In a fitting metaphor for Derek Jeter's final season in the majors, the New York Yankees announced Tuesday that the club will add a patch to their jersey sleeves and caps honoring Jeter. The patch debuts Sunday — Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium — and will be worn until the seasons ends, until Jeter's career ends. Although some might think the Yankees are making it sound like Jeter is dying by adorning a tribute patch on their uniforms, it's similar to what they did for Mariano Rivera in 2013. Mo, of course, was near the top of his game when he retired. Jeter is not.
Coincidentally at a different media event, manager Joe Girardi was answering a question about why he's not dropping Jeter in the batting order. Girardi has done a strong job overall patching together Yankees lineups this season, even though most of them spring several leaks anyway. One of the biggest leaks usually comes at Jeter's spot.
Bryan Hoch points out at his Bombers Beat blog that Jeter's recent results have dropped off, from mediocre to worse:
Jeter’s performance fell off markedly in August, with the 40-year-old posting a split line of .207/.226/.261. That dropped his batting average from .277 to .261, and Jeter posted just four extra-base hits in 26 games, working two walks.
“For the first four months of the year, he was probably one of our most consistent hitters; one of the three most consistent hitters in our club,” Girardi said. “I consider us to be in playoff mode right now, for us, because we obviously need to win games. Throughout his career, he’s been clutch in the playoffs and we’re leaving him there.”
It would be inelegant for the Yankees to bat Jeter eighth or ninth — or even to ask him — even though he's their worst hitter. You can't ask the Captain to do that, and you can't tell him. It would be humiliating. That's not what the Yankees say they're about. Girardi's trying to spin it as if Jeter's their best option, or the least bad. He might be — just not for winning games.
Another point Girardi is avoiding: Jeter shouldn't be in the lineup, period. The runs Brendan Ryan would save the Yankees if he played short surely would be more valuable than the contributions Jeter gives.
But benching Jeter in his final season, after the Yankees trotted him out to short for five months and all of those years, would be a P.R. disaster. It also would leave a lasting image of Jeter glued to the bench, something akin to the famous images of Willie Mays looking exasperated during the 1973 World Series — only with more jersey sales and TV ratings dollars at stake.
The Yankees came into Tuesday 70-65, and four games back in the wild card race, with less than a month to go. If they really thought they had a chance to make the playoffs, perhaps they'd ask Jeter to take one for the team and hit lower in the lineup. They must not think the remote promise of the postseason is more important than public perception of their most popular player. And certainly not as they wear patches with his name on their uniforms.
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