Jim Northrup: 1939-2011

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My folks weren’t really baseball fans, but they both grew up in Detroit, and the bandwagony, city-coming-together effect of the World Series champion Tigers of 1968 rubbed off on them enough to where players on that team were well-known names to me even before I really got my brain around baseball as a kid.  As late as the early 80s, if my parents needed to reference a good baseball player for some reason, they’d mention one of those guys because those are the names they remembered.

Jim Northrup was one of the names that came up often. Northrup died yesterday at the age of 71 after several years of declining health.

Why did Northrup’s name stick out to non-baseball fans? The World Series heroics, most definitely. Northrup hit a grand slam in the blowout Game Six, which put it in everyone’s minds that, hey, maybe the Cardinals weren’t invincible after all. In Game Seven he came up even bigger, though: a triple to center field off Bob Gibson with two on to break up a scoreless tie in the top of the seventh. Curt Flood gets a lot of crap for making a bad play on that ball, but many believe that Flood wouldn’t have gotten to it with a good break anyway. Either way, it was the biggest moment Northrup would ever have on a baseball field.

But not the only big moment. Earlier in 1968 he became something of a grand slam artist, hitting four in the regular season. Two of them came in consecutive at bats in a game against the Indians (Northrup was the first ever to do that). Five days later he hit another against the White Sox.  Coming in the deadest offensive year since the Dead Ball Era, those were some serious fireworks.

Overall, though, Northrup’s calling card was less about heroics and more about solid production and versatility. For a good eight years in the late 60s and early 70s, Northrup was a dependable presence in the Tiger outfield, playing all three positions.

Northrup’s career wound down as Billy Martin took over the Tigers. The two of them never saw eye-to-eye, and if you believe what every single person who has ever spoken about Billy Martin has said, that personal disagreement between the two of them probably speaks pretty well of Jim Northrup’s character and demeanor.

Following short stints in Montreal and Baltimore, Northrup retired following the 1975 season. Over 12 major league seasons he hit .267/.333/.429 with 153 homers and 610 RBI.

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

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There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.