Derek Jeter’s Diary: Pine Tar, Ghosts, and the Return of Robbie Cano
The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain’s private journal.
Wednesday, April 23: at Boston Red Sox
There’s just no excuse for what happened tonight. There’s no other way to say it. Even if there were, you’d have to say it this way. You’re not going to make excuses for the kind of behavior that got Michael Pineda ejected from the game in the second inning.
You’ll hear people say that pine tar’s a thing that anywhere between 95 percent and 99 percent of pitchers use to get a better grip on the baseball. Especially on cold nights like this one, when the ball is hard to command. OK, fine. Call it an accepted part of the game — one of the unwritten rules, one nobody will call you out on if you’re discreet about it. A little in your mitt, a little under the brim of your cap. If I were a pitcher, I wouldn’t do it, because it’s always a slippery slope from the wink-wink pine tar situation to whatever chemistry experiment the Red Sox pitchers use, probably chaw juice, Super Glue, and the weird residue from John Lackey’s salivary glands. You have to go out there and win with the grip God gave you. This doesn’t apply to hitters because you don’t want the bat flying into the stands and killing somebody. Our grip is a matter of life or death, not right and wrong.
But that’s not the behavior we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is ignoring your Captain’s advice.
After the last pine tar incident with Boston a couple of weeks ago, I pulled Pineda aside. I said, “Hey, I don’t know what you’re doing, but stop doing it. They’re watching you. There are cameras on you every second you’re on that mound, and the other team is allowed to look at what’s on those cameras.” He looked at me, confused, and said, “They don’t see me.”
“I’m pretty sure they can see you.”
“They can’t see the ghost.”
“You’re not a ghost.”
So I told him to just nod if he got the message. And he nodded.
But tonight there we are on the mound, with the umpire, because the Red Sox couldn’t ignore the giant stain on Pineda’s neck, visible on every camera.
“You don’t see me,” he says to them. “I’m a ghost.”
Then they bust the ghost.
In between innings, I go into the clubhouse to talk to him. He’s sitting alone, staring into his locker.
“Why didn’t you listen to what I told you?”
“The crow told me not to.”
He points into the locker. No crow.
“The crow said I’m a ghost. They don’t see me.”
“From now on, don’t listen to crows. Listen to your Captain.”
I tell him to nod if he gets the message. He nods.
“Crow’s back.” He points to my locker.
A crow is pooping in it.
“The crow doesn’t like the Captain.”
Thursday, April 24: at Boston Red Sox
Not going to lie, it feels good any time you can come up to Boston and get two out of three games. It’s a tough place for a visiting team to play, much less win. A hostile place. You don’t want to make a big deal about it, but no one’s seen Phil Hughes since our last trip here in September. Nobody seems to know where he is. There are whispers in the clubhouse that he’s been chained up inside the manual scoreboard at Fenway and is being forced to change the numbers for them. You almost want to send a clubbie to go see if that’s actually true, but another part of you doesn’t want to find out. The rotation is coming together and you wouldn’t want to force a 40-man roster move if they find him. You might need that fifth catcher one day, you don’t know.
Things got ugly for the Sox tonight. They brought in Mike Carp to pitch. You never like to see a position player have to do that. Yeah, it’s funny for a minute, like a dog riding a motorcycle, but ultimately it’s a dangerous abomination that can go really wrong. You don’t want to play around with that stuff. There’s a natural order of things it’s best not to violate.
On the other hand, if they had a pitcher tied up behind the scoreboard, maybe they would have put him in before the platoon outfielder trying to throw knuckleballs. Maybe Hughsie is OK. You wish him the best either way. Someone’s probably at least feeding behind the Monster; the scoreboard numbers don’t change themselves.
Friday, April 25: vs. Los Angeles Angels
It was nice to see my old friend Albert Pujols before the game, because I’m not going to get to compete against him for much longer. Talking to guys like Albert makes you feel even more blessed, since you’ve been fortunate enough to play for the same franchise your entire career, and even a future Hall of Famer like him had to change teams because the Cards didn’t value him enough to keep him around forever. The Yankees gave me a raise for my final year and I didn’t even ask for one. They’re such a great organization you would have played for them for free. Luckily you have the union to save us from symbolic gestures of loyalty like that. Other teams might take advantage. They’re definitely not handing out loyalty raises.
Saturday, April 26: vs. Los Angeles Angels
Some very bad news: It’s official that Ivan Nova’s gone for the rest of the year. Tommy John surgery. Just a devastating thing. He was starting to mature into a nice player for us. He hardly ever forgets he’s got two runners on base, walking off the mound in the middle of an inning to go check his Facebook page anymore. I’ll have someone print it out and bring it to him in the hospital, with a nice status update from me on it. “Get better quick! —DJ2” Maybe I’ll even send over the cowboy boots from Houston. There’s probably another pair coming from Texas this summer.
Sunday, April 27: vs Los Angeles Angels
Here’s the thing about your final year that nobody tells you: You never know when something’s going to affect you emotionally. Tonight some fans hung out a JETER FOR MAYOR sign. That’s just a special thing to happen. They don’t want you to just be their shortstop, they want you to run their entire city. It’s incredibly flattering even if it’s not your ambition to get into local politics. Still, you can’t help but wonder for a moment what you would do with the office. You could release the Mets from their lease so they can finally move to that haunted refinery in Elizabeth, because Jersey deserves a baseball club; one is more than enough for New York. You could rename Broadway to Avenue of the Mister Steinbrenner. You could keep the horse carriages going in Central Park, because those proud animals have been trained for that job their whole lives, and you don’t want the current mayor to rob them of their dignity. You get choked up just thinking about it. They need to work.
But being mayor’s not gonna happen. Your retirement days are already spoken for. There’s the publishing business. And the family. Especially the family. When you come back for Captain’s Day next year, maybe someone will hang out a JETER FOR DAD OF THE YEAR sign. That would really mean something, doubly so if you’ve already got a kid by then.
Monday, April 28: Off day
Spent the whole day looking into the Mets’ lease situation. Even with the mayorship it might be tricky to get them to their new home in Elizabeth. You could potentially apply eminent domain to Citi Field and knock it down for more U.S. Open tennis courts, but that’s a legal fight that could take years. You might have better luck with a less ambitious plan, like an executive order renaming them the New Jersey Metropolitans of Flushing Meadows. It’s a complicated issue. It’ll definitely be a challenge for Mayor de Blasio, but he seems like a reasonable man, other than the horses thing, which he’s totally wrong on.
Tuesday, April 29: vs. Seattle Mariners
Robbie Cano’s finally back in New York. Yeah, he got booed tonight, but you have to expect that when you leave the greatest city in the world for maybe the second- or third-greatest city in the Pacific Northwest, depending on your feelings for Vancouver, which I’ve personally never been a giant fan of. It’s hard for the fans not to feel rejected and take it out on the player, especially one they never fully embraced because of a tendency to not run out every ground ball. The Bleacher Creature chants of “Sell out!” have to hurt, even if $240 million takes some of the sting out.
But to his credit, he took his Depinstriping Rites well. Some guys don’t even show up for it, but Robbie arrived on time before the game and stood in respectful silence as the True Yankee Council intoned the Articles of Renunciation, slowly trampled a game-worn no. 24 uniform with the golden spikes of the 1921 lineup, and then read all nine seasons of his Yankee statistics backward. It takes class to stand there quietly as your memory is being ceremonially defiled by a sacred brotherhood you betrayed. It’s a powerful and sad experience for all present. I’m told you never forget the smell of the smoldering ashes of your incinerated jersey as they’re extinguished by Yogi Berra’s powerful stream.
I get home after a tough day and just want to unwind with some game film. But A-Rod’s already out of the wardrobe and waiting for me by the door with a mug of warm creamed kale.
“How’s Robbie, Jetes?”
“Oh, straight to Robbie?”
“I watched the game. It was not a good game for the Yankees.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“I miss Robbie. We were friends. Not the best of friends, like you and me. But good friends.”
“Did he ask about me?”
“He did not.”
“Would you tell me if he did, Jetes?”
“Of course I would.”
“I’m not so sure. I sense a tinge of jealousy from you.”
“There’s no jealousy. He didn’t mention you.”
“How his beard, Jetes? He confided in me that he was really looking forward to growing the beard one day.”
“It’s a nice beard.”
“That’s great to hear. Really great.”
“I might grow a beard, Jetes.”
“Go right ahead.”
“A beard with luster.”
“Is the kale for me? That’s not really something to drink.”
He guzzles down the mug of creamed kale.
“Such a luscious beard. Girardi can’t stop me. Or Cash.”
“You’re right. They can’t.”
“Will you take a picture of Robbie’s beard for me tomorrow?”
“No, I won’t do that.”
“There’s that jealousy again.”
“I’m going to bed.”
“I might visit Robbie’s hotel wardrobe tomorrow night.”
“Be my guest.”
“Jealousy. It’s a bad look.”
“Good night, Alex.”
“A blue-eyed monster.”
I hold open the wardrobe door for him and gesture toward it. He clops inside.
“It’s fine. My beard vision board is in here anyway.”
I close the door behind him.