Here is a link to my Sunday column about Derek Jeter. The full text runs below:
The A’s are presenting a Derek Jeter tribute today, as they should. This is the last time Jeter will play in Oakland unless the A’s and Yankees meet in the playoffs. He turns 40 in a few weeks and he is retiring after this season and he’s on a farewell tour — just like Mariano Rivera last season.
Every team the Yankees play should put on a Derek Jeter tribute. He’s that important to baseball.
Why is he important?
For starters, he’s the face of baseball. Whatever it means to be the face of a sport, he’s it for baseball. It’s how he carries himself. With dignity. With class, although “class” is an outmoded concept in our times.
He is the leader of the Yankees, has been a long time. And when a man is the Yankees’ leader, he figures big in the national pastime.
Jeter’s importance transcends all that stuff. He fits into a context, a sad context. You know the deal. He labored quietly at his craft, honored baseball while the bloated phonies made the headlines. The bloated phonies include Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jeter’s infield partner Alex Rodriguez.
There are a ton more bloated phonies, but those are the notable ones. Jeter was not one of them — is not one of them. I have no idea if he illegally took performance-enhancing drugs. But I doubt it. His game has nothing to do with power and transforming his body into a “thing,” a machine for home runs as Bonds did, Bonds so bloated he barely could field his position. Bonds so bloated you wondered if there was a human being in there.
Jeter hits singles. He hits doubles to the gaps. He moves the runner along. He does the little things, although calling what he does “little” does a disservice to him and the game. He plays baseball the right way. Watching him in the batter’s box or at shortstop brings you back to the beginnings of his sport, to what baseball was and should be.
Jeter is the healthy antidote to the fictions and the cheating of the bloated phonies which degraded baseball.
He weighs 195 pounds, not huge for a baseball player. Normal size.
Not particularly impressive. But he is — or was — a great athlete. And he’s a genius at his sport. Oh, “genius” has been overused around here, although Jeter is one. Maybe “winner” is a better word. The ultimate winner.
Like what happened in 2001. Online they call it The Iconic Oakland Flip Play. I was there for the iconic flip and I never saw anything like that before or since.
The A’s had taken two games in Yankee Stadium, led the best-of-five Division Series 2-0. And now the teams were back in Oakland, the Yankees fighting to stay alive.
They led 1-0 in the seventh. Jeremy Giambi, brother of Jason, singled with two out in the bottom of the inning. Terrence Long hit a screaming double down the right-field line. Right fielder Shane Spencer grabbed the ball, looked into the infield and saw, holy cow, the A’s had waved Giambi home. Giambi was not what you call fleet. He moved like an out-of-control Coors truck.
Spencer threw the ball to home plate. It was not an elegant throw. It missed not one cutoff men. It missed two cutoff men.
Flew over their heads. We’re talking Tino Martinez and Alfonso Soriano. When Giambi crossed the plate the game would be tied.
Except for Jeter. He had run from shortstop across the field to the first-base line. From the press box I didn’t even notice him.
He caught the throw barehanded in his right hand. Now comes the iconic part. As he sped into foul territory sprinting away from the plate, he somehow flipped the ball backhanded to catcher Jorge Posada who caught that sucker and administered a swipe tag on Giambi who never slid. The Yankees won the game 1-0 and won the next two games and eliminated the A’s.
Jeter’s play was extraordinary because no one expects the shortstop to be at the first-base line in case the outfielder misses two cutoff men. Jeter was heads up in the extreme and the play was and is a monument to athletic poise.
Giambi’s non-slide precipitated a long historical debate which continues today.
If Giambi had slid would he have scored, thus negating the iconic flip play? Maybe yes, maybe no.
But there is a more relevant way to look at the play.
Jeter had mastered the basics, had gone beyond the basics with the iconic flip. Giambi failed at the very basics. He didn’t even slide. And that means Jeter deserved to succeed more than Giambi. It was a case of the impeccable defeating the slovenly. That flip has become the landmark play of Jeter’s great career.
The play wasn’t a base hit. It wasn’t a home run. Jeter didn’t drive in a run to end a game. He went hitless in the game. His great play was a fielding play — it rivals Willie Mays’ catch in center field off Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. Jeter’s play was all about smarts and desire and feel. He had a feel for the play, for the victory, for baseball.
Today, when the A’s present their video tribute to Jeter they will not show the iconic flip. Too many bad associations for A’s fans.
Everyone understands that. But it’s a play that lives on. You can watch it online and marvel at his skill.
And you can feel sad, if you must. Sports memories linger.
Whatever you do, remember Jeter as he deserves to be remembered. The common man who took the bloat out of baseball.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.