BRONX BIAS STRIKES JETER
By Mike Vaccaro
November 22, 2006
MAYBE it's best that Derek Jeter get a preview of what's in store for him across the next 15 years. Maybe it's best that we get it on the record, from a sizable cross-section of the nation's baseball writers, exactly what his perception really is, what his national image really is.
This time, it was an MVP Award, one that he deserved, one that should have his name on it, one that was taken from him primarily because of the team he plays for and the city he plays in. The voters will tell you differently, but know this: If Derek Jeter had the season he had playing for the Minnesota Twins, and if Justin Morneau had the season he had playing for the Yankees, it would be Jeter who would be reserving space on his shelf for the MVP plaque.
But Jeter doesn't play for the Twins. He plays for the Yankees. He plays in New York City. He makes a lot of commercials, and he dates a lot of starlets, and he makes a lot of money, and if you think that doesn't count in the minds of the people who cast these votes, you're a greater believer in the purity of human nature than I am.
And here's the thing: This is only the warm-up. Just wait another 15 years or so, when it's time for the same assemblage of writers to size up Jeter's credentials as a Hall of Famer. Just wait, especially, when the arbiters of immortality decide whether Jeter's career merits the honor of a first-ballot selection, or whether they'll force him to endure a few years of consolation phone calls first.
Jeter has long been a source of endless speculation and endless fascination in the ongoing debate between we in New York who see him every day and the larger audience of Yankee-weary skeptics who've been convinced from day one that Jeter is solely a product of the New York hype machine.
Look, Morneau is more than a worthy candidate. Jeter may have outhit him by 23 points and had the better on-base percentage by 42 points, but the Twin had 20 more homers and 33 more RBIs, and his .559 slugging percentage dwarfed Jeter's .483. It isn't an outrage that Morneau won.
But this poll certainly is a commentary about the way Jeter lost. One voter, a shameless Chicago shill named Joe Cowley, actually listed Jeter sixth and then spent yesterday double-talking his explanation to anyone who would listen. Cowley didn't cost Jeter the MVP. No one voter robbed Jeter the way Ted Williams was robbed in 1947, when some long-forgotten Midwestern bum kept Williams off his ballot entirely and Williams wound up losing the vote to Joe DiMaggio by a single point.
Was Jeter hurt by the fact that, as an "intangibles" player and as a captain, that he failed to publicly support Alex Rodriguez during his most embattled year? It would be a shame if he were, but that's certainly possible. Was he hurt by the fact that, as an "intangibles" player, he was steamrolled by voters who always favor gaudy numbers? That's certainly possible, too.
What's hard to dispute is this: the overwhelming perception of the Yankees is that they are not a team that needs an "intangibles" guy, even if their lack of recent championships is a direct tie to a growing dearth of intangibles guys.
Alex Rodriguez won the MVP last year in what became a controversial duel with David Ortiz, but the truth is Rodriguez had MVP-level numbers that allowed voters to assuage their inherent anti-Yankee bents.
He was the best player having the best year. In the end, that mattered most.
Jeter didn't have those numbers. He'll never have those numbers. And it's not likely he's ever again going to have a year like this one when his singular presence in the Yankee lineup - during a year when the Yankees made the '06 football Giants look strong and robust and healthy by comparison - is what kept them from a freefall while half the batting order nursed injuries.
He should have won. He didn't. Now save your breath and wait, because in 15 years or so, you'll be hearing exactly the same arguments from exactly the same precincts. It's best to get used to it early. For Jeter and for his army of fans.