Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Is A-Rod Really “Clutch” Now?

Did Johnny Damon give the Yankees their 27th title with an alert baserunning play? Sure, CC and A-Rod and Teixeira and Posada and even Brad Lidge helped a little bit, but the Damon play might be the one to have secured the hardware for the Stanks. We’ll never know how Lidge would have pitching if Damon was on second base instead of third—when, stealing second base, he simply continued to a third base unoccupied because of the “Teixeira shift”—and whether the series would have actually been any different because of it. But if this series ends as we all think it’s going to end, this is the moment from which we can create stories. The Yankees seeing an opportunity and, after nine long years, taking it.

The series not over, but it’s close. For the Phillies to win, they’ll need something of a repeat performance from Cliff Lee, for Pedro Martinez to avoid for a second time the possibility of Yankee onslaught at the new Stadium, and for Cole Hamels to finally show up for the postseason. The Yankees will have to concurrently implode, with A.J. Burnett turning in one of his vintage Fenway performances, Andy Pettitte turning in one of his vintage Game 6 performances, and CC turning in one of his vintage playoff performances. Even then, it might not be enough. The ball has been bouncing against the Yankees for nine years. At some point, they have to get the breaks. On top of that, they have the better team. It’s not impossible for the Phillies to catch up, but it’s unlikely. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

It probably didn’t escape anyone’s notice that the guy who got the game winning hit last night was A-Rod, a guy who was excoriated for not being “clutch” so many times that he had a pro bono defense league among “sabermetricians” who otherwise hated him. They’d cite small playoff sample sizes, as if there was any excuse for the highest-paid baseball being so bad he was dropped from the lineup in the 2006 ALDS against Detroit. Michael Schur, aka Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan, has been Tweeting comparison stats all postseason that usually show A-Rod’s numbers to be comparable to his former buddy Derek Jeter. That’s well and dandy, but those numbers include this year’s playoffs; without this year’s explosion, A-Rod’s numbers are pedestrian or worse. Fans who pointed out that A-Rod failed in the clutch were simply pointing out the obvious.

Now that he’s turned it around, Will Leitch says “R.I.P, A-Rod Isn’t Clutch Meme.” First of all, I’m loathe to discuss any meme not involving Keyboard Cat. Second of all, calling it a “meme” implies it’s something silly and frivolous (It wasn’t. He hadn’t hit in the playoffs. It was true. God forbid someone watch something as dreadfully important as baseball and say the most obvious thing to pop into their heads). Third, the point Leitch, Schur and others make isn’t that anyone is clutch: players are simply good or they’re not. It’s a fair point. But A-Rod’s emergence now doesn’t obscure his very real failures in the past, the same way Barry Bonds’ monster 2002 postseason doesn’t obscure his performances in years prior. The difference is that A-Rod will probably win this year, and to a great many people, that will be all that matters. He’ll have his title. If we really want to speak truth to power, let’s not forget why the “meme” was started now that it’s dead.

Of course, as John Elway shows, winning once might be all that matters, and A-Rod is finally poised to do just that.

Derek Jeter and the Hank Aaron Award

Tonight, Derek Jeter received the Hank Aaron award for the “top offensive player” in the American League. Derek Jeter is a great baseball player. He batted .334 this season, with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. If you’re into OBP and slugging percentage, he rocked .406 (not bad!) and .465 (pretty good!). Also, his team won 103 games. That’s excellent!

He was not, however, the best offensive player in the American League.

Joe Mauer, the catcher for the Minnesota Twins, led the American League in batting average. He hit .365. (That’s excellent!) If you like OBP, he got on base at a .444 clip (Wow!), also to lead the AL. And slugging? His .587 clip beat all comers (Golly!). Not only that, he put together impressive numbers for homers (28) and RBI (96). Notice what all these numbers have in common? No, not that they’re awesome (But they are!). They’re all better than Jeter’s.

Every. Single. One of them.

Let that sink in for a second. This award isn’t like the MVP, the “valuable” condition of which lends itself to interpretation. But maybe Dude X made the clubhouse better! No; this award is for offense. Nor is it like the Hall of Fame, which encourages voters to include character-related factors in the vote. Albert Belle was a poophead, and I’m not going to vote for him! None of that here. You could kick your dog in public and you’d still be eligible for this trophy. It’s all about how offensive you are.

(Chase Utley just hit a home run; huzzah!)

Before I got on a tear here, one more time: Jeter is a great baseball player. But he’s not the offensive player Joe Mauer is. Nor is he the defensive player, but that’s not important at the moment… unless it is. Mauer will win the MVP award; the Twins sneaking into the playoffs basically clinched that. Maybe the voters wanted to recognize Jeter somehow, and, realizing that his long-suffering efforts to win an MVP (When will he be recognized for his contributions? It’s like no one ever talks about him) were going to fall short yet again, decided to give him a lesser trophy. Well I’ve got bad news: giving out hardware to those who don’t deserve it devalues the hardware itself, the name associated with it, and the game they’re playing. There are times when legitimate disagreements can be had about a hitter’s value; this is not one of them. By giving Jeter an award he did not earn, the voters have devalued the award. Derek Jeter’s greatness is secure without changing the rules for him. Let’s let the story be the story, and not try to write a new one to serve our own ends.*

* And as we, the fans, voted on this, I’m talking to you.