If you’re foolish enough to follow me on Twitter, first, I apologize for nothing, and second, you might have noticed I have two go-to recurring talking points regarding Red Sox history.
Candidly, I believe only one of them to be true.
Which one? Well, ol’ Butch, bless his hustling ‘Bama soul, made 43 errors and finished with an .899 fielding percentage for the ’78 Red Sox.
He ended his career with minus-0.1 Wins Over Replacement. I’m not even sure that’s supposed to be plural.
Nomar was better than Jeter.
What’s that? No, I’m not already cracking up in quarantine. Well, at least not for that reason. Nomar’s superiority is right there amid all the other glorious truths and confirmations on baseball-reference.com.
Consider the irrefutable evidence. From 1997-2003, Nomar put up a .325/.372/.557 slash line, with a .929 OPS and 135 adjusted OPS.
Jeter? He was pretty good, too: .319/.393/.467, with an .860 OPS and 124 adjusted OPS. Just not Nomar-good.
During that seven-year stretch, Nomar delivered 270 doubles, 169 homers, and 653 RBIs.
In the same span, Jeter gave the Yankees a fine percentage of Nomar’s production: 210 doubles, 117 homers, 530 RBIs. Jeter even had more hits, to 1,351 to 1,210.
Terrific ballplayer, that Jetes. But I think we’d all agree Nomar had to do more heavy lifting. (That’s not a reference to a certain Sports illustrated cover.)
Jeter hit second on one of the most well-balanced and star-studded teams in baseball history.
Nomar hit third on Red Sox playoff teams that too often felt like him and Pedro Martinez against the world, or at least against the Evil Empire.
Nomar was better.
Did he last as long as Jeter? Was his career as thorough?
Well, no, obviously. Do I have to explain everything around here? Sheesh.
Injuries battered Nomar’s body and rapidly eroded his skills, and he retired in 2009, never having received a Most Valuable Player vote after 2003. The true greats know when it’s time to go. It was time. I mean, do you even remember him with the Oakland A’s?
Jeter played through 2014, piling up 3,415 hits (approximately 2,141 of which were inside-out singles to right field) and flashing his two-step range at shortstop until the end. He’d still be standing there, a breathing Yankee Stadium monument, if Brian Cashman would have allowed for it.
But at the height of their respective powers in their 20s, which coincided with the peak of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry?
Jeter: Excellent, but no Nomar.
Now that I’ve proven this beyond a doubt – I’ll pause for your applause here — you can imagine my confusion when a press release arrived last week from the Topps baseball card company touting an unprecedented partnership with … Jeter.
Here’s part of the release: Since the 1950s, Topps has worked closely with MLB players to showcase their talents and personalities in compelling and innovative ways, offering fans of all ages a unique view and connection to the game. … Jeter will collaborate with Topps in many new ways across its physical, digital and e-commerce products. This unique partnership will go beyond Topps’ product offerings, however, as Jeter will be heavily involved in the creative process.
Now, let me say I love Topps, and you should too. I’ve collected baseball cards off and on – mostly on – since I was 8 years old in ’78 and really did believe Butch Hobson was the best third baseman in Red Sox history.
During these social distancing days, my wife has noticed that the nickels and dimes aren’t departing our checking account as rapidly as usual. She does not need to know this, so keep yer fat yaps shut, but part of the reason is that all trips to Target in which a pack or five or a box of Topps’ Archive and Heritage products are acquired have been eliminated. The withdrawal is real.
Topps is an American treasure. Which makes this partnering-with-Jeter thing all the more egregious.
I had to know more, so I reached out through a public relations liaison to Emily Kless, Topps’ communications manager.
I had two questions for her:
- How dare you?
- A partnership with Nomar, who was better, must be imminent, right? Perhaps a full set commemorating every one of the rockets he hit in 2000, when he hit .372 and won his second straight batting title?
Kless was as polite as she was prepared (very), which was both expected and disarming. I suspect she was made aware of my intentions.
She laughed at my Nomar suggestion, but rest assured, with me, not at me. I have decades of experience in telling the difference.
“Timing wise, it’s Jeter’s Hall of Fame election year, so what better time to look back on his career and to be able to honor and commemorate some of those just iconic, iconic moments?’’ she said.
Because I’m classy, I resist mentioning that Jeter wasn’t even a unanimous selection to Cooperstown and is probably humiliated about the whole thing. It’s a credit to him that he’s not holed up, sad and pouting, in a darkened back room of that mansion he’s renting to Tom Brady. Poor fella.
Kless continues, emphasizing the everlasting appeal – at least in Boston and New York — of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
“A lot of these moments in Jeter’s career that come to life through these Topps trading cards now are because of the Red Sox, and that’s what makes some of them so special to him and makes them so great for baseball fans and collectors alike,’’ she says.
She mentions that Jeter’s partnership commences with a series of career-retrospective cards. The first one was available via its Topps Now initiative on May 2.
I do not say this in my out-loud voice, but immediately presume this retrospective will be thorough and will include a card of him trying to box out A-Rod from being on the top step of the dugout, a card of him giving the cold shoulder to Ken Huckaby, and perhaps one of him getting a foot rub from Tim McCarver before a Fox World Series broadcast.
“You know, it’s funny,’’ said Kless, “We were speaking with Jeter about these moments a couple of weeks ago, and one of the moments we talked about was that diving-into-the-stands play [against the Red Sox in 2004]. One of the first things he said was what makes it so special was the opponent.”
Typical Jeter, not even acknowledging that Pokey Reese made a similar but superior catch that night, and did not require the diving-into-the-stands histrionics.
(I’m not sure what Nomar was up to that night. I’ll look it up and get back to you.)
Anyway, Topps: How about that card set for Nomar, who was better? Yes? Maybe?
“Like I mentioned before, there’s an undeniable respect for the franchises,’’ said Kless. “So there is of course a long list of players whose careers are so unique in and of themselves, Nomar’s included.
“While we’d love to be able to capture their unique perspective through trading cards, for us, Jeter and this being his Hall of Fame induction year was a great start.
“But, hey, if there’s a there’s a demand for the product and fans and collectors are hungry to hear from the pros, then I’m certainly not going to sit here and rule out Nomar.”
Is that a yes? That sounds like a yes!
It’s not a yes.
“… But,’’ she continues, “like I said, thanks to the Red Sox and the rivalry, I think a lot of Jeter’s moments have become a bit more iconic.
“Hopefully Red Sox fans find something they might like in this Jeter partnership.”
Well, that depends. While we do need more truth in this world at every turn, I suppose it’s not entirely fair to demand a “Nomar Is Better” card in the midst of a cardboard salute to Jeter.
But if there’s somehow a card depicting Jeter as the captain of the Yankees team that finally lost to the Red Sox, pal, I’ll meet you at Target as soon as we’re in the clear again.