By Jason Keidel
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Despite declarations and docudramas to the contrary, New York City was a wondrous place in the 1970s for many kids who were weaned on the Melting Pot, reared on real diversity before it became a pompous, corporate mantra.

I grew up in a place once called Park West Village – a series of seven, faded, redbrick buildings from 97th to 100th Streets on the West Side of Manhattan – where we didn’t care what you looked like or what money your parents made or about the contours of your crib. Could you play? That’s all that mattered. When it was time to pick a team it was your game – not your name – that mattered. Only as adults do we engage in the bitter rituals of racism, sexism, ageism and every other “ism” that causes a societal schism.

Like many New Yorkers at the time, I was nursed on the Bronx Zoo, spellbound by the Yankees from the moment I saw Reggie Jackson blast three homers off three pitches from three pitchers. I chomped on his chocolate bars and tossed the orange wrappers onto a mountain of them created by the other kids somewhere in the shade or shadow of Central Park. I turned eight in 1977, and my only concern that summer was procuring the next quarter for the same snack.

Forget the mundane metrics about “True Yankees” for a moment. Jackson was the Yankees at that time, and I didn’t want him to get old. Later on, I hated to see Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield get old. But they did. And I do. And you do. Not even Derek Jeter can counter the calendar. Utopian mantras aside, there’s a universal truth that evens all scores – time, which renders age and wage, that fantasy killer who knocks on every door, even Derek’s.

The Yankees were 14-4 while Jeter was injured, and are 1-3 since he returned. He’s gone 4-for-18 (.222) in those games. His return is not the reason they haven’t won, of course, but it brings to light the great debate.

Where does he bat for the rest of his resplendent career?

It’s either leadoff or sendoff, first or ninth, a very stark separation and domino effect, as there are no gray areas with Jeter. And some of us – treasonous to the core you’d say – dare to declare that Brett Gardner should be the leadoff hitter because he’s younger, faster, gets on base more often, and steals more bases.

We all know what Derek Jeter means to so many of you. Jeter played the game with the grace of a legend and the grit of a little leaguer. No matter how many million-dollar checks he cashed he always felt a debt to his team and his town. His visage is assured on racks and plaques across the land, his name burned into myriad ballparks, from Monument Park to Yellowstone Park.

Before you insist that I desist from the Haterade, let me remind you that I am a Yankees fan, and that I’m rather aware of No. 2 and his import, his status as baseball’s Captain America. But the 3,000 hits just don’t hit me hard, as he was never about the numbers and hence stamping a stat on him feels incongruous, and as an anomaly, too, as many Yankees better than Jeter just didn’t last long enough to make the milestone.

If it’s a matter of etiquette, then the Yankees are doing the right thing by letting Jeter hit first and hope for a burst to hit No. 3,000. Let him end the chase where it began, always near or at the top of the lineup. The symbolism is perfect, even if the impact on the team is imperfect. The Yanks can afford a gaffe or two to honor No. 2. But then what? Do you keep him there or properly insert his replacement (Gardner) in the leadoff spot? Again, let’s just say we’re thrilled not to have to make that call.

From Chuck Noll to Joe Torre to Joe Girardi, It’s almost universally agreed that the hardest job a boss has is to sort or sit an aging icon. And for you, the fan, the Derek devotee who suffers from a rehearsed form of Derek dementia, you writhe even more. To those of us who have breached 40, we understand this generational baton passed impeccably down the decades.

And thus this generation has Jeter, and you cling to him like a branch above lava. But try to resist your impulse to pity the man. His work has not been that of charity. He could win the lotto and call it a pay cut. He’s 37, movie star handsome, can pick his next (or no) gig, has another 50 years in the tank, and nine-digits in the bank. When his current contract ends, he will have made over a quarter-billion bucks to be the shortstop, leadoff hitter, leading man, captain, and avatar of the greatest team in the history of team sports.

To the 25-year-old, Jeter is all you’ve known, the dynastic emblem of your childhood. He has no candy bar, but he’s no less a star. Not now…but someday…you’ll realize it’s not Jeter you miss but rather what he represents – your youth, a time when you thought good times were eternal.

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Do you think the Yankees should drop Jeter in the lineup after he hits No. 3,000? Let Keidel know in the comments below…

Comments (9)
  1. Dominick Mezzapesa says:

    This whole article is hardly worth my time commenting on, because of it’s stupidity. 14-4 without Jeter and blah blah blah OMG that is so childish, it’s laughable.

    Why aren’t you writing about how A-Rod since June 1st has hit as many home runs as Jason Bay (4) and A-Rod is still penciled in the clean up spot each and every night.

    I have no clue what Jeter did to warrant these continued stories about how he is somehow all to blame to the Yankee woes.

    I would even grant you at least a miniscule of credit if Gardner was the lead-off hitter every night Jeter was on the DL, but Girardi used any number of hitters during that time.

    Talk to me when you start talking about dropping A-Rod to 6th due to now being basically a glorified singles hitter.

    It’s amazing that morons such as yourself never consider that Jeter maybe feeling the pressure of 3,000, but you were all on board with giving A-Rod an out when he limped to 600 Home runs.

    1. JK says:

      Poor Dom. I insulted your beloved hero. I’m sorry he’s old. So are you, and so am I. Get over it, and yourself. Please. Or just enjoy your Derek Dementia. Your choice, of course.

  2. Paul D says:

    He’s going to stay where he is. He get’s 3000 and the next day he’s hitting ninth? How trite is that? That’s just foolish. Girardi might get away with hitting Posada with that but that’s Posada. I’m sorry Jason, but seeing this just like the lesser in your industry is beneath you. Jeter coming back has what… made Colon throw a stinker finally? You want to look for those responsible for these losses look no further than Burnett who was absolutely rattled by that odd pop-up play where A-rod ran away from the ball like it was a grenade or something. Sergkio Mitre has gotten Girardi under some kind of spell that renders him stupid and blind. They couldn’t break through on Nieman while they had every opportunity. And they couldn’t touch that kid in Cleveland. Look to those reasons and not some ethereal connection between Jeter’s return and “bad karma” all of the sudden invading the clubhouse.

    1. JK says:

      I would have hit Jeter ninth last year, Paul. I called his end last September. I was called an idiot. And now that he’s hitting .258 (and hence I was right) I can’t find those people anymore. So odd.

    2. JK says:

      And I’m surprised that his place in the lineup is all you extrapolated from the piece. Enjoy your weekend, dude.

  3. Martin J. Slavin says:

    I remember those Bronx Zoo teams along with the 60s Yankees. I watched both age and the franchise rise again. The Yankees are lucky that they are going through this cycle with replacements already in place. I love Derek Jeter, made the pligremage to NY to see his hit that broke Joe D. and love everything he has done, but you need to remember “The King is Dead, Long Live the King.” Time goes on and things change.

  4. JK says:

    Indeed, Kurt, but how long do you keep a declining player at the leadoff spot?

    1. Kurt Spitzner says:

      On this type of team I give it time because we all know that if running properly they have more ability than most divisions so if one guy is faltering there are 8 others ready to pick him up.If he were on the Mets for example,I would say to drop him right now but only because they don’t have much strength with all the injuries so it would be more necessary.One less guy on base every so often when home runs are getting blasted all the time shouldn’t make that much difference.I also think that once the stigma of the “3000 th HIT” is passed he will be just fine,and next year they can both decide what is best for both sides….if he decides to keep playing.

  5. Kurt Spitzner says:

    If that’s what they need to do then I say do it,but just a few coincidental games lost after his return do not doom all the rest,so I think dropping him right now would not be “fair” to him if there is such a thing.As far as next season goes,if there is going to be one,that may be a better time to decide as it will probably keep most of the fan base happy as well.Just as long as they don;t start sliding because then all bets are off and they do what they gotta do regardless of who gets upset,but once again this is only my opinion.

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