professional baseball club. But I digress.) The 1996 Yankees won the World Series with Jeter winning the ROY award but really only being one cog on that Yankee team. The Yankees have since added 3 more championships, as well as 2 pennants and a slew of postseason appearances, and the guy in the middle of everything has always been Mariano Rivera. Oh wait, I was talking about Derek Jeter. Yeah, he's been around too.

Jeter has been the subject of intense debates for a decade. Those who blindly support and love him, like ESPN and, presumably, Jesus Christ Almighty (20 million per year, women at his beck and call, New York City as his plaything) can't talk about him without mentioning at least one of the following terms: intangibles, leadership, chemistry, baseball IQ, gives good head...wait, that's just me. Anyway, these people truly and honestly believe that Derek Jeter is underrated, because of the unstated assumption that baseball fans are too stupid to look past things like numbers and actual production to see the heart of the man beating out its intangibles one cutoff throw to home plate at a time. Slide, Jeremy, you fat fuck!

And then there is the other side, the side that believes Derek Jeter is the most overrated player since Phil Rizzuto (no, that's not a coincidence), that he's a terrible defender with a reputation as a great one because he makes that jump-throw look so damn pretty, that he's half the hitter Alex Rodriguez is and Yankee fans are a bunch of goddamn worthless monkeys because they can't see it. And yes, I am generally in this camp. Jeter has been a sucktastic defensive player (although I believe he's getting better, that his positioning has improved a lot, to the point that he's not that different from early-90's Cal Ripken Jr.) I believe that average fans see things in Derek Jeter that aren't there, because baseball journalists are constantly telling them how great he is.


Derek Jeter is, quite possibly, going to win the AL MVP this year. The people who don't think he should win, who think Jermaine Dye or Justin Morneau should win, have all sorts of reasons to vote against him, and most of them are wrong. "Jeter's not a run-producer, only RBI guys should win MVP's." "Jeter's not even the MVP of his own team." "The Yankees would still win without Jeter, how valuable could he really be?" These are stupid reasons. Jeter is second in the AL in VORP, behind Travis Hafner, who would win the MVP in a perfect world but perfect worlds are boring. Jeter deserves the MVP this year. And it should be pointed out that this isn't even Jeter's best year - that would be 1999, when Pudge Rodriguez walked away with an MVP that could have gone to Jeter, or Nomar, or Manny, or Pedro, or Robbie Alomar, but instead went undeservedly to Pudge. In a nutshell, Derek Jeter was pretty fucking good at hitting the baseball in 1999, is pretty fucking good at doing just that in 2006, and was pretty fucking good (to varying degrees) in all the intervening years.

The time in which a baseball player is actively playing the game is short - 15, 20 years for the longest careers. Between the time they retire and the time they die is closer to 40 years, or more than double the length of their active career. When a player is active they're described with subjective things like intangibles and locker-room presence by guys like Tim Kurkjian, but once someone is retired all that's really left is the numbers. 50 years from now, when a kid who never heard him play live is asked what he thinks about Bob Dylan, he's not going to talk about what he said one time to a hostile audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall or how shitty he treated Joan Baez. He's going to talk about what he thinks about the songs on Blonde on Blonde. Musicians have different strengths - some are great live performers, some are funny and charismatic, some are controversial. But in the end, all that history is going to remember is what you managed to get down on record. Put out great albums, you'll be remembered as a great artist. Put out shit albums and no matter how great of a live act you are, you're destined to be forgotten. A player's numbers, his page, is the legacy he leaves. That's what he'll be remembered for above and beyond anything else. No one knows what Tris Speaker's intangibles were; no one will remember what Jeter's were in 50 years.

When you get down to that, when you strip all the extraneous bullshit away and just see what Jeter will leave behind, you're left with the inescapable conclusion that Derek Jeter is pretty fucking good at baseball. He has a career OPS+ of 121, which will certainly go up after this year. He has never finished a full season lower than 100, and he's done this at shortstop where (despite some recent history) it is still hard to find a good bat. He's not a great shortstop, maybe not even a good one, but he's a servicable one, capable of playing the position without killing his team, and that can be enough. He's not underrated, because casual fans think he's a god among men and real fans know that he's not better, in general, than a handful of other players. But that doesn't mean he's not really good, because he is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that you mention Tristram in this one. But come back to camp, child. The fire's going out and there's a blizzard a'comin'.

Down with Jeter.


Mon Sep 18, 02:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Craig said...


Mon Sep 18, 02:44:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the life of me, I never imagined you'd be singing the praises of Derek Jeter. But the argument makes sense...

I figured you'd know Tristram was the full first name of Mr. Speaker. Most people outside of the realm of baseball have no idea who he was, but I for one can appreciate a name like that because I have mad respect for the numbers.

But I stand by my stance.

Down with Jeter.


Sun Sep 24, 01:39:00 AM EDT  

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