The Times West Virginian


June 5, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Pirates can learn from Jeter’s story

MORGANTOWN — Much has been made over the past month about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ reluctance to promote their wunderkind outfielder Gregory Polanco from the Indianapolis Indians of the International League, where he seemingly is leading the league in everything except for broken bats.

In fact, it might have become a full scale fan revolt had not super sub Josh Harrison eased some of the pressure by moving out of the obscurity of life on the bench to produce like the reincarnation of Roberto Clemente in the outfield in recent days.

But Harrison is only a temporary fix, and the furor is sure to heat up again as soon as Harrison cools off, which leads us to something that great, learned philosopher from the last century, Lawrence Peter Berra, once said, muttering “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

And, it is.

A couple of pinstriped decades back, in fact, the New York Yankees like the Pirates were about to emerge back at the top of baseball, but had gotten off to a slow start. Down in the minor leagues was a player who everyone knew would someday be a star, a player they refused at the moment to promote to the major leagues.

His name was Derek Jeter.

At the time there was a sports writer covering the Yankees who was somewhat outspoken on the matter. You might even recognize his name, as it was mentioned in a biography entitled “Derek Jeter, Pride of the Yankees.”

This is the way the author Patrick Giles wrote it on the day in May the call finally went out for Jeter as starting shortstop Tony Fernandez went onto the disabled list with an injury:

“First, Jeter had a plane to catch to Seattle, where the Yankees were beginning a three-game visit fighting the Mariners. They had just lost a game to the Oakland A’s, managing one hit but no score. They had lost nine of their last 11 games. So far that season their wins had totaled an even dozen – and their losses, 14. Bergen Record sports writer Bob Hertzel was merciless but accurate assessing the team Derek Jeter was eagerly joining: ‘If it weren’t for bad news the Yankees would be making no news at all.’”

With Fernandez out, Jeter made his major league debut with a dreadful 0-for-5 while batting ninth in manager Buck Showalter’s lineup, giving him a sleepless night in Seattle. He played every day from May 29 through June 11 when he was returned to — get this — Indianapolis, then the Yankees’ Class AAA farm team.

He would bat .317 that final year in the minors, but as the season wore on the Yankees’ chances for the wild card spot – and there was only one in those days – was slipping away.

This mouthy Hertzel guy, went on to say a lot of things about the need to get Jeter back in September, many of them exactly the same kind of things you are reading about the Pirates’ Polanco situation today if you are following that soap opera in the Pittsburgh media.

“If Derek Jeter is the real goods — and there’s nothing to make you believe he is anything but — the time has come to promote him to the major leagues, stick him in the lineup and see if he can help the Yankees win the American League wild card berth that is rapidly slipping away,” he wrote.

“Anyone who has watched the Yankees sleepwalk their way through Boston and the West Coast knows they need a kick in the rear. Jeter can apply that kick with his youthful enthusiasm.”

Even the Yankee clubhouse was on edge by this point in the year, their leader, Don Mattingly, being quoted as saying:

“We have reached the danger zone. It’s got to turn, and it’s got to turn now.”

And so it was Jeter was recalled, although not as the star he would become. There were no private jets, no limos.

“A long trip,” Jeter assured those who were listening upon his arrival. “Norfolk to Dallas, three hours, then here, four more hours.”

And when he arrived Showalter called him aside for a chat.

“If you are going to be a star player, there’s no better place for you start than in the most difficult of situations. That is what you will face your entire career,” Showalter said.

As it was, though, Jeter did not play much after his recall, that Hertzel guy once referring to him as “the invisible Yankee”.

If he didn’t help with his bat and glove, that “youthful enthusiasm” that was written about had to have some affect as the Yankees won 21 of 27 games in September.

Can Polanco provide something similar for the Pirates?

Won’t know, unless they give him a chance, will we?

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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