Sunday, October 14, 2012

Leonard Cohen -- "The Captain" (1984)

Now the Captain called me to his bed
He fumbled for my hand
"Take these silver bars," he said
"I'm giving you command." 

I don't remember the last time I watched a Yankees playoff or World Series game from beginning to end.  (Cicero said that "A man of courage is also full of faith," but  my lack of courage is not because I lack faith in the Yankees.  It's because I know that in the short run, the better team doesn't always win.)

I almost never watch their opponents bat.  After all, bad things can happen when the other team is at bat.

I sometimes will watch the other team bat in the 9th when the Yankees have the lead and Mariano Rivera comes in to close the game out.  (I do have faith in Rivera, every though even he has failed at times in the past.  It would be an insult to his steadfastness not to believe in him.)  However, Rivera's been out almost all year due to a freak knee injury, so I haven't watched many 9th innings this season.

Mariano Rivera (May 3, 2012)
Last night I turned on the TV in time to see the Yankees come to bat in the 9th, down 4-0 against the Detroit Tigers.

First, Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-run homer.  (Suzuki will turn 39 next week.  He's 5' 11", weighs 170 pounds, and has hit only 104 home runs in 8723 major-league at-bats.)

A few minutes later, Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate with two outs and a man on first.  The 40-year-old Ibanez had hit a game-tying home run in the 9th inning Wednesday night, and then won that game with another home run in the 12th.  I couldn't help but cross my fingers and hope for yet another game-saving blast, despite knowing how ridiculously long the odds of that happening were.

Raul Ibanez ties the game in the 9th
To quote Matthew 8:26, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?"  Ibanez hit one into the right-field seats, and the game was tied.  Mirabile dictu.  

I found the courage to watch the Tigers bat in the 1oth and 11th, and it didn't hurt too badly -- they were dispatched relatively quickly.  The Yankees put men on base in both innings but couldn't push a run across in either one.

My courage failed me at that point, so I turned the TV off.  When I turned it back on a few minutes later, hoping to see the Yankees at bat with the score still tied, I saw a sight even more horrific than the sight of Mariano Rivera lying in the outfield after tearing his ACL on May 3.

I saw Derek Jeter -- the longest-serving captain in Yankees history, and the man who is by far the most significant contributor to the unprecedented success they have had since he joined the team --  lying in the in the infield dirt in the top of the 12th inning.  

Walt Whitman's words describe the emotions of all Yankee fans at that moment:

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up -- for you the flag is flung -- for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths -- for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning . . .
But our captain was unable to stand up, unable to walk off the field under his own power.

Earlier in the game, Jeter had collected his 200th postseason hit, which is an all-time record.  (No one else in baseball history has more than 128.)  He also is the leader in career postseason runs, doubles, and triples.  

Jeter's not a big home-run hitter, but he's hit homers more frequently in the postseason than in the regular season.  His postseason batting average, on-base average, and slugging percentage are virtually identical to his regular season numbers -- despite the added pressure of the playoffs and World Series, and despite the fact that your playoff opponents almost always have better pitchers than the average team.

Derek Jeter was a 22-year-old rookie shortstop when the Yankees went to the World Series for the first time in a long time in 1996.  (He hit .361 in the postseason that year.  He was hitting .364 in the postseason this year at age 38.)  It's now 16 seasons later, and the Yankees have been in the postseason 15 of those 16 years, thanks largely to his efforts.

Derek Jeter with Cal Ripken in 1996
Jeter started every single one of the Yankees' 158 playoff and World Series games since 1996.  He fractured his ankle in the 12th inning last night, so that streak is over.

I wish Raul Ibanez had struck out in the 9th.  If he had, the Captain would be making his 159th consecutive playoff start tonight.

By the way, the Yankees ended up losing after Jeter was helped off the field last night.  That was the least of it.

I can't overstate my affection and admiration for the way Derek Jeter plays baseball and the way he lives his life.  My son Peter was a Jeter fan from the time he was old enough to be a baseball fan.  Here's a picture of him in a Jeter jersey just before I took him to Yankee Stadium for the first time in 2003:

It took me a little longer to understand what made the captain so special.  But I finally got it.

Larry David gets it, too:

Here's Leonard Cohen's "The Captain," from his 1984 album, Various Positions.  Famed critic Robert Christgau called this song "as rich and twisted" as anything Cohen had written to date.  I don't know Cohen's oeuvre like Christgau does, so I have to take his word for it -- assuming he's correct, the song is a fitting choice for today:

Click here to buy "The Captain":

No comments:

Post a Comment