Derek Jeter

Is Derek Jeter the Most Important Yankee Ever?

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The frustrating thing about the whole Derek Jeter conversation is that even if you — as I do — acknowledge him as an all-time great, inner-circle Hall of Famer and can’t find a bad thing to say about his professionalism, character or overall significance as a figure in the game, there are still people who will overstate the case for the guy. Example:

source:

Really? Because I sort of think that maybe Babe Ruth mattered more than Jeter did, historically speaking. I hope that’s not construed as a slam on Jeter or anything controversial. He merely redefined the game as it was played, saved baseball from the gambling scandals, put the Yankees on the map after two decades of them being a laughingstock and was the best player in the history of the game. You have to say that Babe Ruth mattered more, right?

But that’s how it’s always gone with Jeter. Through no fault of his own he gets lionized in some quarters to a degree that is preposterous, even if lionizing him in a slightly more reasonable way is totally valid. Maybe it is kind of his own fault, though. Since he never overstated his own importance or had a public me-first attitude, people feel the need to make up for him. I dunno.

But the question raised by that headline — which Yankees mattered most? — is an interesting one. And one completely separate and apart, in my mind at least, from who is the best player in team history, most famous, most admirable, etc. In terms of who mattered, where does Jeter rank?

My totally made-up criteria for that revolves mostly about who can be said to have lifted up the Yankees and brought them or restored them to greatness. Who the “face” of one of their multiple dynasties is. Who thrust the Yankees into the national conversation and who, in the course of that conversation, was the most important subject. Based on that, here’s my list:

1. Babe Ruth: He literally changed the way baseball was played. He literally saved baseball from ruin in the wake of the gambling scandals of the Dead Ball Era. He transformed the Yankees from a laughingstock in their first two decades into a baseball’s flagship franchise, which is a position they’re likely never to relinquish. And, as an afterthought, he was the best player in baseball history. If you say any Yankee — indeed, any player — “mattered more” than Babe Ruth, I’d like some of what you’re smoking.

2. Derek Jeter: Yes, second. I thought of putting Mantle here but changed my mind. My argument for Jeter: He is the face of a Yankees team that rose from the madness of Steinbrenner excess of the 80s and early 90s. People forget how far the Yankees as a brand had faltered by 1991 or 1992 or so, and Jeter represented its restoration. Baseball had reached a crazy parity before Jeter came along and the Yankees were not thought of as anything particularly special. Top-flight free agents signed with the Royals and Blue Jays on a pretty regular basis. When the Yankees won in 1996, the conversation and habits of this team changed, and in so changing, changed baseball. Obviously there were many contributors to this dynasty, but these have been “the Jeter Yankees” for the past 20 years. The decisions the Yankees made since 1996 have all been premised, implicitly or explicitly, on the idea of building around the core led by the star shortstop.

3. Mickey Mantle: Unlike Jeter and Ruth, Mantle did not represent a time when the Yankees were built up from nothing — he took over DiMaggio’s role as caretaker of the dynasty — but he did ensure that it would last for a couple more decades. For better or worse, the living memory of all of the elder statesmen sportswriters and commentators is dominated by Mantle, to the point where, when these folks talk about what the Yankees are and should be, they’re channeling their memories of the 1950s and 60s Yankees. Also: his rise and ultimate fall pretty neatly tracks the line of demarcation between so-called Golden Age Baseball and the next generation of free agents, free spirits, longhairs and all of the wonderfulness that came into the game in the 1970s. Just a historical touchstone and historical keystone.

4. Reggie Jackson: Emblematic of the Steinbrenner Yankees and emblematic of the notion that the Yankees could compete just fine, thank you, in that era of free agents, free spirits, longhairs and all of that. Yes, the Yankees came back to respectability after years in the post-Mantle wilderness thanks in large part to Thurman Munson, but those late 70s teams were, culturally speaking, Reggie’s teams to the bulk of the nation.

5. Gehrig/DiMaggio: When I floated this on Twitter people complained that I had them too low, but remember: this is not a list of “Greatest Yankees” or “Most Inspirational Yankees” or anything like that. It’s “Yankees who mattered” and I’m defining that in terms of guys who put their stamp on the team in some way. I have Gehrig and DiMaggio marked down a peg because (a) in many ways they merely perpetuated, rather than built, Yankee dynasties; and (b) Unlike Mantle, we’ve more or less lost their significance in terms of their living memory (people who were impacted by their exploits are mostly dead). Gehrig came up and spent his first several seasons as second banana to Ruth. He was the main show for really only a few years before DiMaggio came along. Same with DiMaggio bridging the gap between Ruth/Gehrig and Mantle. And his reign was interrupted by war years. It also “hurts” them that neither was a big personality in the way their predecessors or successors was. Not that that is a bad thing in actual terms. I will accept arguments, however, that Gehrig’s unfortunate sickness and the manner in which he left the game — the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech — shoots him up the list because he came to personify a Yankees class that many still like to point to today. I just personally feel that that was more about Gehrig’s class than a general Yankees class than a lot of people think.

Others: Yogi, for all of his character and importance, was always second banana to DiMaggio and Mantle. Rivera was just a closer. I’m sorry. Yes, he was the best ever and there’s a certain drama that goes with closing, but there’s no way a closer is as important either culturally or in a baseball sense as an everyday player is. I mentioned Munson above. I’m choosing not to include owners, GMs and managers, so Rupert, Steinbrenner, Stengel, Cashman and all of them are part of another conversation. I don’t think I’m leaving anyone else out.

What say you?

Remembering Carlos Delgado’s protest in the wake of Kaepernick

NEW YORK - AUGUST 9:  First baseman Carlos Delgado #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays watches the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 9, 2004 in the Bronx, New York. The won Blue Jays won 5-4.  (Photo by M. David Leeds/Getty Images)
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Over the weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a stir when he did not stand for the National Anthem before an exhibition game and later told reporters that his refusal to do so was a protest of institutional racism in America. Given how issues which touch on patriotism and protest play in a sports setting, it’s not at all surprising that this quickly turned into a huge controversy, with many decrying Kaepernick’s act, even as many have rushed to his defense.

Because this is the NFL and because we live in the social media era, the volume of this controversy is understandably cranked to 11. But it’s not the first time an athlete has mounted such a protest. Back in 1995 NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf similarly refused to stand for the Anthem and the same sorts of pro and con arguments emerged, albeit at the far more measured pace of 1990s discourse.

In 2004 a baseball player made a somewhat similar protest. That player was Carlos Delgado, who made a point to not be on the field during the by then de rigueur playing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch which most teams adopted in the wake of 9/11. Part of Delgado’s protest stemmed from his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It likewise reflected his protest of the United States Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a weapons testing ground for decades and Puerto Ricans’ call for the government to clean up the island which had become contaminated with ordinance over 60 years of bombing.

Delgado was backed by his team, the Blue Jays, who made no effort to intervene in his protest. He likewise had the support of his teammates. Even profoundly conservative ones like Gregg Zaun, who disagreed with the substance of Delgado’s protest yet respected his right to protest how he chose. At the time Zaun said “He has his opinion and he’s decided to use that as his platform. Whether or not I agree with him, I salute him.”

Which is not to say that Delgado did not take considerable criticism for his protest. Many, including commissioner Bud Selig, said that, while they respected his right to protest how he wished, they hoped he wouldn’t protest in such a fashion. Or, at the very least, they hoped to better understand why he chose to make a political statement at a sporting event, suggesting that they really didn’t think his act to be appropriate. Lost on them all, it seemed, was that the act of playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch was itself a political statement, but I suppose that’s an argument for another time.

Carlos Delgado weathered the controversy well, playing for five more seasons after 2004 and maintaining the respect he had always had in baseball as a team leader, a respected veteran and a consummate professional. Kaepernick doesn’t have the track record in his sport that Delgado had by 2004 and there are some who have suggested that, this controversy aside, he may not have long in the league due to his skills and health and things. It’ll be interesting to see how those differences, as well as the different media environment in 2016 compared to 2004 affect this whole saga.

What we know for certain, however, is that Kaepernick’s reasons for protest are his own and he is, obviously, free to protest however he’d like. He is, of course, likewise subject to criticism from those who don’t care for his protest. That’s how free speech works. Even in sports, where a great many people choose to believe that protest and political speech, at least of a certain variety and of a certain leaning, does not have a place.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Derek Holland #45 of the Texas Rangers points out a pop fly against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 28, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rangers 2, Indians 1: Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run over six innings and Ian Desmond and Jonathan Lucroy each had an RBI single. The Rangers take three of four in what could be an ALCS preview. Although, given that no teams have been eliminated yet, any game between AL teams could be an ALCS preview if you think about it hard enough. Open your mind, man.

Dodgers 1, Cubs 0: All goose eggs until the eighth when the Dodgers cobbled together a run out of a hit-by-pitch, a two-base throwing error by Trevor Cahill and a fielder’s choice. Then all goose eggs after that. Brock Stewart and four relievers combined on a four-hit shutout for the Dodgers. This could be an NLCS preview, by the way. I won’t finish the joke here. I already told it.

Orioles 5, Yankees 0: Kevin Gausman had no trouble with the somehow resurgent Yankees, shutting them out for seven innings and fanning nine. I rarely say “fanning” for striking out and I don’t hear at all that often anymore. Back in the 80s it seemed like there was a lot more “fanning” going on. Steve Pearce drove in three. Earlier this season, while he was still with the Rays, I mistakenly identified some Orioles player in a photo as Steve Pearce. I’m glad he’s back where he belongs.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 6: Josh Donaldson hit three homers, including the go-ahead dong, continuing a year that, by the numbers, is better than his MVP year last season, even if people aren’t talking about it as much. On his third homer Jays fans tossed hats out onto the field. Get it? Yeah. Anyway, Minnesota had a 5-2 lead in the middle of the game but blowing moderate leads with lots of time to go is one of the primary traits of teams that suck.

Angels 5, Tigers 0: Jefry Marte hit a two-run homer and drove in a third run on a sac fly. Marte’s performance would really serve as a great “bet you miss me NOW, huh?!” game for him if anyone remembered that he played for the Tigers last year.

Phillies 5, Mets 1: A.J. Ellis hit a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. Somewhere Clayton Kershaw shed a single tear, Iron Eyes Cody-style.

Padres 3, Marlins 1: Luis Perdomo tossed a complete game while allowing only one run and requiring only 99 pitches. Having six double plays get turned behind you certainly helps the old pitch count.

Rockies 5, Nationals 3: Nolan Arenado went 4-for-4 with a homer and a triple as the Rockies take two of three from the Nats. Lucas Giolito ran into trouble in the third when Arenado hit that dinger. Dusty Baker after the game: “It’s that one bad inning that does you in. That was the one bad inning.”

One Bad Day

So what I’m saying is, yes, Lucas Giolito is now either The Joker or Batman. That’s how this works.

White Sox 4, Mariners 1: Carlos Rodon allowed a run and five hits while pitching into the seventh. After a pretty disappointing season he’s turning things around lately, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates 3, Brewers 1: The Sweep. John JasoGregory Polanco and Starling Marte all homered. Ivan Nova pitched well but left with a wonky hamstring. Which, given that Gerrit Cole is hurt, does not bode well for a team that needs everything to go right for the next month and change if they don’t want to go home in a month and change.

Athletics 7, Cardinals 4: The A’s have won four of five. Khris Davis hit a two-run shot and Steven Vogt hit a three-run homer. A’s starter Andrew Triggs got his first win. He’s from Nashville and said that a bunch of his friends and family drove to St. Louis from there to see him pitch. Can’t think of a road trip I’d rather do less in the August heat than Nashville-to-St. Louis, but you crank up the AC and do it for your friends and family I suppose.

Rays 10, Astros 4: Chris Archer allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings and struck out ten. Astros pitchers allowed ten runs on 15 hits and only struck out four. The order of things matters, man. Corey Dickerson his a three-run homer.

Giants 13, Braves 4: Four homers from the Giants — two from Joe Panik — to back a less-than-perfectly-sharp-but-good-enough-against-a-team-like-the-Braves Madison Bumgarner. The Giants took two of three from Atlanta to remain two back of the Dodgers. It was only the second series they have won since the All-Star break.

Diamondbacks 11, Reds 2: A.J. Pollock went 3-for-5 and stole two bases, showing Diamondbacks fans what they missed with him gone all year. Welington Castillo drove in four in this laugher of a game.

Royals 10, Red Sox 4: Down 4-2 in the sixth and the Royals put up an 8-run inning. Raul Mondesi‘s bases-loaded triple and Eric Hosmer‘s two-run single were the big blows. The Royals have won 17 of 21 and have moved to 5.5 back in the AL Central and three back in the wild card. They’re tied with Houston and are a game back of Detroit in that race. Maybe the defending champs were only mostly dead.