Cumberland Times-News

Mike Burke - Sports

July 14, 2013

What is the 41 percent solution?

It’s the All-Star break. Well, it is tomorrow, which, given the kind of baseball season it’s been, should be the most exciting time of the summer. Some of us, however, choose to take the glass is 59 percent empty approach and lament the passing of the season the way Felix Unger lamented his divorce to Frances or to Gloria, depending on which Felix you go with — Jack Lemmon’s or Tony Randall’s.

So, with 41 percent of the season still ahead of us, what have we learned so far?

• We have learned when a guy hits more home runs in the first 59 percent of the season than he did during 100 percent of the previous season that he must be on steroids, which is regrettable, but, given the Game of Shadows climate, understandable.

As Chris Davis himself said, “I get it.”

My own bias aside, I don’t believe he juices, but then I still tend to believe there might be something to Rafael Palmeiro’s story.

• We have learned the New York Yankees want Alex Rodriguez around about as much as Oscar Madison wanted Felix around any time one of the Pigeon sisters stopped by for a visit.

• We have learned, unless we are Milwaukee Brewers fans, to instinctively distrust Ryan Braun, whether that distrust is warranted or not. Braun, of course, along with Rodriguez and others, has been linked to possible suspensions for players allegedly involved in the Biogenesis situation.

Braun is currently on the MLB bereavement list because of a “family medical situation,” which is unfortunate for a couple of reasons, the most important one being the well-being of his family.

• We have learned that Father Time stops for no one, including the great Derek Jeter.

Talk about lamenting the passing of summer ... How about being able to remember when Jeter was the hotshot rookie shortstop for the Yankees as though 18 years ago were only yesterday?

After the Yankees admittedly rushed him back from a broken ankle on Thursday due to their ever-mounting injuries, Jeter was forced to leave the game after eight innings due to a strained right quadriceps muscle. The quad strain itself is not what puts this on Father Time’s doorstep. Having watched Jeter run the bases before he suffered the strain is what does.

For those of us past 39-years-old, who wouldn’t want to be 39 again? It’s the prime of life. I mean Jack Benny picked that number for a reason. But when a ballplayer is 39, and it finally strikes you that, yes, that ballplayer is now Derek Jeter it can evoke some misty water-colored memories. Admittedly for fans of any team other than the Yankees, they’ve been horrible memories because Jeter has been that great for that long. But when you appreciate the beauty of this game and the way Derek Jeter has played it, calls of bravo, even from opposing fans, will hardly seem enough.

I’ve always felt Jeter was the Joe DiMaggio of his time — not only for the way he has played, but for the unnoticed manner in which he has lived through the brightest spotlight in sports. Certainly, along with DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth, he is one of the five greatest Yankees of all. But just as it must have been to watch DiMaggio in his twilight, it’s unsettling to see the Jeter of today yet remember the Jeter of vintage.

This is why baseball affects so many of us as deeply as it does. And in 15 to 20 years this same conversation is likely to be taking place for the likes of Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

It’s a sad, beautiful game, this baseball.

• Speaking of sending Derek Jeter along his way well before he’s likely ready to go, it should be pointed out that DiMaggio’s final game came in the victory that clinched the 1951 World Series for the Yankees. We’re implying nothing, but that the Yankees were just 6 1/2 games out of first place entering Saturday’s play is nothing short of miraculous given the injuries that have hit this club for such an extended period of time — Jeter, Teixeira, Youkilis, Granderson and, yes, Rodriguez, and we’re probably forgetting somebody else.

Manager Joe Girardi gets absolutely no credit for keeping this team — a team that, after Robinson Cano in the lineup, cannot hit — afloat. I still think the playoff teams in the American League East are likely to be Boston (distasteful as the thought is) and Tampa Bay. But in that screwball division, if the Yankees can get any of its offense back they’re never going to be too far out of the picture because they pitch.

If the Orioles can somehow come up with a Rick Sutcliffe type to anchor the rotation they’re in it to the end as well, and nobody ever knows what the hell’s going on with Toronto.

What you have in the American League, though, is the Houston Astros who do nothing but enhance the postseason chances of Oakland and Texas, who are both good enough on their own merits. And we all keep waiting for Detroit to find a bullpen before the Tigers run away from Cleveland in the Central.

The big puzzle in the National League, of course, is the Washington Nationals. What’s with that? Why did they stop hitting? Despite their injuries, why didn’t they ever start? If history teaches us anything it’s to never count out a talented team managed by Davey Johnson. But history also tells us Davey’s final seasons with teams never end the way they’re supposed to.

Don’t close the book on the Nats yet. They’re only six back.

In the NL Central, go with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati — pick the order. And let’s go with the Dodgers in the West.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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Mike Burke - Sports
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