Sunday Night Skepticism

Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. "Where did I go? I went where I had to go once it was time." (AP)

On July 29, 1951, Joe DiMaggio went 2-4 with two home runs and a walk, scoring three runs and driving in five. He had homered in the game before before as well. The outburst was part of a four-game hitting streak that improved his rates from an uncharacteristically poor .251/.358/.417 to a still-uncharacteristic but more robust .275/.362/.455. The streak was part of a nice little hot streak that the Yankee Clipper put together after spending a couple of week out with an injury. It was all too transient, however, and over the last two months of the season, DiMaggio hit only .268/.368/.390 while playing a weak center field. Despite a decent World Series that fall, the 36-year-old concluded that he no longer possessed the skills he had shown as recently as the season before and hung up his spikes.

On May 25, 1935, in a game at Pittsburgh, Babe Ruth went 4-for-4, launching three home runs and driving in six. It was thought that the last shot went over 600 feet. He played another five games, going for 0-for-9. Then, fat, suffering from a bad cold, and possessed with a burning desire to go to New York for a party to welcome the ocean liner Normandie, he retired.

On Sunday afternoon, Jeter went 4-for-6 with a double, raising his rates to .257/.317/.284. Having given you the examples of Ruth and DiMaggio, I suppose I could stop there. Jeter’s double appropriately doubled the number of extra-base hits he has had on the season. Any time a hitter has four safeties in game it’s a good thing, but there weren’t all crisp liners, weren’t all good swings, weren’t results that we can assume are repeatable.

Jeter’s hits were an important part of the game’s successful outcome, so I’m not trying to diminish this one game—better hits than outs, anytime, any flavor—but whenever Jeter has a good day, I feel the pull of the same wishful thinking that I suspect grips most of us. I want to exhale and say the Craig Biggio/Grande Armée-retreat-from Moscow quality of this campaign for 3000 hits is over, let us celebrate this festival of still-vital hitting. It’s still not time, and it may not ever be time.

In other cynical departments, still withholding judgment on Freddy Garcia, Buddy Carlyle as closer. That last is a joke, of course. It’s just amazing that this oft-tattooed journeyman, who has been bouncing around the National League, American minors, and Japan since 1996 is wearing pinstripes. In our 2010 book, Baseball Prospectus said of his stint with the Braves, "He wasn't especially good… but teams need those catch-me-when-I-fall guys too." That’s still a good explanation for Carlyle’s presence in the majors—the Yankees were just short. That said, if you were going to make a move that required clearing a 40-man roster spot, if the pitcher you called up was going to be the last man on your team, a seldom-used "break glass" type, why not call a George Kontos or Eric Wordekemper, a new journeyman instead of an old one, someone who is younger than 33 and doesn’t already have a career 5.66 ERA pitching out of the bullpen in the majors? The club is already painfully old, why not at least have a youth movement around the edges, where it won’t cost you anything?

Carlyle’s is a good story. He’s pitched everywhere and also overcome diabetes to get back to the Bigs—I’m glad that his pursuit of his dream has taken this turn for the better. However, what makes for a good story for him isn’t necessarily the best use of a roster spot for the club.

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