Up next, one of my favorite Pinch Hitter posts of all time. I read through this post while sitting in a coffee shop, and I laughed out loud twice. I never realized Derek Jeter being drafted by the Yankees had such a significant impact on Paul O’Neill and Halle Berry!
The author of this post has been here before. Jesse Ghiorzi grew up in Westchester and has lived in Ohio most of the past decade, having moved to the middle of the country to attend college in 2002. He’s 27 years old and works as a PR director at a racetrack. Last summer, he managed to score tickets to the Yankees series at Wrigley Field, where he sat in the infamous Bartman seats. Here’s his post. Enjoy!
Derek Jeter was picked 6th in the 1992 draft. Five teams passed on him. I’ll examine how baseball history would have changed if one of those teams picked Jeter before the Yankees got their chance. This is a tricky proposition, but one I am going to imagine, liberally deciding what would/could happen to the teams who “drafted” Jeter, as well as how that would have affected the Yankees.
Jeter makes his Lone Star state debut on schedule in 1996 and through the late ’90s — with Craig Biggio and Jeter batting ahead of Jeff Bagwell — the Astros get over the hump from good to great, making the World Series a couple of times during Lima Time and remain contenders when Roy Oswalt is controlling the mound. Jeter becomes the first baseball player in Texas history to cast a longer shadow than the Cowboy’s QB. After remaining in contention through the decade, the Astros new owners do not feel the need to change leagues and remain in the NL Central in 2013, while the Brewers head back to the American League.
The Tribe draft Jeter second overall, but with Omar Vizquel at short — and considering Jeter’s 56-error 1993 season in A-ball — Jeter is moved to second base and makes his debut after Carlos Baerga is traded at the 1996 deadline. With a few months and some playoff at-bats under his belt, Jeter takes off in 1997. The Indians make the World Series, and with #2 flexing his October muscle, they go on to defeat the Marlins, changing the course of Cleveland sports history. With a title in 1997, Clevelanders are relaxed and confident. They make the World Series, beating the Yankees in the ALCS, but lose to the Padres. Fast forward 13 years, and without the monumental pressure of bringing a title to town that’s been tortured since before he was born, LeBron James is more comfortable in C-Town and keeps his talents on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Jeter, without access to the stars and singers that call New York home, settles down by marrying Cleveland native Halle Berry after meeting her through ex-husband David Justice.
Jeter joins the Expos as Pedro Martinez starts coming into his own, forging a relationship between the two would-be enemies that creates an exciting atmosphere for players and fans alike. With some hope for the future and a core of Vladmir Guerrero, Cliff Floyd and Jeter, Pedro does not get moved to Boston and remains in Cy Young consideration every year. The Braves still rule the roost in the East, so the Expos do not make many playoff appearances, but they contend enough to keep the seats filled and the club is not moved to D.C.
Baltimore, in need of a replacement for Cal Ripken, found Jeter was ready for the Show just when it was time to move Ripken about 40 feet to his right. With Cal’s blessing, the city adopts Jeter as its heir to the throne, and the best infield in baseball (Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Jeter and Ripken) power into the postseason in 1996. Jeffrey Maier still grabs Jeter’s HR, only this time it’s over Paul O’Neill’s head. O’Neill flips out worse than Tony Tarasco and pre-enacts a Malice at the Palace situation, earning baseball’s first 162-game suspension. The O’s go on to the World Series that year and win it. Alas, even Jeter is not enough to stop the Birds from being AL East also-rans for most of the next dozen seasons.
With Jeter ready to slide in at SS in 1996, the Reds move reigning 1995 NL MVP and hometown hero Barry Larkin to the Braves at the deadline, with Tom Glavine, David Justice (injury prone at the time) and a young Jermaine Dye moving to the Queen City. Cincinnati, on the strength of adding an ace, a top OF in his prime and a young bat, win the NL Central and a revenge-filled NLCS over Atlanta, only to lose in the World Series. However, with Dye and Jeter getting better each year, and Glavine leading the staff, the Reds compete for pennants through the early 2000s.
Looking for a shortstop, New York likely takes one of the next two to go off the board, Preston Wilson or Michael Tucker (though they played OF in the Bigs, both were drafted as shortstops). Wilson takes some time to get to the big-league club, not appearing until 1999 and making the transition to OF. With a major hole still at shortstop and little on the free agent market, the Yankees never become the team we know them as the past 15 years, with just one title in 1998 when, even without Jeter, the team still wins 106 games. The Dynasty never happens, the Mets win it all in 2000, Steinbrenner overreacts and signs Darren Dreifort and Mike Hampton to contracts totaling $176 million, handicapping the Pinstripes for years. Without a key member of the Core Four leading them to a dozen division crowns and several pennants and championships, the Yankees become the 2000s Knicks and Rangers of the MLB, overspending on old talent and not even sniffing the playoffs most years.
Thank God they drafted Derek Jeter.
*Fun fact: Derek Jeter has 12 All-Star appearances, the rest of the first rounders in 1992 combine for only 10. Jason Kendall three times, Johnny Damon and Charles Johnson twice, Preston Wilson, Jeffrey Hammonds(!!) and Phil Nevin once each.
Associated Press photo