The last two days have been filled with Jeter stories -- full page breakdowns of his every at-bat and miserable failure this post-season, stories saying he let Torre down and didn't come through for the manager, stories insisting no one dares to say a word against him and now today a story dubbing him the Teflon Captain by Mike Lupica. They could at least admit everyone is talking about this rather than pretending they're brave and alone in questioning Jeter.
As so often is the case, real fans are smarter and more realistic about baseball than the blowhards on TV, radio and in the papers. The experts get so angry because fans think so highly of Jeter. His numbers are a joke compared to A-Rod's, his range is falling dramatically, his team hasn't won a World Series in seven (!) years, his numbers this post-season sucked, he hit into numerous double plays and yet fans refuse to badmouth Jeter and gang up on anyone who does. Why? Because the fans are smarter and know you don't measure any player by their performance on any single at-bat, any single game or any single series. You judge them based on their performance day in and day out.
Jeter had a terrible post-season. In context, he got three runs and A-Rod got four. Damon and Cano had five hits. Abreu got four. Cabrera also had three. Posada and Matsui and Duncan had two. Giambia had one. So everyone sucked. A-Rod went 0-5 with runners on base. Jeter got a two-out rbi. They each had one rbi to their credit. No one is happy with anyone's performance.
But fans look for heart. Do players run out every hit? Do they always play hard from game one? Do they play through injuries? Do they make stupid mental errors? (Jeter had one error but friendly scoring didn't charge it against him.) And over the long haul, do they deliver? Jeter has enjoyed almost unparalled success in the post-season, performing exceptionally well in almost every series in the post-season every year for the past 12 years. This is probably his second or third poor series in 20+ post-season series. That's an exceptional record. So if fans got disgusted with Jeter for one poor four game series, they'd be morons. A-Rod's post-season performance for the Yankees is dreadful as everyone knows. This series, a weak one by almost anyone's standard, is practically his post-season highlight for us. (He had one other good series for us in the past four years that actually was good.) But the fans didn't boo him. With the season he had, A-Rod might very well have come alive in the next round.
And of course anyone watching the Yankees knows Jeter has been injured and slowed by his knee for two months now. Jeter doesn't make excuses. But any reasonable observer takes into account his injury, appreciates the fact that he stayed on the field in the second half and played his heart out, leading the team as the captain even when his body was at 80% and more balls got by him than should have. We can see him running slower and slower to first but also know he's running as hard as possible and never complains, never makes excuses, never gives up. The other players take their cue from him and when they don't (Soriano, Sheffield), they're gone. And so we love him. We know in the long-term he comes through in the post-season and that only an idiot would bitch about poor play in one four game series. We know he's been gutting it out despite a serious injury and that heart kept the team battling during a second half when the Yankees dug themselves out of a hole. [Uh, climbed out of a hole? Pete pointed out this mixed metaphor, which I will pretend I intended as an homage to Yogi Berra] Fail to give your all, make dumb mental errors, take it easy, coast on past performances, treat others with disrespect, bitch and moan, take steroids, cheat, behave like a chump on the field and make the Yankees look low-rent and we'll turn on you. Play with class and deliver -- and deliver doesn't mean rings every year, it means performing to your best all season long -- and we'll respect you.
And that's why we love Derek Jeter. Can't wait to see him get healthy in the off-season and have a tremendous year in 2008.