12:10 pm Aug. 23, 20121
Skip Bayless, an ESPN pontificator, made an observation about Derek Jeter Wednesday based on Jeter's 2012 season.
"I am shocked by what I'm seeing from Derek Jeter right now," Bayless said. "They all said he was washed up. All of a sudden, this man has turned 38 years of age in June and already he has more hits than he had last year ... I am not saying he uses a thing. I have no idea. But within the confines of his sport, it is fair for all of us, in fact you are remiss, if you don't at least think about this."
We do know that there has been rampant cheating in baseball, from steroid use by players like Mark McGwire to the recent testosterone suspensions of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon. And we also know of no evidence whatsoever that Derek Jeter has done anything wrong.
We also know that a Hall of Fame player having a fantastic late-career season, even after a dip in performance, has about a century of precedent.
Back in 1957, human growth hormone was in its infancy, getting tested on a 13-year-old boy, but not, as far as we know, on Ted Williams, who hit .388 as a 38-year-old for the Boston Red Sox. Two years later, injuries dropped Williams to just .254 at age 40. But once again, Williams rallied, and not only hit .316 in his final season at age 41, but even inspired John Updike with his final at-bat.
Willie Mays hit just 13 home runs at age 38 in 1969; he rallied to 28 a season later, and a season after that, managed to lead the league in walks and steal 23 bases in 26 attempts at age 40. Ty Cobb dropped significantly from his career O.P.S.+ of 168 in his 134 and 125 seasons at age 36 and 37; he rallied to lead the league in O.P.S.+, at 171, when he was 38.
Want a comparison at Jeter's position? Cal Ripken failed to crack a 107 O.P.S.+ from ages 31-37; he then put up a 144 at age 38. Too recent, and therefore suspect? Honus Wagner posted an O.P.S.+ of 144 at age 38 in 1912, while leading the National League in R.B.I. He slipped to 113 in 1913, then 93 in 1914. But at age 41, in 1915, he posted a 126 while playing in 156 games.
Perhaps the cover will soon be blown off of 100 years of baseball history. But until that happens, I would be remiss not to point out that airing theories about Derek Jeter and HGH simply because he is excelling late in his career is reckless and ill-informed.