Sep 13, 2013, 10:33 AM EST
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.
Dec 4, 2013, 4:16 PM EST
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski was initially coy last week when asked if Miguel Cabrera would be moving from third base to first base following the Prince Fielder trade, but today he admitted that’s the plan. No surprise, certainly, as Cabrera was banged up physically a lot this year and has long been stretched defensively…
Dec 4, 2013, 3:45 PM EST
Joe Nathan‘s deal with the Tigers is now official and it’s a two-year contract believed to be worth $20 million with a team option for 2016, when the closer will be 41 years old. Nathan made the right call to turn down his $9 million player option with the Rangers, correctly predicting that he could…
Dec 4, 2013, 2:14 PM EST
As a follow-up to yesterday’s reports that the Mariners were making a serious run at Robinson Cano, now Kevin Kernan of the New York Post reports that the free agent second baseman and his agent met with the Mariners in Seattle. Kernan’s source told him “the meeting went very well.” There’s also been some recent…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:47 AM EST
Mark Trumbo has been linked to various teams in trade rumors, but yesterday Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto tried to squash that speculation by telling Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times: I wouldn’t even say we’re willing to trade Mark. We haven’t been out there shopping Trumbo. At the end of the day, our…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:19 AM EST
They couldn’t agree to a contract before Monday night’s deadline, so the Diamondbacks non-tendered Daniel Hudson, but Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that the two sides are close to hammering out a new deal for him to stick around. Hudson is recovering from a pair of Tommy John elbow surgeries and figures to…
Dec 4, 2013, 10:47 AM EST
These huge, later-career deals never turn out great. The best you can hope for when you sign a 30-something baseball player to a hugely expensive long-term deal is that he will have a couple of good years on the front end to boost up his value, have a nice rebound year somewhere in the middle,…
Dec 4, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
For any Reds fans holding out hope that Shin-Soo Choo will wind up back in Cincinnati, general manager Walt Jocketty has some discouraging news: We have not had any discussions in a couple of weeks. I had one conversation with [agent Scott] Boras a couple of weeks ago. We haven’t done anything since then because…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:44 AM EST
Paul Konerko pondered retirement following the worst season of his career, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the 37-year-old will return to the White Sox for another go-around. Konerko hit just .244 with 12 homers and a .669 OPS in 126 games this year and the White Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:15 AM EST
Philadelphia has a new backup catcher, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the Phillies have signed 36-year-old Wil Nieves after trading Erik Kratz for Brad Lincoln yesterday. Nieves spent this year with the Diamondbacks, backing up Miguel Montero and hitting .297 with one homer and a .690 OPS in 71 games for the second-highest…
Dec 4, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson met with Curtis Granderson on Sunday and Adam Rubin of ESPN New York was told by a source that talks between the two sides “intensified” late Tuesday. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News hears that nothing is imminent, but that there’s increasing optimism that the Mets will land him.…
Dec 4, 2013, 7:35 AM EST
After reportedly agreeing to terms on a seven-year, $153 million contract with Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankees are close to securing some Robinson Cano insurance. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees are on the verge of signing Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract worth between $2.75-$3 million. Of course, the Yankees…
Dec 3, 2013, 11:17 PM EST
A’s GM Billy Beane is not done making moves. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted Tuesday evening that Oakland is “likely to deal” left-hander Brett Anderson at next week’s Winter Meetings and lists the Yankees among the teams showing trade interest. The Blue Jays, Royals, Indians, Twins and Mariners are also thought to be in…
Dec 3, 2013, 10:25 PM EST
A minor trade in among all these high-profile deals, via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki: Phillies have acquired RHP Brad Lincoln from Blue Jays in exchange for catcher Erik Kratz and LHP Rob Rasmussen. — Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) December 4, 2013 Lincoln was out of minor league options and the Blue Jays are loaded with relievers. The…
Dec 3, 2013, 9:48 PM EST
This ultra-active day on the hot stove continues. According to beat writer Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Rockies are “closing in on” a two-year contract with free agent first baseman Justin Morneau. No word yet on the financial terms. Morneau struggled mightily throughout the 2013 season, batting .259 with a .741 OPS in…
Dec 3, 2013, 9:24 PM EST
The Yankees are betting big that Jacoby Ellsbury will age well in his thirties. They’re betting big that he’s not injury-prone and that his two season-ruining injuries were flukes. They’re betting big that his power will come back with Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right serving as such a tempting target. They’re betting big that…
Dec 3, 2013, 8:34 PM EST
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman was the first to mention the possibility and now Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News has the deal confirmed. The Yankees have officially reached agreement on a seven-year contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The total value of the deal will exceed the seven-year, $142 million pact that…
Dec 3, 2013, 7:57 PM EST
Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reports that free agent slugger Corey Hart was cleared by a doctor on Tuesday afternoon to resume all baseball activities, mercifully bringing to a close his more-than-year-long recovery from both left and right knee surgeries. Hart can now begin showcasing himself to interested teams. The Red Sox, Giants, Rays and Rockies…
Dec 3, 2013, 7:03 PM EST
As first reported by Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami has signed free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million contract. The deal is only pending a physical. Salty drew serious interest from the Twins, Rangers, Rockies and Blue Jays before settling Tuesday with the Fish. He’ll take over…
Dec 3, 2013, 6:11 PM EST
That’s what ESPN’s Buster Olney is hearing from opposing teams … Other teams becoming convinced that Carlos Beltran is going to land with the Royals, on a deal of 3/$48 million. — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 3, 2013 Other reporters have confirmed that there is indeed a three-year, $48 million contract offer on the table…
Dec 3, 2013, 5:25 PM EST
Trade rumors have been swirling around Dexter Fowler for a while now and the Rockies have sent the center fielder to the Astros in exchange for right-hander Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes. Fowler is 27 years old with two seasons remaining before free agency and the Astros’ payroll is so low that the fact…
- Report: Talks between the Mets and Curtis Granderson have “intensified” 28
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury 152
- Marlins sign free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to three-year, $21 million contract 42
- Carlos Beltran likely to land with the Royals? 16
- Rockies trade Dexter Fowler to Astros for Jordan Lyles 24
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (152)
- My imaginary Hall of Fame ballot (89)
- When will the Yankees regret the Jacoby Ellsbury contract? (80)
- Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury signing to pay big dividends… for now (74)
- Robinson Cano says he never asked for $300 million (69)