Watching the Sunday night football game, the announcers mentioned the fact that the Patriots have gone from a decade of Adam Vinatieri kicking to a decade with Stephen Gostkowski kicking. For twenty years to have two kickers of that caliber is almost as impressive as the Steelers having Bill Cowher and then Mike Tomlin as their only two head coaches for over two decades.
Transitions like those two, they don’t happen often in sports. It’s not always easy to find a replacement for great players or coaches.
After hearing the statement in the game it got me thinking about New York sports and if we have had a transition like that recently or if maybe we have one right now. First requirement, find a great legendary player in the last two decades.
No great Knicks or Nets recently where a transition like this occurred. Islanders or Rangers, no. Jets, no. Giants, maybe Strahan to Osi to Tuck, which was pretty nice. Maybe David Wright’s future replacement. Then I came to the New York Yankees.
Derek Jeter is a first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop. Let’s not go crazy. I’m not assuming Didi Gregorius becomes that. In the NY sports world this transition is not only one of the most recognized, as it is for a living legend in Derek Jeter, but realistically it has a chance to be one of the most successful and all the credit to that has to go to Brian Cashman.
No one can ever do what Derek Jeter was able to accomplish in his career. Didi won’t reach that level of greatness, few do. By the time Jeter was 26 (Didi’s current age), he had four world championships, a rookie of the year, and a new nickname. Just because he can never be Derek Jeter doesn’t mean he can’t be great.
In the short two years that Didi has been a part of the Yankee organization the team has played competitive baseball till the very end of each season. He’s beginning to learn how to win.
Didi had a rough first month in Pinstripes and the Yankee faithful let him know. To go from Derek to some kid who looks lost at the plate and shaky with the glove, it left spoiled fans disappointed. He fought through it, and has only gotten better as time has moved on. In the second half of last season he showed he had the potential to be an everyday shortstop with a special glove and a streaky hitter.
This year has been a big step in the career path of Didi. He’s been durable, having played in 135 of the team’s first 144 games. He has hit all over the lineup, including the third and fourth slots. He hits to all parts of the field. At the plate, he has the potential to completely replace what Robinson Cano was in the Yankee lineup minus five to seven dingers a year.
Didi, when he is right, has complete control of his swing. He goes up to the plate with a game plan of where he’s looking for a pitch and knows exactly where he is going to put that pitch when he gets it and all parts of the field are an option. He’s been streaky throughout his career, and as we discuss now he’s just coming out of a two week plus slump.
He has doubled his career high in home-runs and has the chance to hit 20 for the first time in his career. Has already beat his RBI career high, and should finish with his best average of his short career. He’s getting better, he’s learning, he’s becoming a fan favorite, and he’s becoming part of a team that has the opportunity to WIN throughout his career.
Didi is so important to this young Yankee team because when this team is truly ready to win, if this team is ever going to be a force in the American League for a four to five year period, Didi is going to be the oldest young guy. The contracts of the older guys will have expired and this will be a completely different locker room.
Opening day next season the Yankees have the potential of six players in their 20’s as starters (Sanchez, Bird, Judge, Castro, Austin, and Didi). That hasn’t happened in a long time for this organization.
Didi is the guy I see being a leader of this team long term. The Yankee farm system is so deep at this position and if Didi is able to pan out on the field he allows Brian Cashman to benefit from his younger talent to acquire players in the future.
His success, although not imperative to this organization because of the depth it has at the position, could help lead the organization to a very competitive, fun, money making half decade plus.