I post this less to wallow in Jeter nostalgia — we got a lot of that these days — than I do to marvel at the fact that Derek Jeter’s first All-Star Game was in 1998.
If you would have asked me I would’ve bet an awful lot that he was in the Mid-Summer Classic before that. He was Rookie of the Year in 1996 and was a key cog in helping the Yankees win the World Series that year. He was a force in the AL playoffs that year and while his World Series numbers weren’t that good, there was this sense as you watched him that fall that he was Baseball’s Next Big Star.
But the mid-90s were a long time ago, and as we sit here now it’s easy to forget that that’s when a lot of amazing shortstops walked the Earth, especially in the American League. Cal Ripken had a vice-lock on the fan vote. Alex Rodriguez had already posted an amazing couple of seasons. Nomar Garciaparra broke onto the scene in 1997 (and Jeter’s 1997 was a down year for him) There was just so much darn competition at the position then.
So 1998 it was. And here, courtesy of MLB Productions, is what The Captain looked like back then:
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉