I heard somebody on the radio the other night suggest the Yankees drop Derek Jeter down in the lineup as they make a run at the post-season.
That would constitute not only bad baseball but bad karma.
Take it from an old Brooklyn Dodger fan who has never rooted for the Yankees in his long and tormented life, the Yankees need to finish the Jeter generation with him high in the lineup and playing shortstop most of the time.
He deserves it, and the Yankees need him, just the way he is.
You don’t monkey with the great ones. Casey Stengel put Joe DiMaggio on first base one day – DiMaggio sweated through his uniform, and went to ownership after the game – and Mickey Mantle had to hobble out to first base late in his career because it would have been inhumane to make him play the outfield anymore.
Jeter will go out with dignity and competence. He was batting .261 going into Friday, and his range has gone down, but he is not among the top 10 reasons the Yankees are outside the wild-card zone. Joe Girardi knows that.
If younger Yankees were playing better, Jeter would be seen as a stabilizing force, but he cannot carry this assortment of mostly strangers and failures. That’s not his game. He always made everybody better, but that was when they had Bernie and Posada and Mo and Andy and all the gamers they collected. That era is over. Just don’t take it out on an epic Yankee who is drawing deserved cheers as he goes around baseball one last time.
The only slip I detect in Jeter’s dignity is his huckstering of autographed balls and other so-called collectibles. He is making $12-million on his final one-year contract, and I am not sure he needs to hustle all kinds of junk to rich people just because they can afford to splurge. I don’t see any reference to his foundation or other charities.
Maybe Jeter is putting a new wing on his modest Tampa Bay bungalow which locals call St. Jetersburg. (I think it is the model for Putin’s dacha wherever Putin plans to go in exile.)
But Jeter’s choice of life style is not the issue here. He has been an epic Yankee, a great baseball player, and the club gains from treating him with respect, through his last game.
If the Yankees are out of contention, I think Jeter owes it to himself to show up in Boston for the final weekend, Sept. 26-27-28, rather than pull a Teddy Ballgame and skip the last road trip. He has always been a class act. Let him go to Boston, and let a great baseball town fuss over him. He deserves it. Boston fans know that. This old Brooklyn Dodger fan knows that. Presumably, so does Derek Jeter.
* * *
This just in. I discovered today's terrific piece by Richard Sandomir, about the Yankees' collectibles deal with Brandon Steiner. I don't get this kind of collecting but am willing to compartmentalize my respect for Jeter the player. Still, when is enough enough?
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.