Derek Jeter Advises Yankees as AL East Lead Shrinks


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Perspective. It’s hard even when things are good, let alone when things are bad.

For example, if the Yankees went 17-11 every month, that would be a .607 winning percentage and a 98-win pace. Six games over .500 in April, May, and June would have led to a 74-48 record entering Monday’s Subway Series opener. This would have been a great performance that everyone would have praised.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel like a dollar and four quarters are the same amount.

The Yankees were on track for 98 wins and had an eight-game division lead going into the Subway Series with a .607 winning percentage. Still, they needed an umbrella, not because it was raining in the afternoon, but because they were afraid of the sky falling.

This is what happens when your team is on pace to win 120 games and has a 15 1/2-game lead in the AL East. From the front office to the dugout, the applause turns into jeers and accusations.

So, who do you go to for advice?

Jeter gave the Yankees a 99.9% chance of winning the AL East, better than Baseball Reference (98.4) and Fangraphs (91.2). Why call Jeter? He’s here.

The 1996 Yankees were leading the AL East by 12 games on July 28 (Game 103), when they bought Cecil Fielder. Like the 2022 team, they were a deadline winner. The lead was 2 1/2 games on Sept. 15, 1996.

In 2000, the Yankees were in first place in the AL East by nine games on September 13 (133 games), but they finished the season by going 3-15. They held on to the AL East title by 2 1/2 games, in part because the Red Sox finished 10-9 in the same period — familiar to AL East clubs not fully capitalizing on the 2022 Yankees.

The 1996 and 2000 Yankees won four titles in five years despite similar downturns.

Jeter was a Yankee in 2004 when they blew a 3-1 playoff lead and lost the ALCS to the Red Sox. The 1951 Dodgers blew a 13-game lead, so if the Yankees do the same, their ignominy will last forever.

Jeter was key to those Yankee teams. So I asked him how to stay strong when a talented team gets hit with an anvil and sinks into quicksand, when it seems like the team will never win again, and when fans, family, and the media blame the team.

Jeter said he doesn’t know the Yankees’ internal dynamics and doesn’t watch every game. So he generalized what’s important when a big lead is dripping away:

  • Remember your teamwork. “You can’t win 120 games without being a good team.” Good team. Many teams would like to have their problems — or perceived problems and issues — go away.
  • No self-pity “Never say ‘here we go again’” when falling behind or losing a game.
  • Focus on your club. “You can’t change who’s chasing you, so don’t worry. If you don’t lose, they can’t catch you. You choose. In control. You’re not hoping someone else loses. The 2022 Yankees are in first place because of their past performance.
  • Be impersonal. “Win the day’s game. If you’re focused on winning, it’s easier to play than if you’re focused on yourself. … When I played, I’d tell guys, ‘We’ve got another one tomorrow.’ Even when things are good, that’s the attitude.”
  • Managers aren’t important. “Eventually, the manager can’t decide. Manager picks the best lineup. His players can play. Players decide.”
  • No pep talks. “There are no magic words, or teams wouldn’t fight. Be victorious. It sounds simple, but you can overcomplicate things.”
  • Avoid worst-case scenarios. “If you think like that, you’re in trouble. Right? If you think, ‘We’re going to do something crazy,’ you have a problem. I’ve never thought about it or let anyone else do so.

What do you think, leave a comment below?

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