Sep 13, 2013, 10:33 AM EDT
There is really no doubt at all that Derek Jeter will return and play baseball in 2014. People talk about retirement and legacies and Willie Mays falling down in the outfield — and I’m sure there will be more of that talk all offseason — but I’m willing to wager you won’t hear Derek Jeter talk about any of that stuff. Jeter will be back because he has to come back. It’s in his nature. It’s in the nature of all the greats.
George Brett told me more than once that he wishes he had come back for one more season. When you look at Brett’s career,you can’t help but think he rode it out to the end. His last year, at age 40, he hit .266 (this after hitting .272 the previous two seasons) and had his first sub-100 OPS+. He retired in beautiful fashion, famously kissing home plate at Kauffman Stadium, a photograph that countless Kansas City fans have on their walls at home. He finished with 3,000 hits, with more doubles than anyone not named Speaker, Rose, Musial or Cobb (he has since been passed by Craig Biggio), with more great and memorable moments than just about anyone of his time.
Still, Brett wishes he’d come back, just to try it … he says he wishes that he had signed a league-minimum contract and come to spring training to compete for a job, just like he had as a kid in the minor leagues.
“Do you think you could have made it back?” I asked him.
“We’ll never know,” he said. “But, yeah, I do.”
A familiar story. Yaz, one of the great left fielders of all time, stayed around for four years as a semi-regular DH. He already had his 3,000 hits. He already was a Boston legend — soon, finally, he will have a statue at Fenway Park. He stayed anyway. He wanted to play ball.
Hank Aaron — a .300 hitter if there ever was one — hit .234 and .229 his final two seasons. Everyone knows about Ted Williams’ final at-bat, but not as many know that at age 40, the greatest hitter who ever walked down the street hit .254, almost 100 points below his career average. He couldn’t let it end like that. He came back for another season. He somehow hit .316 and somehow hit that home run his last time up.
Al Kaline hit .255 and .262 his final two years — the last entirely as a DH. Stan the Man hit .255/.325/.404 as a 42-year old; at 37, his career batting average was .340. it ended at .331. Mike Schmidt hit .203 with six home runs in 42 games his final year. Cal Ripken, after feats of endurance that boggled the mind, spent his final three years as a part-time player. In his last he hit .239/.276/.361.
The baseball warrior Jackie Robinson hit .266 his final two seasons and the Dodgers actually traded him to the hated Giants. Instead, he quit and became president of the Chock full O’Nuts company. At the end, Tony Gwynn could still hit, but he could not stay on the field — he played just 107 combined games his final two seasons and walked away. A 41-year-old Wade Boggs hit .301 in 90 games for the 93-loss Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Ernie Banks hit .193 as a 40-year-old and realized, painfully, that it was over.
Robin Yount hit .257/.330/.381 his final four seasons and said goodbye. The bat magician, Rod Carew, who had hit .300 for 15 straight seasons, failed to hit .300 as a 38-year-old (he hit .295). He came back at 39-year-old, hit even lower (.280) and gave in. Mickey Mantle stayed on those painful knees as long as he could — he hit .245 as a 35-year-old, came back with the hope of turning it around, and hit .237 and slugged sub-.400 for the only time in his career. Much of it was context. Mantle’s walks still made him very valuable and those were two years when pitching dominated the game. Still, after that .237 season he walked away.
Willie Mays, as we know, played another five seasons, and in the last he hit .211 for the Mets.
Paul Molitor, who seemed ageless, had an 86 OPS+ his final year. Dave Winfield hit .290, .271, .252 and .191 progressively his last four years. Ken Griffey got hit 600th homer, returned to Seattle, hit .214 and then tried to come back one more time to no avail (.184 in 33 games). Harmon Killebrew tried a season with the Royals. Tom Seaver tried a season with the Red Sox. Steve Carlton tried to hook up with the Giants, the White Sox, the Indians and the Twins. Ty Cobb played with the Philadelphia Athletics. Frank Robinson played for and managed the Cleveland Indians. Ron Santo spent a year playing for the crosstown White Sox. Manny Ramirez — who often showed signs of not even liking baseball — played five games for Tampa Bay and still seems to be trying to return.
You can go on like this for as long as it takes to read the Baseball Encyclopedia cover-to-cover. Baseball players — or football players, or basketball players, or hockey, or soccer or, heck, sportswriters or lawyers or recreational softballers or just about anyone else — cannot see the end coming. The body goes before the mind. Speed runs out before the heart. Skill expires before the will.
I think of Ali. Muhammad Ali was clearly fading fast as a boxer in the years after the Thrilla in Manilla. Ken Norton, who always gave Ali hard time, went 15 rounds with the champ. Then a relative journeyman — a Uruguayan fighter named Alfredo Evangelista — went 15 rounds also. Earnie Shavers hurt Ali several times in their 15-round fight. Then Ali fought a game but thoroughly inexperienced Gold Medalist named Leon Spinks. Before the Ali fight, Spinks had fought just seven professional fights — including a draw against the unimpressive Scott LeDoux — and it should have been an easy one for Ali. It was not. He was out of shape, looked slow, and Spinks kept throwing pinches. Spinks shocked everyone and won the title.
It was clear that Ali had little left as a fighter. Well, clear to everyone else. Ali had to win back his title, so he got in shape, beat Spinks in a boring but functional 15-round decision. And he retired with the title. He said he was done fighting.
Two years later, Ali came back to fight Larry Holmes. The word was he needed the money. Ali was 38-years old and long past his prime. But he lost a bunch of weight and looked pretty good as he entered the ring. He was always such a good talker that he convinced everyone — including himself, I suspect — that he could still be the Ali of old. Holmes destroyed him. It was awful to watch. Before the 11th round, Ali’s trainer and friend Angelo Dundee stopped the fight. Ali had not landed a solid punch on Holmes the entire fight.
It was over before that fight. It was certainly over afterward. But, even then, Ali had to fight one more time. His mind gave him a million reasons to try once more. He claimed that he had lost weight too fast for the Holmes fight. Medication had left him weak and sick. He had not prepared the way he KNEW he could prepare. The mind will come with a million pretenses to black out the realities of age. Ali just had to fight one more — and it might have been the saddest sporting event of the 20th Century. Ali fought Trevor Berbick in Nassau, with a cowbell someone found nearby used to end and begin rounds. Ali lost a 10-round decision that wasn’t close. Less than three years later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Ali’s life in so many ways is bigger, bolder, more controversial, more entertaining, more awe-inspiring, more maddening — he was just bigger than life. But you could argue he just went through a more dramatic version of the cycle every great athlete goes through. Brilliance. Decline. Denial. Resurgence. More denial. I don’t know if Derek Jeter has anything left. I suspect he’s probably at the end as a shortstop and a regular player — I just don’t think his body has enough spring or durability left — but what do I know? His 2012 season surprised me, and it would be a fantastic story if he could return as a productive baseball player.
But whenever the end comes for Jeter, you can be sure that others will see it before he does. Think of all he has accomplished in his amazing career. Think of all the doubters he silenced. Think of all the hurdles he overcame. Think of all the the times he was right about himself and others were wrong. You can expect Derek Jeter to come back with confidence, with certainty, with an intense belief that he will succeed again. Of course he will. It’s human nature.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:17 PM EDT
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times passes along the fantastic news that Vin Scully will return to the Dodgers’ broadcast booth for the 2015 season. It will be his 65th season calling Dodgers baseball.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote Tuesday afternoon that “sentiment among competing executives is unanimous” that the Red Sox will trade left-hander Jon Lester before Thursday’s July 31 deadline. And this news will only add to that thought.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:21 PM EDT
Watch as White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu slugs a two-run seventh-inning shot off new Tigers reliever Joakim Soria on Tuesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit …
Jul 29, 2014, 9:34 PM EDT
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman heard from a Rays-connected source Tuesday that the Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace left-hander David Price and the Cardinals and Dodgers are known to have interest.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
The Cubs made the curious decision to option reliever Neil Ramirez to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday despite his 0.96 ERA in 28 innings, but that option has now been voided and Ramirez has been transferred to the 15-day major league disabled list with a sore triceps.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:58 PM EDT
MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that right-hander Michael Pineda threw a successful simulated game on Tuesday afternoon in front of manager Joe Girardi and has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reported Monday that the Phillies have made ace left-hander Cole Hamels available ahead of Thursday’s July 31 trade deadline, but the asking price on him is apparently sky-high.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera is back with the Padres for Tuesday’s series-opener against the Cardinals after missing nearly four weeks with a left hamstring strain.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
No ballplayer wants to fly to Birmingham, Alabama during the season for a very, very good reason.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
A strained neck put Justin Morneau’s comeback season on hold, but the Rockies have activated the first baseman from the disabled list for tonight’s game against the Cubs.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT
And Bud Selig’s years-long effort to manage a quiet resolution of it is apparently a failure.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Maybe this happens all the time and we just don’t hear about it, but Red Sox manager John Farrell admitted just now that the team has Brandon Workman lined up to start Wednesday’s game in case scheduled starter Jon Lester is traded before then.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
In what could throw a wrench into the Phillies’ plans to trade Marlon Byrd before Thursday’s deadline, the 36-year-old outfielder is out of tonight’s lineup after fouling a ball off his foot yesterday.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
A big named ace is likely to change uniforms this week.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
But . . . I was told Wahoo outrage was nothing but liberal white guilt . . .
Jul 29, 2014, 2:19 PM EDT
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez’s throwing issues have gotten so bad–including an MLB-leading 21 of his 23 errors on throws–that Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports the team is starting to look into “the mental component to find the root of the problem.”
Jul 29, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
The Sox are in last place and are going nowhere. Time to deal starters?
Jul 29, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
He’s a braver man than I am. By that I mean Kershaw for going on Kimmel’s show.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:18 PM EDT
On the disabled list with a strained lat muscle, Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole tossed five shutout innings Monday in a minor-league rehab start at Triple-A.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
Brandon Morrow was one of the league’s best starters in 2012, but he’s been an injured mess since then, including a current disabled list stint for a torn tendon in his right index finger.
- Dodgers announce Vin Scully will return for 2015 season 4
- Jon Lester scratched Wednesday amid trade speculation 7
- Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace lefty David Price; Cardinals and Dodgers interested 27
- Phillies wanted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias from Dodgers for Cole Hamels 58
- Matt Cain is going to pay a visit to Dr. Andrews 4
- The Nationals and Orioles dispute over TV money is about to explode 78
- The Red Sox are expected to deal Jon Lester and the Pirates are a “dark horse” 36
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 49
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (201)
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (185)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (165)
- Must-click link: sexual depravity — and possibly rape — in the minor leagues (101)
- Ray Rice is awful, but let’s not pretend baseball has a great record on domestic violence (91)