Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Derek Jeter Needs to Retire

Editor’s Note: This week we welcome friend and special guest columnist Tavis Whimbley to Dirtbag Blues. Tavis is a 14-year veteran of the world of sports journalism, writing for various publications, and is a highly respected by many of his peers. If Mr. Whimbley’s schedule permits, he may become a regular contributor to the blog.  Please note Mr. Whimbley’s views do not necessarily reflect that of this blog. You can follow Tavis on twitter @TavisWhimbley. Also be sure to follow us @Dirtbag_Blues.

The focus on the Yankees demise this October has been heavily geared toward Alex Rodriguez, no doubt with good reason. With all his baggage, and $114 million remaining on his contract, you can’t blame Brian Cashman if he attempts unload A-Rod in the off-season. However, there’s something else that can be done to help the Yankees. They could find themselves freed from another albatross of a contract belonging a player who’s well past his prime, that is, only if this player is selfless enough and smart enough to walk away now (or hobble, what with his broken ankle and all). That’s right, Derek Jeter needs to take the hint his body is giving him and retire.

Now I know suggesting such a thing sounds about as un-American as Barack Obama, but it needs to be acknowledged that at this point in his career most of the accolades Jeter receives are based on reputation and not results. You don’t even need to dig too deeply into the facts to see this.

Once upon a time Derek was the face of the franchise, the most prominent figure in the dugout during a playoff game and the first guy to the press conference afterward. This October, after breaking his ankle, Jeter was nowhere to be seen. The team captain didn’t even so much as travel with the team to Detroit for the rest of the America League Championship Series, not that I blame the guy for not wanting to get on a plane with a bum leg but it does illustrate the larger point that “as Jeter goes, so go the Yankees” is no longer true.

Manager Joe Girardi seemed annoyed the moment Jeter’s injury (and not the Yankees) became the focal point of the series. Girardi bitterly spoke to reporters after game 1 when the world first learned the extent of the injury. “I haven’t told them yet, buster,” Girardi snapped at one reporter during that press conference. “Them” being Jeter’s teammates. Girardi hadn’t told them Jeter was hurt? Why not? I find it very telling that the Yankee skipper felt the need to disclose Jeter’s injury the media before Jeter’s own teammates. I guess when it comes down to it Derek Jeter is more a concern of the media than of the Yankee clubhouse. A frustrating week for the Yankees, which started with Jeter’s injury, was capped by two quick losses in Detroit to end the Yankees’ season. At this point who’s to say how much of a distraction Derek Jeter, absent or not, was to the team.

If we (foolishly) put the injury and leadership qualities aside for a moment and look purely at the numbers, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are now the most feared hitters in the Yankee lineup and if Ichiro is retained the Yanks won’t even have a use for Jeter as a table-setter anymore. Even on a purely cosmetic level Jeter may no longer be the franchise’s leader. Nowadays the Yankee you see all over TV is Nick Swisher, who also happens to be a perfect face for this new “Moneyball-era” given that he was a former first round pick of Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics. No, these are no longer Derek Jeter’s Yankees, but the Yankees of the Canos, Grandersons, Ichiros, and Swishers of the world.

It’s also pretty obvious he’s no longer “Captain Clutch.” After playing in six World Series in his first eight seasons, the man who’s supposed to be carrying this storied franchise on his back has taken the Bronx Bombers to the Series once in last nine years. So much for “Mr. November”, heck, A-Rod probably could’ve done that himself.

But I don’t want to go on disparaging a good guy like Jeter too much and frankly I don’t have to. There’s plenty of reason, besides his diminishing abilities, for Jeter to bow out now.

After five World Series titles and more all-star selections than I care to count the only real milestone left for Derek is Pete Rose’s all-time hit mark of 4,256. To even approach that record the now 38-year-old Jeter would have to labor on for about five more years, at least. Does anyone really want to see that? Heck, does Derek Jeter even want to see that? When asked about the hits record this month Jeter replied “I’m not talking about Peter Rose, man.” It’s nice to know the game’s greatest competitor doesn’t care about something so important to the history of baseball. One has to wonder at this point if Derek Jeter has lost that competitive edge that made him Derek Jeter in the first place.

Besides all that, what about poor condemned Pete Rose? He doesn’t have the Hall of Fame waiting for him the way Jeter does. One of baseball’s great icons deserves to at least have his name in the record books, if not in Cooperstown.

Ultimately, though, Jeter needs to quit for the Yankees. Five straight years of maintaining a payroll over $200 million has taken it’s toll, cupcakes-turned-legitimate rivals Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Toronto have all taken huge strides in recent years, and the old guard Yankees are almost all gone with only Jeter and Andy Pettitte (baseball’s answer to Brett Favre) still hanging on while Mariano Rivera attempts to revive a career he too might be better served to surrender. Jeter has $20-25 million worth of commitments left. That’s $20-25 million which could be spent on developing future Derek Jeter’s, building the next New York dynasty, or used toward an old fashion Yankee spending spree on some new franchise players, such as Josh Hamilton.

Jeter can still hang around; no doubt he already has a lifetime front office job waiting for him. Who knows, maybe he’ll become the new Yankee skipper as soon as Joe “Buster” Girardi inevitably reaches his boiling point. Let’s just hope Coach Jeter has the foresight and integrity to tell his players about things concerning the team, before the media.
So come on Derek, hang ‘em up. Better to do it too early than too late. Chipper Jones is a perfect example of this. Had he retired at the right time he could’ve gone out gracefully rather than see his end come in an embarrassing playoff game and gone out like a broken down old man. Learn from this, Derek, and move on now.