Keidel: Yankee Captain’s Crunch
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By Jason Keidel
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Now that the Jorge Posada saga is dead and dissected, attention turns to his BFF, Derek Jeter, who virtually condoned Posada’s actions with a nondescript assessment over the weekend, irking his bosses.
Jeter and the Yankees’ brass engaged in a pseudo group hug by phone on Monday, but only the most jaded Jeter fans think that no feelings are calcified between the two camps – not to mention possible collateral damage inside the clubhouse.
Bobby Valentine, who knows far more about clubhouses than I do, said the Yankees clearly have squabbles outside the lines that can only be squashed by a lot of winning – something the Yankees haven’t done this year.
Team sports are often a microcosm of life. If Joe Girardi’s authority is tested, bent, or broken, it will ripple down the bench. Should the chasm between Posada, Jeter, and Girardi grow, players will fall in the hole. And their current 4-11 stretch compounds it. Girardi got instant credibility with a World Series ring, but now he must juggle the brittle egos of old stars and his need to win.
The Posada saga must have been most difficult for Jeter. Not only because of their friendship, but because Jeter looked in the mirror when he sees Jorge. Joe Girardi will one day drop Derek to ninth in the batting order, to be followed by A-Rod a year or two later. And, eventually, the immortal Mariano Rivera will fall from the perch he’s owned for 15 years, leaving the Yankees with gaping holes, physical and metaphysical.
Posada was something of a trial balloon, which popped quite quickly. Posada is a precursor, the lead man in a conga line of players Girardi must assuage as they age. Perhaps No. 2 is taking notes.
This is easily the roughest year of Jeter’s career. Wearing the dual hats of team captain and best friend, and perhaps the final, tightest hat of human. Jeter now must handle a confluence of theatrics, from Posada to the team’s poor performance to his own struggles, and the growing chasm between the old salt and the skipper.
Those who still straddle the notion that Jeter will return to form point to his intangibles. But nuance shrinks in the shadow of reality. Jeter is no fool. He knows is numbers better than we do. Before his final plate appearance last night he was hitting .249. Fans chided me when he hit his lone two homers in his lone good weekend this year, temporarily bumping his average to respectability. And has since plummeted to his new standard, the substandard.
He knows he’s overpaid and underperforming. We all know the $51 million he got was a de facto legacy contract, an ornate slap on the rear. And each month, as the .300 finish line fades into memory, he will be asked to address or defend it.
Jeter was a .270 hitter last year, will be one this year, and will be one next year. There’s no shame in getting old, unless we ascribe aging to the anointed. Jeter, no matter the proof of his decay, is beyond reproach. I can’t convince you to see the stats through your pinstriped sunglasses, wrapped in your Jeter Snuggie, with Jeter’s “Yankeeography” in your DVD player on eternal loop. I give up.
Nothing – not even a few dreadful seasons – will taint Jeter. The memories are too strong, the winning too frequent. And part of what makes these men great at their jobs is their unwillingness to concede any fight, even ones they can’t win. He won’t beat Father Time, but we we’ll watch him try, aching along with him as he stumbles toward ground balls, and pounds into double plays.
Many of us wanted to see Jeter get his 3,000 hits and then fade with the aged elegance of his single-digit predecessors. If only it were that easy. Jeter is not the first or final proof that even in the Yankee Universe all stars and All-Stars die. But he will be the last to know.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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