It’s heresy to say it, but with the addition of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees’ star-studded lineup, Derek Jeter should move to second base.
As the Yanks prepare for the season opener in just a few days, it should be clear why this move ought to be made: A-Rod is the better defensive shortstop, and Mr. Jeter’s arm has never completely healed from last season’s shoulder injury. Of course, these arguments are not likely to persuade the Yankee captain that he should abdicate his position.
One argument that should appeal to Mr. Jeter, however, is a chance at history. He already has just about anything a professional ballplayer could ever want. If he puts up nine more seasons like the nine he has already posted, he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
But by moving to second base, he would facilitate the greatest double-play combination ever. No team’s infield has even been patrolled by two megastars like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan and Davey Concepcion monopolized the Gold Glove awards from 1974-77. But of the two, only Mr. Morgan was an offensive threat. The St. Louis Cardinals boasted a succession of Hall of Fame second basemen-Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch and Red Schoendienst-but the team never had a superstar shortstop alongside them. Ernie Banks and Cal Ripken proved that shortstops could be power hitters, but neither one had an equally offensive-minded counterpart at second during their careers.
Four double-play combinations are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese are the most obvious, but neither player was the home-run threat that A-Rod or even Mr. Jeter is.
Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio fueled the “go-go” White Sox from 1950 to 1956, capturing 12 Gold Gloves between them. But like Robinson and Reese, they hit like infielders of that era. Mr. Jeter and A-Rod already have more R.B.I.’s combined than Aparicio and Fox; with 15 more R.B.I.’s, they’ll surpass the Dodger duo as well.
The best offensive double-play combination was surely Bobby Doerr and Joe Cronin, who overlapped in Boston from 1937 to 1944. Cronin hit .301 and Doerr .288, and they combined for 2,671 R.B.I.’s over their careers. They also hit 393 home runs. Doerr and Cronin played in the era before Gold Gloves were awarded, but Doerr set the record for consecutive chances (414) without an error, and five times led American League second-basemen in double plays.
Finally, there’s the 1902-12 Chicago Cubs combination of Joe Tinker and Johnnie Evers. They remain the most famous double-play combination in baseball history, thanks to Franklin Adams’ 1910 poem, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”: “These are the saddest of possible words: ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’” I doubt that anybody will be writing poetry about the current Yankee infield, even if a change was made up the middle: A-Rod to Jeter to Giambi just doesn’t have the same ring.
Tinker and Evers played in the dead-ball era, when sportswriters didn’t record runs batted in, so their offensive statistics don’t measure up to players of later generations. A-Rod averages more homers in a single season than Tinker and Evers had in their careers, combined.
Moving to second base would hardly be a demotion for Mr. Jeter. Sure, every Little League team puts its best player at shortstop, but there is no shortage of Major League teams whose glue came from second base.
Joe Morgan and Bobby Doerr are the most obvious examples. For a perspective closer to home, consider that from 1976 to 1988, the Yankees’ Willie Randolph played along a succession of shortstops, ranging from Sandy Alomar to Paul Zuvella, winning four pennants and two World Series. Or that, from 1926 to 1937, it was second baseman Tony Lazzeri, not shortstop Frank Crosetti, who put up the better numbers for those legendary Yankee teams.
While he’s studying Yankee history, Mr. Jeter might consider the example of legendary catcher Yogi Berra, who played on 14 pennant winners and 10 World Series champions. A three-time American League M.V.P. and a perennial all-star, Mr. Berra might have balked at switching positions as he got older. But instead, he moved to the outfield, relinquishing the catching duties to the younger Elston Howard in 1960.
Yogi proved himself the ultimate team player, and he has the rings to show for it. As a result of his unselfishness, the Yankees went on to win four more pennants and two more World Series championships.
Throughout his career, Mr. Jeter has always put the team before himself. Moving to second is something he would have done headfirst a few years ago. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be just as eager today.
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