2011-07-07 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’’ s Attitude

Yankee Captain’s Back To Set Team Milestone
By Neil S. Friedman

When Derek Jeter hobbled off the field three weeks ago, his fans, including me, were disappointed because it disrupted his pace to set a team record at Yankee Stadium. On the other hand, my reaction was selfishly cast aside when he went on the 15-day disabled list because my friends and I will be at this Saturday’s game in the Bronx to possibly see him reach a Yankee milestone.

The admired veteran shortstop is closing in on a team and major league baseball landmark — his 3000th hit. He got two Tuesday night and has three more games before Saturday when I hope to see Jeter become the first Yankee and just the 28th player — and only the fourth shortstop — in the sport’s long history to accomplish that achievement.

Despite the legendary players who played in the Bronx before him, none ever had 3,000 hits. Not Babe Ruth. Not Lou Gehrig. Not Joe DiMaggio. Not Yogi Berra. Not my three all-time favorites — Mantle, Munson and Mattingly.

Jeter was at 2,994 on June 13th, but in his next at bat, as he ran towards first base he pulled up lame and limped into the dugout with what was diagnosed as a mildly strained calf muscle. That type of injury, even a minor one, is critical for an athlete that relies on his legs in every facet of his work. For Jeter, at age 37, an ounce of extra precaution was a sensible option.

Jeter’s recuperation sidelined him until he rejoined the team on July 4th in Cleveland. If he sets the record on July 9th, which seemed like a good prospect yesterday, it would add a notch to my jampacked memories of special Yankee moments.

Derek Jeter’s 18-game absence, however, did not hamper the Yankees. In fact, over his career, the team has nearly twice as many wins than losses without him in the lineup. Even so, the team has only failed to qualify for the post season once since Jeter became the regular shortstop in 1996. And he appreciably contributed to the Yankees five World Series wins since then. What’s more, the Yankees are categorically a better team when he’s in the lineup.

This injury is only the second time since 2003 that Jeter’s been sidelined for an extended period. Athletes’ bodies wear down faster than the rest of us — especially those who admire Jeter from the cushioned comfort of living rooms and dens. Jeter’s skills have noticeably diminished, but, every few games he still displays flashes of the talent that should earn him a first-ballot entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jeter didn’t become the team captain and Yankee fans’ favorite just because of his baseball skills, which has been outstanding for 15 years. Jeter has been consistently first–class throughout his career. Even as a highly anticipated rookie, he never had attitude or an ego evident in some of today’s overpaid prima donna athletes.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a former All-Star shortstop, recently lauded Jeter, noting, “You’re talking about a baseball player…who represents this game better than anybody…a baseball icon, a great player, a winner…”

That, in a nutshell, sums up why Derek Jeter remains extremely popular. As a testament to his reputation, despite a lackluster first half, fans voted him to start at shortstop on this year’s All-Star team.

After this season, Jeter has two years remaining on a $51 million contract he signed last winter. Sure, he was overpaid, but the Yankee management’s hands were tied. Fans would not have been too happy if the deep-pocketed ownership appeared to skimp or abandon one of the team’s all-time favorites in the autumn of his career; especially if they let him sign with another team to reach his hits record.

I hope I’m in the stands when The Captain hits the 3,000-mark. But, whenever Jeter gets it, it will be another special moment in the Hall of Fame career of one of the most popular Yankees ever to wear pinstripes.

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