Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Decline of Derek Jeter

This is not a topic that will appease many. Some will consider it downright blasphemy.

Heroes, after all, are supposed to be immortal. They are supposed to be more than human, faultless, blameless, and incapable of aging past their prime.

For over a decade now, Derek Jeter has been more than a hero to legions of Yankees fans. Ask anyone on the street, pink hat or not, to name the quintessential Yankee of the last ten years, and you would be shocked and appalled if "Derek Jeter" did not cross his or her lips.

It is hard to quantify how much Derek Jeter has meant to the Yankees. Four World Series rings, six World Series, seven League Championship Series, twelve Octobers...and still, this does not seem to do him justice.

His name is uttered in the same breath as the other Yankee icons--Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, for example--and right now, it seems an impossibility to imagine an Opening Day roster without Derek Jeter present.

Yet, sooner or later, he will retire. There will be a plaque in Monument Park to start (and, perhaps a half-century or so down the line, a monument as well), a ballot to Cooperstown, an appearance (or two or three or ten...) at Old Timer's Day, and a spike in sales of "vintage" Jeter jerseys.

While the day that this happens might still be a few years off--Jeter is 34 this year, so it's not unreasonable to expect another five--the decline that precipitates it is not.

Derek Jeter is not Lou Gehrig; it is highly unlikely his decline will be as sudden and complete as Gehrig, who was, of course, victim of ALS. Instead, it will likely be more subtle--a play here or there that he would have made in his youth that he can no longer make. Perhaps one of those spin-jump-throws he does so well is the first place you see it, because the jump isn't quite as high as you would have expected from the Captain.

However, the decline will happen, the production at the plate will begin to drop off a bit and the fielding will cease to be as crisp and a day might eventually come where Alberto Gonzalez (or whoever is on the team at the time) replaces Jeter in the field in later innings in a close game for better defense.

When it does happen, it will become the elephant in the room--the one topic that must be addressed, though no one will want to address it.

No one is going to want to replace Derek Jeter--if the Yankees can find anyone remotely similar to the way Tino Martinez was for Don Mattingly, it will be an accomplishment.

No one wants to talk about the decline of Derek Jeter, but eventually, the Yankees--and thus their fans--will have to. They'll have to talk about the decline, find a replacement (Despite how long Jason Giambi has been with the team, he still doesn't seem to be the proper replacement for Mattingly and Martinez, and while Melky is coming into his own, it will, rightly or wrongly, be a while before people mention him in the same breath as Bernie Williams) and move on, and somehow, somewhere, someone will have to admit that Derek Jeter is human.

In terms of what he has meant for the Yankees, Jeter is as immortal as they come. No true Yankee fan would question that, but the sooner Yankee fans realize that he won't play forever, the sooner he is no longer made untouchable, the easier it will be when Jeter's decline reaches the point that it can no longer be ignored.


  1. This one is all on Jeter. Yes he's feeling the effects of age and will be gradually less productive but Derek Jeter has been the heart and soul of this team for many years. I can't see the fans ever getting tired of "pastadiving" Jeter regardless of how much he starts slipping. While I don't think anyone in the Yankees front office gives a hoot about any player or the wishes of any fans, I can't see even this regime letting Jeter go (although they did it to Bernie). I think it will come down to a point in time when Derek himself realizes it's time to step down, and does so with class and pride, staying in the hearts of Yankee fans forever.

  2. While I agree with the point that this will omeday be an issue, I don't think it's now.

    Jeter stunk in the playoffs last year, but that was mostly due to injuries.

    He's definitely been a lot less clutch in the past few years, but he is still one of the best hitters on the team. He hit that DP ball hard last night, and ran into some bad luck.

    I do think he's slowing down a bit, speed wise which is why the DP's are up. Yes, we'd have loved a fly ball from Jeter yesterday, but he's still generally one of the team's better situational hitters.

    Yes, the decline will come, but for now, I'm not worried about it.