This is how Derek Jeter got deified in the first place

43 Comments

I’ve had several conversations with non-baseball obsessives lately about Derek Jeter. Friends. Family. Sports radio hosts who talk about football 97% of the time and are desperate to talk about anything — anything! — besides the NFL labor thing.  Those conversations always come back to the same place: Where does Derek Jeter rate all-time?

At that point I usually don’t actually rate him, but I talk about how it’s difficult to talk about Derek Jeter right now. Because for years he was so overhyped and then lately all of his greatness has been forgotten by many who are rushing to bury him due to his decline. And then it gets complicated again when he approaches the 3000-hit plateau and we lerch back toward deification.  This kind of deification, by Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York:

Jeter didn’t merely become the 28th major leaguer and first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits, and the only man not named Wade Boggs to do so with a homer; he turned the afternoon into a this-is-your-life review of his greatness, claiming five hits and the winning RBI against the Tampa Bay Rays and choking the life out of the non-stop talk of his imminent demise.

One last time, with feeling, Jeter was No. 2 in your program and No. 1 in your heart.

And it just goes on and on like that.

This is what I’m talking about when I say that Jeter gets overhyped. An educated sports observer who watches tons of games and should be expected to have at least an ounce of perspective about Jeter’s place in the universe allows himself — and the readers who trust his judgment — to launch into the starry-eyed stratosphere over hit number 3,000. A great accomplishment, sure, but not one that needs or justifies this kind of prose.

Prose that will soon be forgotten, I’m guessing, when Jeter’s demise as an elite player comes back to the forefront.  My friend Repoz from the Baseball Think Factory website reminded us over the weekend that Jeter’s chances of choking the life out of that kind of talk can’t be any better than Mickey Mantle’s. The same Mickey Mantle, Repoz noted on his Facebook page, who went 5 for 5 — the first 5 for 5 game of his career — on May 30, 1968, which led to a lot of people talking about Mantle being back. After the 5 for 5 Mantle went 2 for his next 24 and retired nine months later saying, “I just can’t hit anymore.”

I’m not saying that Jeter will do the same. And I am certain that we will all one day agree that Jeter was one of the best ever, because it happens to be true.  But he’s a ballplayer. No different in kind than any other ballplayer, and no more immune to the effects of time and vagaries of fortune, both good and bad, than anyone else.  To write about his game on Saturday as if that wasn’t what was happening — that he has somehow slayed a dragon and discovered a fountain of youth, and boy aren’t we blessed to have witnessed it — is a bit much for me. And ultimately does us all a disservice as we try to assess the true gravity of Derek Jeter the ballplayer and hit number 3,000 the accomplishment.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

Getty Images
8 Comments

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.