No, Jeter’s final season isn’t that much better than Mantle’s, DiMaggio’s and Mattingly’s

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Weird column from Mike Vaccaro at the Post today. In it he looks at Derek Jeter’s swan song and compares it to Mickey Mantle’s, Joe DiMaggio’s and Don Mattingly’s. The upshot: Mantle, DiMaggio and Mattingly all had their glorious careers end rather ignominiously, with their bodies hobbled and their production a shadow of what it once was. Jeter, on the other hand, is “sticking the landing” better, still being reliable and atoning nicely for his 2013, which was lost to injury:

Could he have a skid like the one that nearly obliterated Mattingly’s last go-round? He could. He’s had stretches of ineffectiveness this year. But again, when you’ve watched Jeter as long as you have, you understand something: There’s no way he will allow himself to become a burden. It seems he’s come to peace with who he is at age 40: a contributor, a leader, a captain, a player you’d certainly rather have on your team than not, a star by reputation rather than repetition. Reliably reliable.

I guess he’s certainly in better physical shape than those other guys were but it’s not like they were chopped liver while Jeter remains some prime contributor:

  • Mantle’s final season by OPS+: 143
  • DiMaggio’s final season by OPS+: 116
  • Mattingly’s final season by OPS+: 97
  • Jeter’s final season by OPS+ 81

I get that the optics were bad for those other guys given that they were hobbled physically while Jeter is not, but I feel like the stories told about the end to their careers — and careers like that of Willie Mays and other major stars — are often misleading. Mantle was still an extremely valuable hitter and most people who say otherwise don’t appreciate how good an offensive season he was actually having in 1968 given that it was The Year of the Pitcher. The other guys weren’t what they used to be, but to say they left on a terrible note says more about what we thought of them in their primes, not what they actually were in their last year.

Jeter really isn’t that different than them. He’s still useful given how thin shortstop is in major league baseball, but he has fallen off just as much if not more than the other retiring Yankees legends have. It’s the same story that can be told about most players when they reach this point, actually. Not a different one in any notable respect.

It just feels like yet another instance of telling stories we want to be true rather than stories that actually are true. We were sad that Mickey Mantle didn’t look like Mickey Mantle anymore so we overstate his decline. We’re generally OK with how Jeter looks now so we overstate the value of his final season.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.