Results tagged ‘ Tony Fernandez ’
Happy anniversary, Derek Jeter! The captain broke into the major leagues 16 years ago Sunday in the same city where the Yankees were – Seattle – but a different venue – the Kingdome, a far cry from the beauteous Safeco Field.
Jeter was called up from Triple A Columbus to fill in at shortstop while regular Tony Fernandez was on the disabled list. Not wanting to put too much pressure on the former first-round draft choice who was still a month away from his 21st birthday, then manager Buck Showalter batted Jeter ninth in the order.
DJ went hitless in five at-bats and handled both his chances in the field without incident in an 8-7, 12-inning loss. He got his first major-league hit the next night, a single in the fifth inning off Mariners righthander Tim Belcher.
Jeter played in 13 games and batted .234 with three doubles, one triple and seven RBI in 47 at-bats and committed two errors before returning to Triple A. He was a September call-up and got one more hit, a double, to finish with a .250 major-league average that season.
Jeter returned to Seattle when the Yankees made their first post-season appearance in 14 years in the first American League Division Series. He was not on the roster but was part of the traveling unit and got his first look at the post-season, a portion of the big-league season with which he has become especially familiar since his 1996 AL Rookie of the Year season in 1996.
Along the way, Jeter ended up setting franchise records in hits, stolen bases and at-bats and is on the verge of becoming the first player to get 3,000 hits while wearing a Yankees uniform. Before the year is out, he is likely to replace Mickey Mantle as the club leader in games played. The kid from Kalamazoo has come a long way since May 29, 1995.
When Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera made their 2011 debuts Thursday, they also continued to make history. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that they are the first trio of teammates in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League to play together in each of 17 consecutive seasons, extending the record they established in 2010.
Jeter, Posada and Rivera have been teammates since 1995. Mo is the senior member of the trio. He came up in May of ’95 and pitched in 19 games, including 10 as a starter. He gained nation-wide attention for his outstanding work in that year’s first Division Series against the Mariners (0 runs, 3 hits, 8 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings).
Jeter played in 15 games in May and June as a replacement for injured shortstop Tony Fernandez and hit .250 in 48 at-bats. Posada played behind the plate in only one inning of one game as a September call-up and did not bat.
The previous pro sports record for consecutive seasons by three teammates was 15 by the Brewers’ trio of Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount from 1978 through 1992. Tied for the second longest trio of Yankees who played 13 years together: Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing from 1930 through 1942 and Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and Mickey Mantle from 1955 through 1967.
Derek Jeter turned 36 Saturday. That may not be an age that is considered a milestone, but I have always thought it was. After all, once you’re 36 for the first time in your life you’re closer to 50 than 20. You may not be starting the back nine of your life, but the halfway house is clearly in view.
As for a professional athlete, 36 is definitely on the back nine, unless you know anyone playing in the pros in his or her 70s, excluding Minnie Minoso, of course. Yet in this day and age of dedication to conditioning and nutrition, the pro athlete can endure far long than his antecedents, and there are few in baseball in better shape than Derek Jeter.
It is hard to think of him as getting old. Other than natural maturity, I have not seen any great change in his approach or demeanor from the 21-year-old kid who came to the Yankees’ spring training camp at Tampa, Fla., in 1996 ready to assume the role of shortstop.
The plan was for regular Tony Fernandez to move to second base and be ready to switch back if Jeter did not handle the job. Fernandez got hurt and was out for the year while Jeter went on to win Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year honors and help the Yankees win their first World Series championship in 18 years.
Long ago and far away, sure, but all these years later Jeter is still a main cog on the Yankees at one of the sport’s most demanding positions. And he is in no mood to think about playing someplace else, not in a different city and not at a different position.
Yet Jeter has reached that age which historically players at his position often move to another position. No better example exists than Cal Ripken Jr., a player Jeter admires and emulates, who was shifted to third base in 1997, the year he turned 36. He played only three games at shortstop after turning 36, not counting the 2001 All-Star Game.
Two other Hall of Famers, Ernie Banks and Robin Yount, were moved from shortstop in their early 30s due to arm injuries that hampered their effectiveness in the middle infield. Banks went to first base, and Yount to center field.
A couple of years ago, I sat down with Jeter and talked to him about the Yount move. This was a time when Bernie Williams’ career was winding down, and I queried whether he had given any thought to playing center field in the future.
Not a word, just a blank stare from those piercing green eyes. “I just thought maybe we’d talk about it,” I said.
He grinned and said, “Then I guess you’ll have to find someone else to talk to about that.”
Needless to say, I never brought the subject up again, and I am not going to do so here, either. I have been of the opinion since that day that shortstop is where Derek Jeter belongs for as long as he wants to play it. If he was not coming off shortstop for Alex Rodriguez, he wasn’t coming off shortstop for Jack O’Connell.
And why should he? It is not as if he is Phil Rizzuto, who hit .195 at age 36 and was a part-time player the next year and a half. Or Pee Wee Reese, who won a World Series with the Dodgers at that age in 1955 but was moved to third base two years later. Or Joe Cronin, who played very little shortstop after the age of 35. Or such Hall of Famers as Joe Tinker, Travis Jackson, Arky Vaughan and Lou Boudreau, who were retired as players before they turned 36.
Further research shows plenty of evidence that moving off shortstop is not all that warranted. Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Luke Appling played more than 130 games at shortstop when each was 41. Rabbit Maranville, another Hall of Famer, finished 10th in the National League MVP race when he was 36 in 1928. Dave Concepcion was the Reds’ regular shortstop until he was 38, and as late as the age of 40 Omar Vizquel played 143 games at shortstop.
There are two shortstops that really stick out to me and with whom I hope Jeter will keep company – Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith. They share an amazing distinction. Shortstop was the only position they played in their entire careers – 2,518 games for Little Looie and 2,511 games for the Wizard of Oz. Each made the All-Star team playing shortstop at age 36, which Jeter will do next month.
Aparicio’s last year was 1973, the first year of the designated hitter but he was never used in that spot, and Smith spent his whole career in the DH-less National League. Jeter has been a DH in 17 games, but the only position he has played in the field is shortstop. He celebrated his 36th birthday with game No. 2,193 – and counting.
Saturday was an anniversary of sorts for Derek Jeter. The Yankees captain broke into the major leagues 15 years ago on a Memorial Day Monday at the old Seattle Kingdome. He did not come to stay. That would not happen until the following spring when he won the shortstop job outright and went on to a career in which he has more hits than any player at his position and anyone who ever wore a Yankees uniform.
“An incredible player, an incredible teammate, an incredible man,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You could see from the beginning that he was a player who would lead by example. It has been fun to watch, fun for me both as a teammate and a manager. He comes to the park every day prepared and ready to play, and he seems to have fun playing the game.”
Jeter almost didn’t get that cup of coffee that began May 29, 1995. It took two injuries for him to get recalled from Columbus, then the Yankees’ Triple A affiliate. An injury to shortstop Tony Fernandez forced the Yankees to use backup Kevin Elster, a good fielder but weak hitter. Then manager Buck Showalter was opposed to calling up Jeter and pushed to use Randy Velarde, who had played mostly third base and left field but had experience as a shortstop. Another injury to a middle infielder, second baseman Pat Kelly, forced Showalter’s hand. He had to go with Velarde at second base.
Gene Michael, then in his last year as Yankees general manager, decided to bring up Jeter and give him a taste of major-league life. In that first game, Jeter was hitless in five at-bats in an 8-7, 12-inning Mariners victory. He flied out to shallow right field in the third inning, grounded out to shortstop in the fifth, lined out to right in the sixth and grounded out to second base in the ninth.
Jeter had a chance to give the Yankees the lead in the top of the 11th. He came up with two out and a runner at third base. That runner was outfielder Gerald Williams, the player who befriended Jeter the most in his first tour with the Yankees. Jeter struck out against hard-throwing righthander Bobby Ayala. Rich Amaral won the game for Seattle in the 12th with a home run off Scott Bankhead.
The following night, Jeter got his first major-league hit, in his sixth at-bat. He was called out on strikes in the second inning. Next time up, in the fifth, Jeter singled on a ground ball between short and third. The pitcher was righthander Tim Belcher, who Jeter could see in the opposing dugout Saturday as the Indians’ pitching coach.
Jeter handled himself well enough during that two-week trial run that the Yankees released Elster, who was hitting .118. The kid from Kalamazoo batted .234 in 15 games before returning to Columbus when Fernandez came off the disabled list. The Yankees brought Jeter back as a September call-up, and he was part of the traveling party during the first American League Division Series, which brought him back to Seattle.
It has been proved in the years since that, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, Jeter “observed a lot by watching.”