As a lover of many things literary and a watcher of any things baseball, I was excited to pick up two books at a local bookstore that were bestselling novels written by famous baseball players: Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.
It was no surprise to me that athletes as talented as those two–Jeter is an all-time great, Posada is his well-ringed teammate–would try their hand at authorship. There is much crossover skill between being able to swing a bat and being able to write a compelling story. After all, Derek Jeter already had 3.465 hits, so what’s one more? From the author’s about page:
“Derek Jeter is a true legend in professional sports, and a role model for young people on and off the field, and through his work in the community with his Turn 2 Foundation.”
Imagine my surprise, then, that Posada’s book turned out to be the real gem, while Jeter’s left me a little disappointed. We’ll take a look at the former first:
The Journey Home, by Jorge Posada is a re-telling of the classic story The Odyssey as transposed to a modern day baseball setting*. The scenario works as follows: It is 2012; a winter hurricane (Sandy?) has damaged Yankee Stadium, which is undergoing repairs indefinitely, forcing Jorge Posada and his teammates to play all their games on the road. The legendary Derek Jeter is out with a knee injury and Alex Rodriguez, that greatest of villains, is suspended for the year for performance enhancing drugs. Thus while Posada and the rest of the Yankees are separated from the city he loves, the lascivious A-Rod attempts to woo Posada’s wife at her flat in the Bronx (he sends her a picture of himself as a centaur in the opening chapter).
Dead Yankee legends play the role of the “Gods” in this Universe: Yogi Berra, God of wit and wisdom, is Posada’s protector, Babe Ruth corresponding roughly to Bacchus as the God of chili dogs and Ballantine beer, et al. The King of the Gods, (recently deceased) George Steinbrenner devises a difficult schedule for what he considers an inferior Yankee team.
The Yankees’ episodic journey back to New York cleverly mimics Odysseus’ travails in astonishingly clever ways. Some of the highlights:
- A four-game battle against the San Francisco Giants and demigod Buster Posey stands in for an encounter with the Cyclops.
- “Sea monsters” attack in the form of two wild arms for the Seattle Mariners, Antonio Scylla and Bruce Charybdis, who headhunt and aim for the ankles. Luckily Posada is wearing a knee brace already and so takes the HBP without casualty.
- A kinky affair with Charlize Theron during a road series in Anaheim. She ties Posada up and refuses to let him leave the hotel room until Yogi Berra intervenes, with the help of the Players Union.
- During an off weekend, Posada “descends into the underworld of Tampa” and plays an old-timers game with a bunch of retired Yankees, many of whom he played with in the great battles of 1998-2001.
- Another series in Detroit takes them to the “Lotus Eaters”, as an opposing pitcher attempts to drug the lineup. Lou Gehrig, God of the “C”, makes it rain so they don’t have to play the next day.
Although their adventures don’t necessarily escalate in magnitude, as the season drags on and their playoff chances increasingly in doubt, we appreciate Posada’s plight, especially as he gradually becomes the lone elder statesmen on the team (most of the opening day roster is traded or injured or sent to the minors) and learns to mentor the rookies and newbs on playing like a “true Yankee.” We relate to his quest to find his place among the pantheon of baseball heroes, and when he does finally return to New York (spoiler alert!) he does so having developed a more profound sense of self, confidence which carries over to his bedroom prowess and rekindling of passion of his marriage (sorry, A-Rod!).
The book ends with the Yankee Gods taunting rookies in the bullpen on the last day of the regular season. It’s really hilarious.
I wish I could say Jeter’s book, Change UP, is equally entertaining. I can definitely give him credit for trying to make a book that, unlike Posada’s, offers a meaningful guide for self-improvement. But he fails from a tragic onset of myopia, an ability to offer advice that is Universal in application, beyond baseball.
For example, Derek Jeter discusses chronic depression and sources a bunch of famous psychological studies to demonstrate an informed grasp of the issue. But when it comes to solutions, he offers a passage like the following:
“It was August 3rd, and I wanted to quit. For the first time all season, my on-base-percentage dropped below .400. I was no longer the league leader in sacrifice hits. An article came out this morning saying that statistically, I was even less valuable than my teammate Joba Chamberlain, and nobody liked him. This cloud of despair hung over me the entire game. I went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Someone in the mezzanine level booed me. And I felt like I deserved it.
With little concern for myself or my team, I lied and told the manager I had a bone spur in my elbow. They put me on the Disabled List and told me to get back in shape in time for the stretch run. Feeling lost and helpless and desperate, I called my ex-friend Alex Rodriguez, who was out for the season for taking steroids. Although I thought the dude was a total bitchface, he knew me too well and offered to lend me his yacht and 50 percent of his harem to boot, as long as I paid for fuel. Two hours later I was off to Aruba and by golly, that was all I needed. The sex and sunshine made me feel better and offered me the clarity of thought to return and be a happy, healthy member of the lineup. Sometimes all you need is to take comfort from life’s small pleasures to be able to deliver in the clutch.”
And that’s how most of the book shakes out. Jeter loses his timing so he buys a multi-million dollar batting machine. Minka Kelly leaves him so he goes on tinder and has an orgy. He doesn’t win the MVP but he co-funds a celebrity golf outing with Donald Trump. An fashion company uses gay models to pimp out Jeter’s underwear line, which makes Jeter upset until he has them all fired and then has gay hate-sex with A-Rod, who he hates, and then gets his publicist to bury all the stories.
Basically, whatever Jeter does to “change up” his life is not applicable to anyone who does not play baseball at the highest level. And while I appreciate him for trying, the lack of realization or awareness does become disheartening. Especially since Jeter really does express progressive attitudes about the need to “change up” our diets, carbon-centric lifestyles, et al. And his ending mantra that “Everyone can become a Captain of their own soul’s, the MVP of their inner struggle” is upbeat but more becoming of a pinch-hitter than a legendary shortstop.
Four balls and a bases loaded walk for Jorge Posada’s “The Journey Home”
Strike three and awarded first base on an errant throw for Derek Jeter’s “Change Up”
*at least that’s how I imagine it, I didn’t actually read the book
**see: first comment