Derek Jeter might be producing an off-Broadway flop. Alex Rodriguez’s star might be ascendant.
It’s like baseball Bizarro World.
Seriously. How else can you explain that legitimate baseball folks actually mused openly two weeks ago about the possibility of Rodriguez as a candidate for New York Yankees manager? Won’t happen, but that the story received even the tiniest bits of oxygen might be proof that we are seeing a reputational overhaul for the ages. Meanwhile, here’s Jeter – “The Captain”, “Jeets”, “Mr. November” – being skewered by one of the game’s opinion-makers, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, for essentially being a blank, bland, B.S. slinger in his first foray into the world of Scrum As Baseball Executive, which is somewhat different than Scrum as Mr. Yankee™.
The implication is clear: Jeter could more or less do no wrong as a player; his life on and off the field serving as a model for how to be a successful athlete and ardent, practising bachelor in the biggest media market in the world. Now that he’s chief executive officer of everybody’s least favourite team, the Miami Marlins, and might be on the verge of overseeing the trade of a generational player, Jeter is being judged by a different standard.
Meanwhile, the rehabilitation of A-Rod is something to behold. He and Jennifer Lopez made the cover of Vanity Fair just a week or two before news came out that the relationship was on the rocks, he had a network television spot on Shark Tank, there’s his critically acclaimed work on FOX’s post-season baseball coverage. This is something we haven’t seen from the other children of the steroid era. For the most part, big-name players who without the presence of proof found their careers even slightly touched by the broad brush of innuendo and made it to the Hall of Fame – Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, in particular – maintained fairly low profiles after retirement.
Barry Bonds was fired after a year as Marlins hitting coach; Roger Clemens has an arm’s-length relationship with the game. Both avoid media requests. Mark McGwire has slipped back into the game through honest labour – he is the San Diego Padres bench coach after spending five years with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers – and even though he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot, a path might open in time through one of those Hall of Fame committees. Others, such as Manny Ramirez, have more or less disappeared.
But not A-Rod and I’m going to make a bold prediction, here: despite being suspended for an entire season (2014) as a result of performance-enhancing drug use, he will be elected into the Hall of Fame. Not on the first or second ballot; but he will get a surprisingly high number of votes when he is eligible for the first time in 2022.
The same sort of ditzy, tin-eared obliviousness he showed throughout much of his final five seasons – the way he absorbed all the crap he rightly received in his final two seasons – is going to stand him in good stead at a time when facts don’t matter. Unlike Bonds, who had many teammates who couldn’t stand the sight of him right up until his last game, A-Rod’s apparent willingness to give time to minor leaguers and teammates as he was playing out the string softened some of his harsher edges. He has a brilliant baseball mind, of this there is no doubt. Even media members who covered him at the end started to speak less pejoratively – and they’ll make up the Hall voting pool.
It was something to think about Wednesday as Jeter navigated his way through a throng of reporters at general managers meetings in Orlando. As a player, he was the master of making eye contact with a reporter, answering your question blandly but with just enough length that you figured you had something, and would generally leave you feeling the interview warm and snug in the knowledge you had just been granted time by one of the game’s greatest and most high-profile athletes who’s dated Scarlett Johansson for God’s sake until you sat down in front of your laptop computer, read your notes or gone through tape and realized he had given you just something less than bugger-all in the way of substance. And look at him now.
Michael Hill is the Marlins’ titular president of baseball operations but there is little doubt about who will bear the brunt of an unsatisfactory resolution of Giancarlo Stanton’s trade or any other teardown of the Marlins. It will be on Jeter, a man whose second act in this game looks much more difficult than his one-time pariah teammate.