Recently, an esteemed colleague took me to task for raining on the Derek Jeter 3000 parade. Taking the liberty of the ol’ loose paraphrase, his point was that the fans have loved Jeter all these years, have cheered him on, and so they should be allowed this moment to celebrate his accomplishments without someone trying to take it away from them.
The good news here, for everyone, I think, is that I’m not J.J. Hunsecker, Waldo Lydecker, Addison DeWitt, or Sheridan Whiteside, and I don’t have that kind of power. If I did, I might have argued some of the world’s major religions and political parties out of existence some years ago. Besides, I love celebrating great accomplishments. I go to Old Timers Day and Cooperstown, and all kinds of museums. The only ones I’m really sick of are the natural history types, because I can’t stand to see another dead animal filled with sawdust. Ever go to the American Museum of Natural History in New York? In one room they have a dodo skeleton, and in another a box full of Carolina parakeets. Each time I pass them, I quickly say, "I’m sorry," before moving on. It’s short for more extensive remarks that begin, "Though I am not empowered to speak on behalf of my species, I would just like to apologize…"
Alas, I digress, and without ever getting to Steller’s sea cow. As often seems to be the case, the disconnect between me and the party crew is that I tend to be more concerned about winning in the here and now, and I find it difficult to get excited about throwing a parade for a guy hitting .259/.324/.324 (.247 TAv). If it were me, it would almost be embarrassing. The 3,000-hit party is almost exclusively a celebration of what a player did in the past. High career totals are the province of old players, and it’s axiomatic that old players are either in decline or shortly to be in decline. Some players had great seasons in their 3000-hit year:
Most of these players didn’t offer too much beyond the big year. Even Rose’s last 1200 hits were produced during seasons that were miserable by the standards of a first baseman (.283/.365/.348, 1979-1986). Now consider these players, whose skills had eroded to the point that they were some between "okay" and "miserable," and in no case had a season that was consistent with their Hall of Fame-level careers:Player
Some of these players stuck around for a bit. Wagner had a couple of decent years left in him, though they weren’t of the same quality as his Superman years. Most of the rest, though, recognized they had little left in the tank and retired.
The Jeter who will get his 3000th hit in the next few days isn’t the same guy who won all those championships and should have picked up an MVP award or two. With good health for us all, we’re going to have years to celebrate Jeter’s career. Doing so in the middle of a pennant race, one which the guest of honor isn’t doing much to help win, seems hypocritical and depressing. Hooray for Used-to-Be. Cheer three times, turn your head, and cough.
I don't want to take a thing away from Jeter or his fans, and as I said, it would be weird if I could. What I do want to do is continue to point out the inappropriate conflation of a player's personal career goals with a Get Out of Jail Free card. At the end of the season, should the Yankees not win, a portion of the responsibility will be his.