It was the calf strain heard round baseball. No sooner had Derek Jeter lined career hit 2,994 than he had to leave Monday’s game against Cleveland with the above injury. The shortstop was put on the 15-day disabled list the next day. With the Jeter meter just six hits shy of number 3,000, the baseball pundits could focus on a different topic: What would life be like in the Bronx without the Captain?
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Yankee fans got a feel for that scenario back in 2003 when Jeter dislocated his shoulder during the team’s opening game in Toronto. I remember the incident quite well. The YES Network had finally settled its dispute with Cablevision (my provider on Long Island) and was allowing the network to broadcast. I turned on the TV just in time to see Jeter collide with catcher Ken Huckaby (who?) as he slid into third. As he writhed around in pain, I thought, “This is not good.” Jeter missed 36 days and the Yankees eventually made it to the World Series.
But of course, life without the 28-year-old Jeter was a lot scarier than life without the 36-year-old version. Back then, he was hitting above .300 and earning his moniker of Captain Clutch. He was still capable of making outstanding plays like the famous flip to home plate during the 2001 American League championship series. He was not killing rallies and rapping into double plays. “Past a diving Jeter,” was not a regular Michael Kay exclamation.
Jeter is the type of player who gets both undue love and undue criticism. I’ve had Red Sox fans tell me they would take him in a heartbeat and I’ve had other baseball fans tell me they hate him because “he has a smug smile.” Playing in the biggest market, Jeter has always gotten a lot of attention. Most of it has been positive and deservedly so. He has had the uncanny ability of “showing up” during the big moments. Moments do tend to be bigger and brighter in New York than in most other baseball territories.
But failures also stand out more glaringly in the Big Apple. And it’s never fun to watch a top athlete’s skills diminish.
Jeter could still turn it around. The reports of Jorge Posada’s death may have been greatly exaggerated (he is 14 for 28 in his last eight games). Perhaps the pressure of 3,000 hits and living up to his final grossly high contract have gotten to him.
Replacement Eduardo Nunez will have a chance to give everyone a glimpse of a Jeter-less infield. Maybe people will like what they see. My guess is, they’ll be happy to have the Captain back in the lineup in a couple of weeks making his way to 3,000. Love him or hate him, Jeter is still the soul of this Yankee team.