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Signing of the Outlier Jeter poses problems ...


Derek Jeter is one of those interesting stories that captivate the public’s attention and often wind up mixing objective reality with lore and legend so liberally that it’s hard to tell one from the other.

I suppose that by the time this winds up in SCD and in somebody’s mailbox, the soap opera surrounding his signing could be finished, but out of respect for the memory of the dear, departed Boss, the Yankees brass ought to keep this thing percolating on the back pages of the Daily News and the Post for as long as feasible. Or at least until they pull the trigger on Cliff Lee.

I just finished reading the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (2008), part of his best-selling trifecta that also included The Tipping Point (2000) and Blink (2205). I risk doing harm to his remarkable tour de force by trying to synthesize Outliers in a couple of sentences, but certainly one of the principal ideas put forth is that extraordinarily successful individuals often have help along the way that typically gets ignored or at least discounted as we gleefully celebrate our allegedly singular “rugged individualism.”

Jeter, who had the good fortune to arrive in the Bronx at a perfect juncture that featured the maturation and peak of a number of top stars, was a beneficiary of a birth date that was exquisitely timed to coincide with the Yankees’ dominance just as he was a major contributor to that on-field excellence, maybe even the major contributor.

Baseball and indeed virtually any sport are replete with stories of great talents who happened to come along at simply inefficient or even downright unlucky moments that in many cases either retarded the complete flowering of potentially superlative talents or in the worst instances torpedoed the career entirely.

Just imagine: Derek Jeter has played baseball on MLB’s grandest stage for 16 seasons and been in the postseason 14 times over that span. While conceding that his role in all that regular-season and postseason success was key, it’s also important to remember that legendary cadre of MLB Hall of Famers who had the lesser fortune of performing with less-talented casts and – in the most egregious cases – never got to have so much as a single October swing.

The October heroics that Jeter has engineered have arguably been as amazing as what he did in those 16 seasons, but you can’t shake the feeling that both of those ledgers could be very nearly at their apex. Seventy-four hits and he’s at 3,000, and there’s very little precedent for players performing after age 36 at anything near what they did before they reached their mid-30’s.

And so the Yankees are left with a thorny problem in dealing with their favorite Outlier: Jeter must be re-signed – the idea of a 3,000th hit celebration taking place in a different jersey is way past ludicrous – but their guy probably can’t be realistically pursued by other teams because of the combination of financial considerations, his advanced age and the subpar (for Jeter) numbers that he put up in 2010.

That would seem to offer all of the elements needed to keep Derek’s mug gracing the back cover of those two aforementioned newspapers.

P.S. – Just to prove that good fortune doesn’t always shine without interruption even for the most advantaged of Outliers, it could be noted that the .314 lifetime average hitter has had seven seasons of more than 200 hits and batted above .330 four times and yet has never won a batting title.

In an age when the home run is revered and the shame and embarrassment of a strikeout diminished in equal proportions, such consistency would have typically led to at least a couple of crowns. Unless you happen to run headfirst into a couple of other Outliers named Garciaparra and Suzuki.


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