Derek Jeter resumes his role as a living Rorschach test for sports writers


Derek Jeter was famous for a lot of things, but one of his more underrated contributions over the years was his service as a living, breathing Rorschach test for sports writers. He never said or did anything particularly controversial. He, more than any player I can think of, stuck to the script. In so doing, he made himself into whatever a person talking about him wanted him to be. Or needed him to be.

If they were angry at some brash young athlete they could hold up Jeter as an example of how the brash athlete should act. If they needed to bash Alex Rodriguez, they could use Jeter as a counterexample. If the modern game was getting them down, they could hold up Jeter as an example of old school baseball, despite the fact that the behavior of the old school guys was not at all like what they wanted us to believe.

The key part here, is that Jeter himself almost never spoke out on such things. People just assumed that he agreed with their particular take on whatever issue of the day was raging, in reality or just in their minds. He was pretty savvy in allowing that dynamic to persist, of course, but he didn’t start it, let alone perpetuate it the way sports writers have over the years.

With Jeter buying the Miami Marlins, he’s back to serving as the personal avatar for whoever needs one. Like Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, who has decided that Jeter will stop all of the things he hates about modern baseball:

Derek Jeter is going to rock baseball’s world as boss of the Marlins. Jeter believes in scouting, talent, heart and soul, and he will look to fill the Marlins roster with the same kind of winning player he was during his 20-year championship career with the Yankees. In doing so he will slow down the rush to analytics that is now being portrayed the answer to all of baseball’s questions . . . In his heart, Jeter wants to run a baseball team that crushes what he views to be over-the-top analytic-based teams. As simple as it sounds, he wants to bring the game back to the players . . .

Kernan specifically believes that Jeter will cut back on shifts and relief pitcher usage and will encourage his Marlins teams to rely less on home runs and hit the ball the other way. He believes he’ll be the anti-sabermetic executive:

Perhaps it will translate this way: Perhaps pitch counts will grow. Perhaps, if a pitcher is throwing a shutout after six innings, maybe the pitcher will go an extra inning. Perhaps it just won’t be a bullpen-by-numbers situation. If a reliever is doing well, maybe he will get an extra out, an extra inning.

Perhaps his team will not shift as much. The 14-time All-Star shortstop was never a big fan of the shift on his way to five World Series rings.

Perhaps everything will not be geared to hitting the home run. There will be room for a batter who inside-outs a pitch the way Jeter was known for as a hitter and his 3,465 hits.

Fundamentals will become vital again, cutoffs, too, and making sure to follow the ball like his famous flip play.

Importantly, Kernan does not believe this based on anything Jeter said after voicing his interest in becoming an owner or having his bid accepted by Jeff Loria. He bases it on a throwaway quote Jeter gave him about numbers ruling the game “at his locker several years before he retired.” Really. That’s it.

I suppose it’s possible that Derek Jeter’s approach as a team owner will be to stand athwart baseball history yelling “STOP!” thereby mirroring the inferences Kernan has made based on a vague conversation they had several years ago. It’s far more likely, however, that Jeter will hire professionals in their field and that he and they will practice baseball management at, more or less, the state of the current art.

I am dead certain, however, that whatever Jeter does, sports writers will continue to attempt to use Derek Jeter as a delivery vessel for their own grouchy grievances, just as Kernan is clearly doing here.