Ageless Jeter worthy of MVP consideration
There can't be a conversation about the American League's Most Valuable Player Award without including Derek Jeter, and doesn't that make this whole season even better?
Jeter is leading the AL in hits and is second in batting average and fourth in runs. He batted .389 in April, and his average has fallen below .300 for just two days the entire season.
His defense at short has been terrific, as usual. Meanwhile, his Yankees have had at least a share of first place in the AL East for 93 straight days, and now with the stretch run upon us, Jeter is hitting .378 in September.
He's part of what appears to be a close race for the AL MVP Award. There's a case to be made for Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton as well.
Trout is especially interesting because he didn't come to the big leagues until April 28 but immediately ignited the Angels. They're 68-49 with him in the starting lineup, and he's leading the AL in batting average, runs and stolen bases. Trout is second in OPS, third in OBP and fifth in triples. He has also played a spectacular center field, and with the numbers so close, it might be what decides it.
Cabrera is right there, too, leading the AL in OPS and slugging and second in batting average, RBIs and hits. He's fourth in runs and home runs.
And there's Hamilton. Despite hitting .202 in June and July, he's leading the AL in home runs and RBIs and is second in runs and fourth in OPS. Also, the Rangers are leading the Major Leagues in runs and have been in first place in the AL West for all but two days. Their lead hasn't been less than three games since April 15.
The case for Jeter is this:
Doing his job at the top of the lineup spectacularly well.
Playing nice defense.
Being at his best when the pressure is cranked up the most, which is pretty much every day of the year with the Yankees.
Regardless of how it plays out, it's fun just having Jeter in the discussion. Scouts have marveled at the quickness of his bat and his ability to get hits on pitches in tough locations.
There was a time last season when it looked like Jeter's best days might be over, and no one wanted to see one of the all-time greats go out this way. He'd simply done too much and meant too much to the game.
If someone ranked every player the last 100 years in terms of winning, production and citizenship, that is, representing the game the right way, Derek Jeter might be No. 1. He's pretty much the poster boy for what those of us who love the game would like every player to be.
When he was hitting a pedestrian .260 midway through the 2011 season, it was easy to assume that this was the beginning of the end.
Jeter told us he was confident that he could still be productive and that he wasn't just staying around for the pursuit of 3,000 hits.
Turns out, he was right. He was forced onto the disabled list for three weeks with a strained calf. During that time, he returned to Tampa and worked with his old hitting coach, Gary Denbo.
He changed the mechanics of his swing, and in the 14 months since then, he has batted .326. At 38, he's as good as ever.
Jeter is one of the few players spoke of in reverent terms by almost everyone -- teammates, managers, front office personnel.
When tension was high in the Yankees' clubhouse after Saturday night's loss to the Orioles, Jeter smiled it about it all the next day.
"I don't sense any stress," he said. "I mean, we were upset last night, but you just show up and play the next game."
That's what Jeter has always done. Phil Hughes said it was easy to keep your cool even in the worst of times on the mound because of the example Jeter has set.
Andy Pettitte considers Jeter both a friend and a teammate.
"I mean, he's just the same every day," Pettitte said. "He's out there doing his job, getting hits, getting on base, leading us. He's just amazing."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.