I Wanna Like Derek Jeter! I do!

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Jeterate. May 2008.

People don’t believe me when I say that I really like Derek Jeter. I do! I think Jeter is an excellent player. I think Jeter is a smart player. I love the guy’s tenacity — he’s only missed 15 games in a season once — and I like his .317/.387/.461 lifetime line, and I respect that he will give you some power, some speed, and more often than not really good at-bats. And heck, I like the personality, the charisma, the star quality, the way other players talk about his leadership — I don’t know what all that’s worth but it’s gotta be worth something.

So why is it that I’m often writing negative things about Derek Jeter? I realized Friday that it has absolutely nothing to do with Jeter himself. No, what drives me batty is that Jeter — maybe because of his star power, or maybe because he’s a Yankee, or maybe because he’s made some very big plays on the national stage, or maybe because he dated all the supermodels, I honestly don’t know what it is — Jeter brings out this quality in people, this superiority, this … it just drives me insane I don’t know if there’s a word for this quality so, as we do here, I’m going to invent a word.

Jeterate (verb) meaning “to praise someone for something of which he or she is entirely unworthy of praise.”

Example: “The father could not but jeterate his daughter for coloring on the wall because she looked so cute.”

Or: “The employee, knowing his job was on the line, jeterated his boss for almost making a 3-foot putt. ‘That was an incredible putt,“ the employee said. ”With that intense break, I doubt Tiger Woods would have even lipped out like you did.“

Or: “The doctor jeterated his patient for not actually gaining any more weight since the visit four days earlier.”

And so on. See, the thing is Derek Jeter is such a good baseball player — I mean, we are talking about a no-doubt, first ballot Hall of Famer here — that people don’t need to jeterate him for his fielding. The guy sucks as a defensive shortstop, OK? He’s brutal out there. Every detailed defensive number shows it. He’s back near the bottom again in zone rating and range factor and, I’m sure, the Dewan plus/minus. Plus every scout who pays attention knows he can’t go two steps to his left and his arm is subpar. It’s OK! Really! He doesn’t have to be Mark Belanger. He’s a great hitter! He plays every day! He’s makes up for some of his flaws with his awareness and mental stamina! I wouldn’t be bothered by his defensive liabilities, I really wouldn’t, except, well, you know, so many people don’t think he HAS defensive liabilities. They give him freaking gold gloves. They knight him Sir Derek of Defensive Wizardry because 238 years ago he tagged Jeremy Giambi and jumped into the crowd on a foul ball.

You see what happened there. I completely went overboard again. This is what Derek Jeter does to me. I like Derek Jeter. I do! I wouldn’t even care about Jeter’s deficient defense if certain people would just stop jeterating, stop mythmaking, stop telling me that the numbers are wrong and my eyes are wrong and that Jeter’s defensive brilliance is beyond my understanding, like the size of the universe or the appeal of Drew Barrymore.

Of course, this rant wasn’t set off by Jeter’s defense. No. I was driving back to New York from Cooperstown*, where I did more 1975 Reds research (did I mention that I’m writing this book), and I was listening to the Yankees radio network and I heard the worst bit of jeterating I’ve heard in my entire life, and that’s saying something.

*Here’s how you will know that I was in Cooperstown — I am at this very moment wearing a 1975 Cleveland Indians Crooked C hat. You know I used to be a big hat guy — loved wearing caps — and as my wife will tell you I have like 75 or 80 baseball caps in the closet. But somewhere along the way, I stopped wearing them. This wasn’t a conscious decision; I didn’t wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and say, “That’s it, pally, you’re a grown up now, it’s time to top wearing caps like you’re one of the Peanuts gang.” No. It just sort of gradually went in that direction. These days, for the most part, I only wear caps when I’m trying to prevent sun stroke. But this Crooked C hat that I got in Cooperstown could change all that. I love this hat.

So, here’s the Jeter scenario. He gets hit by a pitch to lead off the fifth inning. Then the MBGPIBH* Bobby Abreu singles Jeter to third. A-Rod is up. You have the situation in your mind now, right? First and third, nobody out. A-Rod at the plate.

*Most Boring Good Player In Baseball History. You can change “Good” to “Great” if you feel strongly about it. This is a versatile title.

OK, you ready? A-Rod hits a ground ball to third base. Jeter takes off for home. Now, you can argue about whether or not heading home was the right call. I wasn’t watching the game, so I couldn’t tell you if this was a contact play, or if the Mariners were set up for the double play, or if Jeter (gasp) just got caught up. I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is this, Mariners’ third baseman Adrian Beltre threw home and got Jeter into a rundown. Because Jeter is a good athlete, it took the Mariners three throws to get him and this gave the MBGPIBH and A-Rod enough time to get to second and third.

So … you got the play in your mind, right? Now, do I need to say any more? If that had been David DeJesus getting caught up in the rundown, or Coco Crisp, or Melvin Mora or Placido Polanco or Endy Chavez or Mark Kotsay or just about anyone else you can think of, it would be described pretty plainly. The runner took off, it was unfortunate, but at least he stayed out there in the rundown long enough to allow the runners to move up. The words “at least” would have been used, no doubt about it. You don’t throw roses at players for getting caught in rundowns on third base with nobody out.

But … this is Derek Jeter. And so, well, you know what’s coming. The Yankees radio crew — and these are good folk, hard workers, they’re just lost in the Jeter flood like so many — basically sang Hosanas to Derek Jeter for getting caught in a rundown. I’m not kidding here. They went on for five minutes about how the Captain willed those runners to second and third. They kept talking about how not only did Jeter stay in the rundown but he WAVED THOSE OTHER RUNNERS to the bag while he was doing it. Imagine. I was sitting there in the car absolutely stunned. This was Jeterating on a whole new level. He waved the other runners to their bags? Really? Like this:

Mind of Derek Jeter: “Oh oh, I’m in a rundown here. I better let those other guys know what to do.”
Mind of MBGPIBH: “I like cookies. They are delicious. Especially when they have chocolate chips.”
Mind of Jeter: “No, Bobby! No! Dammit. I’ll bet he’s thinking about cookies. No! Run to the next base Bobby! No, that base! Third base! Come on Bobby, I can’t stay in this rundown all day.”
Mind of MBGPIBH: “I don’t like oatmeal cookies so much. I wonder if it’s the oatmeal.”
Mind of Jeter: “NO! That base! I’m waving here! Hello! I’m waving! Third base!”
Mind of A-Rod: “Wow, what’s all the waving about. I think Derek’s trying to tell us something!”
Mind of Mencia: “Something utterly not funny.”
Mind of MBGPIBH: “Um, now, I also like doughnuts, but not the cake ones so much and … oh, hey, Derek’s waving. I better go to third base.”
Mind of Jeter: “Whew. Thank you and, oh no, A-Rod, man, you’ve got to run too. Come on, I’m waving here.”
Mind of A-Rod: “Is he waving goodbye? Is he leaving? I wonder if I’ll be the shortstop again. Man, I liked being shortstop, you know, I could tell pitchers what to throw and … oh, wait, he’s waving me to second base. Here I go!”

No, seriously, this was what they were saying on the radio. He waved them to the next base! What a leader! What a man! Who else in the world could have gotten caught in a rundown long enough to get runners to move up? Wait, did he save a young child from a burning building during the rundown? I believe he did! What a player! What a humanitarian! And then, when Hideki Matsui singled to score both runners, they took it up another step and canonized Jeter.

I suppose posts like this are why people don’t believe me when I tell them that I really like Derek Jeter. I do! I really, really, really do. If only people would just stop.

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