Friday, February 28, 2014

"Jeter 2... A Boomer View" by Dad

     Well, okay, there was Honus Wagner, who proved you could play shortstop and be an offensive force. But he was before my time… and my father’s… and his father’s. So who played shortstop between Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter?
     For the most part, they were defensive gymnasts – skinny, quick glove men whose offensive shortcomings weren’t just accepted, they were nearly expected.
     In the 50s, a golden era for New York baseball, the reigning shortstops were PeeWee Reese on the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Phil Rizzuto on the Yankees. PeeWee’s nickname says it all when it comes to describing size and power from the shortstop position. (He will, however, always be a giant in the eyes of those of us who care about racial equality, after this Southern guy famously put his arms around his new double play partner in 1947, Jackie Robinson.)
     As for Phil Rizzuto, there isn’t a less deserving player in the Hall of Fame, as much as we loved his play calling later as a Yankee broadcaster.
     In my own baseball-loving New York boyhood, the two reigning shortstops were Bud Harrelson on the Mets and Gene Michaels on the Yankees. Harrelson’s playing weight didn’t much clear 150, and he didn’t bat much more than 100 points above his playing weight. And Michaels’ nickname was The Stick, not because of his bat, but because of his build.
     In the 80s, defense was so prized at the shortstop position that the Cardinals traded the best hitting shortstop of his year, Garry Templeton, to the Padres for the lighter hitting but awesome fielding Ozzie Smith. That Smith ultimately hit as well as he did, and he turned out to be pretty good, was considered to be icing on the shortstop cake.
    So then we had Yount and Ripken, the first wave of shortstops who could hit, but they each were switched from shortstop to other positions by their early 30s.
    Which led to the late 90s Three Amigos – Jeter, Garciaparra, and ARod. Three hard-hitting shortstops who we were told would redefine the position, except that Garciaparra’s career was crippled by injuries and we all know about ARod.
    Which leaves Jeter as the guy who redefined the position – for the ages, and for the future. He proved that a shortstop could be big and strong, and still be quick and durable enough to play the position well, and well into his late thirties. (I’m rooting hard for his turn 40 year).
    More than anyone, it’s been Jeter who’s set the stage for Hanley Ramirez, and beyond Hanley for an amazing new generation that includes names like Starlin Castro, Andrelton Simmons and Jean Segura.        
    And along the way, Jeter has been a role model to warm the heart of every father of boys (yes, including me). Jeter’s is an amazing and important baseball story, and this dad and Met fan will miss him when the season ends.