He’s a multi-millionaire with a sprawling Manhattan penthouse and his own brand of cologne. You duck the landlord and wear Old Spice. He’s a four-time World Series champion who plays shortstop for the New York Yankees. You play short-center field in your Sunday morning beer league like a dazed buffoon. He examines his genetically-gifted face in the mirror each morning as a Maxim Hot 100 girl sleeps peacefully behind him. You stare at your double chin in the reflection while your gaseous dog devastates the bedroom. Life isn’t fair sometimes, I know. Don’t shoot the messenger.
But there’s one thing you and Derek Jeter certainly have in common … you’re both getting older.
Jeter is entering his 14th (14th!) full season with the Yankees in 2009 and he’ll reach the 35th year of his insanely awesome life on June 26. In any sport outside miniature golf and Madden football, 35 is generally the time when a career begins its downswing. When you play Major League shortstop — a position that requires speed, quickness and agility — time can be especially cruel. And if you use 2008 as an indicator, Jeter may have already reached the tipping point in his brilliant career.
Throwing out his injury-stunted 2003 season (where have you gone, Ken Huckaby?), Jeter posted decade-worst numbers in hits, doubles, runs, steals, RBIs, slugging and OPS+ in 2008. And while his defense remains far better than the Jeter Haters insist, his range — particularly to his left — is fast becoming a liability that cannot be ignored.
That’s not to say we’ll have a corpse in a No. 2 uniform this season. With an improved offense around him, a healthy Jeter can deliver numbers close to or better than ‘08. But the golden days of 2006 are likely a thing of the past. And with the A-Rod Goofball Variety Hour slated to run through 2017 and Mark Teixeira suddenly anchored at first, Jeter’s future is anything but clear.
The Yankees will never let Jeter retire in anything but pinstripes, so any speculation that the makeup of the roster or financial considerations could lead to his exit is silly. Like Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and Mattingly before him, Jeter is the Yankees. His goosebump-worthy Stadium farewell speech in September cemented his iconography. He is on Bomber Mount Rushmore.
But change it is a comin’, and it may be sooner than we think. Is it totally unreasonable to project Jeter sharing DH/left field duties by 2011? If you want to get really gutsy, you can predict that Jeter is tracking down balls in Death Valley next year, though it would take a whole lot of 20-hoppers up the middle to bring on that reality.But Derek Jeter playing left field? Bob Sheppard hasn’t lived to 200 to see that. For now we can enjoy another season of No. 2 raising his glove to the bleacher creatures from the infield dirt. I think it’s time begin savoring that experience, because time promises us it won’t last forever.