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.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Bad news for Royals fans. And for Luke Hochevar, of course: Hochevar, the 30-year-old former No. 1 overall pick, felt a twinge in his elbow on Monday. On Tuesday, he felt soreness in the joint, and an MRI revealed his condition, which also includes strained muscles around the elbow. On Thursday, he was scheduled to…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Because of course he is: In Jeter’s retirement call, Hal Steinbrenner said he said, “I know everybody says this, but I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life.” — Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) March 7, 2014 Guess that means Brendan Ryan isn’t going to get as much playing time as he hoped.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
Brad Penny‘s comeback attempt didn’t last very long, as the Royals just released the 35-year-old right-hander. Penny didn’t pitch in the majors at all last season and hasn’t been effective since 2010, when he made nine good starts before getting hurt. Since then he has a 5.41 ERA in 210 innings and Penny got knocked…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
FORT MYERS — I have seen the future of spring training complexes, and its name is Jet Blue Park. Or maybe it’s not the future, because frankly, I’m not sure who else is going to shell out the kind of dough this place likely cost besides big money teams like the Red Sox (or the…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
By now, most baseball fans know the story of Tommy John surgery. In 1974, John — a solid pitcher for a decade — blew out his elbow while pitching for Los Angeles against the Montreal Expos. “Blew out his elbow” is not a medical term, of course, but there was no need for medical terms…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
A whole lot of people said a whole lot of good things about the Nationals’ trade to acquire Doug Fister from the Tigers, but now there’s this: Fister was scratched from today’s scheduled start and sent for an MRI exam after complaining of elbow soreness. No structural damage was found during the MRI exam and…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer checks in with an update on Carlos Santana‘s progress trying to transition from catcher to third base and … well, it ain’t going perfectly: Right now, Lonnie Chisenhall and every other third basemen in camp look better than Santana when it comes to defense. No.1 Santana hasn’t gotten…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Mariners third base coach John Stearns was expected to miss the early part of the season after undergoing hiatal hernia surgery last week, but instead he’s decided to step down from the job altogether. Stearns explained that he felt it would be unfair to the players and coaching staff to reclaim the position in mid-April…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:59 AM EST
A friend of mine once said that this profession is filled to the brim with unrealistic mother[expletives]. Mother[expletives] who thought their [expletive] would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t. Exhibit A, Manny Ramirez, who said this to Enrique Rojas of…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:42 AM EST
Just about every ballpark you go to plays that Blake Shelton song, “Boys ’round here” during warmups or batting practice: Yeah the boys ’round here Drinking that ice cold beer Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks Runnin’ them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust The boys ’round here Sending up a prayer to the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:49 AM EST
CC Sabathia has a new trick in his bag: Andy Pettitte did more than simply watch CC Sabathia‘s bullpen session on Monday. The guest instructor actively instructed, primarily helping to teach Sabathia a cut fastball, something the Yankees’ ace hopes to add to his repertoire this season. “He was showing me a grip with the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:12 AM EST
FORT MYERS — A day after we learned of the stink the Marlins are raising about the Red Sox not bringing a sufficient number of major leaguers on their long road trip to Jupiter, the Braves are traveling here to Fort Myers to face Boston. Here’s who is making the trip: #Braves travel roster for…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:25 AM EST
You’ve probably read about Hank the Dog, the Brewers’ unexpected spring training mascot who showed up as a stray at their camp in Maryvale. He’s been a big hit with the team and its fans, even racing in the sausage races last week while wearing a hot dog costume which, holy crap, is the cutest…
Mar 6, 2014, 11:28 PM EST
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has hired Adam Katz and Andy Mota of Wasserman Media Group as his new agents. He was previously represented by Jaime Torres. Puig signed a six-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers in June of 2012 and remains under contract through 2018, so there’s no…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:31 PM EST
Sad news to pass along this evening, as Tommy John surgery pioneer Dr. Frank Jobe has passed away at the age of 88. Jobe worked for the Dodgers for 50 years and is best known for performing the first-ever unlar collateral ligament reconstructive elbow surgery on left-handed pitcher Tommy John on September 25, 1974. While…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:20 PM EST
It was originally thought that Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin would be lost for 2-3 months after he suffered a torn left biceps tendon while making a diving catch Sunday, but there’s a chance he could be back sooner. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said that Maybin opted against surgery…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Troubling news for the Angels this evening, as Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that right-hander Dane De La Rosa has left Angels camp to undergo an MRI on his right forearm. De La Rosa was hit hard in today’s Cactus League game against the Dodgers before he was pulled due to right forearm tightness. Gonzalez…
Mar 6, 2014, 8:20 PM EST
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? You decide. Baseball fans were provided with a heaping slice of awesomeness in this afternoon’s Cactus League matchup between the Dodgers and Angels, as Mike Trout‘s attempt at an inside-the-park home run was dashed thanks in part to a throw from Yasiel Puig. In the bottom…
Mar 6, 2014, 7:11 PM EST
Earlier this week, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson named left-hander Patrick Corbin and right-hander Trevor Cahill as his starters for the upcoming two-game season opening series in Australia from March 22-23. The Dodgers have yet to make an official announcement on their starters for the series, but Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes that things are starting…
Mar 6, 2014, 6:09 PM EST
Perhaps Ervin Santana‘s frustration is beginning to boil over as he remains unsigned with the start of the regular season just weeks away. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has an interesting new wrinkle on his situation: Sources: Free-agent RHP Ervin Santana considering a change of agents. Currently represented by Bean Stringfellow of Proformance.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal)…
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