Okay, so it’s a whole new year and the baseball season is coming up again. That means it’s time to get serious about baseball. No more of this fluff about awards and New Year’s resolutions and gift ideas and all this other garbage I’ve been jibber-jabbering about for the last few months.
Some of you are thinking, “It’s about time, you fruitcake. I am sick to death of your stupid anecdotes and weak metaphors.” Some of you are thinking, “Oh, no! I don’t want to hear about real baseball. I want Real Housewives and dating advice and pop culture references.” And there are some of you thinking, “Don’t worry, son, your father and I support you in whatever choices you make.”
But I think it’s important that you all know – and I think you do know this by now – that when it comes down to it, I don’t really care what you prefer. Have you seen my column? I just care about what entertains me. So, yes there will be baseball. And, yes, we will talk about Taylor probably driving her husband to suicide on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Why? Because these are the things that entertain me.
With spring training coming up in the next couple weeks, it’s time to start looking at all the teams and what they look like after all the offseason moves – and non-moves. Prince Fielder surprisingly signed with Detroit, which should be a huge boost to the Tigers’ offense, but the real winner is the Detroit restaurant industry. There’s not much left in free agency worth mentioning, so the teams as they are now are probably the teams we’re going to see play this season.
A couple weeks ago, in a somewhat strange move, the Red Sox traded away Marco Scutaro, their best shortstop, to the Rockies for a junk pitcher in what was clearly a salary-dump situation. When I say their “best” shortstop, I really just mean their only shortstop. Now the big-market, big-spending Red Sox don’t have a player anyone considers worthy of being a starting shortstop. And now the Rockies have Scutaro to play second base. They already have Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop who just happens to be the best in the league at that job. Maybe there’s more to this move for the Red Sox than just a salary dump. If I was a team’s general manager, I wouldn’t go around telling everyone what I was doing and why.
But there’s a very real possibility that the Red Sox will not have a quality shortstop. Just like the Yankees. Right, Derek Jeter? Actually, now that I think about it, it’s not just the Yankees and Red Sox that have this problem. There just aren’t a lot of quality shortstops in the league right now. And with Hanley Ramirez’s statistical collapse last season, there’s one less. That kind of just leaves Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes – now on the Marlins to replace Hanley. Two guys. Very good, but not great. There are 30 teams in the league. Really? That’s it?
Shortstop is the most prestigious fielding position in baseball. When you’re growing up, this is where the most athletic guy on your team plays – the least athletic guy plays catcher, the tallest guy plays first base and the most uncoordinated guy gets stuck in right field out of harm’s way. Shortstop is where it’s at. It’s the sexiest position in baseball. I don’t mean sexy as in sexually attractive. I mean sexy as in being attractive in a way that is sexually exciting. [Editor’s note: Jed, you might want to just move on. The last thing we need is another Jed-related legal issue.] [Note to editor: Point taken, sir. But I can assure you I was going to carefully skirt around this somewhat delicate area.] [Editor’s note: Save it for Twitter, Jed.]
I’m going to sound a lot like old-nostalgia-guy here, but I promise I won’t chase you off my lawn with a shotgun. Do you guys remember a decade ago when the league was loaded with superstar shortstops? Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeter – these guys were rock stars. They were all bigger and stronger than the historical norm for shortstops. I thought this was just going to be the new standard – shortstops smashing home runs, stealing bases and flashing the leather on defense.
Maybe you’re thinking it was steroids. I guess it’s possible they were doing them. Everyone was. But their monstrous numbers were even monstrous compared to other guys who were taking steroids.
Wait a second. “Rock stars” I say? Hmm, I’ve got an idea. Let’s compare these guys to rock stars! Oh, yeah! You like where this is going? Me, too.
Derek Jeter = Mick Jagger
Jeter is widely regarded as one of the best shortstops in the history of the game with a dynamic personality and a fierce competitiveness. And like Jagger, he’s been doing it forever (baseball-wise) – this will be his 18th year. Jagger is also widely regarded as one of the best, but he doesn’t have the best voice or best stage presence. And when you think back, sure they’ve had some really great songs, but there aren’t many folks who would say Jagger or the Stones were the best ever.
Despite his impressive offensive numbers, Jeter’s defense has actually been a great albatross that eliminates him from any discussion of the best ever. Yankee fans may disagree, but it becomes pretty clear when you check out some of the recently developed statistics that show defensive ability or if you use your eyeballs to watch him play the position.
Nomar Garciaparra = Freddie Mercury
Garciaparra was my favorite among the three because he was on the Red Sox and because he seemed to have that gritty “I’m just happy to be playing” attitude. He was the least good looking of the three, but that was more because the other two were just so gosh-darn good looking. Yeah, I said it. To me there will never be a greater rock star than Freddie Mercury – the best combination of rock-star voice, rock-star stage presence and rock-star songwriting. And all the while challenging the status quo with one of the best/worst mustaches in the history of history.
But it was all cut short when Freddie died of AIDS – so we’ll never know just how much he could have done. Nomar’s career suffered a similar fate when he started dating Mia Hamm. Check it out – it’s all public record. How could this be? Because soccer = poison. Before he met “her,” Nomar was on his way to the Hall of Fame and then he started getting hurt all the time. Then he got traded because his teammates hated him. Then he got injured again. And he just could never really get it going. So, yeah, I guess in a way, I just compared Mia Hamm to AIDS. I don’t regret it. [Editor’s note: We do.]
Alex Rodriguez = Axl Rose
I was going to go with Jon Bon Jovi, but I think people like Jon Bon Jovi. Rodriguez (now known by most as A-Rod) was for a time, the greatest shortstop to ever play baseball. Ever. In all of the years there has been baseball. That’s a heck of a thing. He was the first player ever to get a $200 million contract. Then he was the second player ever to get a $200 million contract. Axl Rose, for a while, was the quintessential rock star. He came along at the perfect time riding the mass popularity of hair bands but also appealing to rock and rollers throughout the world.
Then Alex joined the Yankees and despite being a better shortstop than Derek Jeter (though, really, who wasn’t better?), he shifted over to third base. And from that moment on, he just could never be considered the greatest to ever play shortstop. As for Axl, I don’t know what happened to that dude. He says it wasn’t drugs, but man, oh man, it sure looks like that.
There were other shortstops playing back then who weren’t too shabby like Miguel Tejada (David Lee Roth – excellent in Van Halen but then just bouncing around from team to team trying to stay in the game and ending up kind of pathetic, actually) and Omar Vizquel (Eddie Vedder – he’s been around for a long, long time and has some die-hard fans, but he really isn’t that good).
These days, we don’t really have much of anything at the shortstop position. Tulowitzki is probably the best all around, but does anyone really care? I guess that makes him like Chris Martin from Coldplay.
The days of the superstar shortstops are over, but I keep hoping that some young studs are coming down the pike to smash home runs, steal bases and flash the leather for all to enjoy.