Derek Jeter is entering his 17th season with the New York Yankees. He is hoping 2011 will be a bounce back year from his sub-par 2010. He batted .270 with 10 home runs and 67 RBIs out of the leadoff spot. It was only a down season, because Yankees fans are used to their Captain hitting near or over .300, for 11 of the 15 full or close to full seasons Jeter has played at the Major League level he has been at .300 or better. The years he missed; 1997 he hit .291, 2002 .297, 2004 .292, and last year he hit .270. Even when he's missed out on .300, he's been awfully close, with the exception of last season.
Let's face facts, Jeter has spoiled you, plain and simple. He IS still the model of consistency. Not only on the field, but off the field, as well. He has done things right. He has acted like a Captain and has represented the Yankees as only one CAN represent the most recognizable and esteemed franchise in the history of competition; with dignity, honor and respect. He says the right things, he does the right things, and he respects the game and plays it the right way. He's done it night in and night out for 16 years.
Pitchers and catchers reported on Valentine's Day. The Captain reported as well. He is working with Yankees hitting instructor Kevin Long. He is trying to eliminate his stride to compensate for his bat speed which may have slowed a bit because of age. Yes, 37 years of age is no spring chicken. When humans get older, we aren't supposed to improve. We aren't wine. Athletes are just like all of us regular Joe's when it comes to age. They bend, they break, they hurt and things slow down. It's the natural process of life, in what is, an unnatural time in the game of baseball.
This is what gets me so agitated. When Roger Clemens won the Cy Young at 41 years of age with an 18-4 record, and a 2.98 ERA everyone marveled at his accomplishments. Wherever he went there was a red carpet.
We all know what has happened over the past couple of years. Allegedly, the Rocket was fueled with a little something "extra" to get him through those advanced age seasons. He will get his day in court. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and a host of others also fall into that "alleged" category.
There will be an ongoing debate on whether or not any of these guys will get into the Hall of Fame. You want to know what a former respected player had to say? Last year at Spring Training I had the pleasure of chewing the fat with Gary Matthews Sr. He was doing some radio for the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., and during our discussion I asked Sarge if he thought these guys should be allowed to enter Cooperstown. His response was, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Yes, if they build a special wing and call it the (expletive) wing." You can fill in the blank.
Then you have a guy like Derek Jeter. A guy you can dig straight through the center of the Earth to try to come up with dirt on him, and you can probably dig through to China without finding a morsel. He has one off year out of 15 full seasons by the way, and everyone is all over him. The guy hit .270. He didn't hit .202!
My point here is, you can't have it both ways. If you want guys to be clean and set examples for our kids. If you want guys to be human and not superhuman, then you have to expect some drop off when players start to get older. Jeter is doing it the right way. Just as his predecessor at Yankees Captain, Don Mattingly. His back problems ended his run of a potential Hall of Fame career. Did Mattingly turn to chemistry to solidify his numbers and dupe us into thinking he made a miraculous recovery? No. Mattingly got older, his back kept getting worse, and his numbers kept descending.
Listen, I'm 37. When I go to the gym or go out and shovel the driveway, (which I am sick and tired of doing by the way) there are muscles that hurt that I didn't know I had. I get a different kind of sore, and when I do hit the gym, I can't do as much. I didn't feel like that when I was 27. It's natural.
Performance enhancing drugs have allegedly cheated LEGENDS out of their records. The players who allegedly took them, cheated themselves. Fans were duped and cheated as well. FACT: Players approaching 40 should not be having career years.
I will continue to root for and support the Yankees Captain as I always have, whether he rebounds and hits .300 or better, or hits .270 again. Why? Because he's always done it the right way. He's a true role model.
You know something, I was always a little envious of my older family members. They saw the likes of DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Berra, Mantle and Ford. However, all of us get to see Jeter. And all of us will be able to pass on his legend for years to come. Not just on the field, but off the field as well.
Follow Chris Shearn on Twitter: @ChrisShearnYES