Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. That's been the theory advanced for decades. Peek at Yankee Stadium, and there's evidence of something more difficult - managing a fading superstar.
Derek Jeter has forever been what's right with baseball. He's not just the captain of the Yankees, but the face of the game. The smile, however, is gone.
He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, his resume filled with gold-plated statistics. The only numbers that seem to matter these days are on his contract - he's owed $51 million through 2013 - and birth certificate. He's 36, aging in dog years this season.
No one, other than Red Sox fans, wants to see Jeter suffer an inglorious, premature end. But this is getting complicated quickly. Owner of a .313 career average, Jeter is batting .250 with no home runs and six RBIs. He has two extra-base hits, and just six line drives have reached the outfield.
He's been dubbed "4-to-3ter" - his season a series of weak groundballs. The captain has been saved by the fact that the Yankees are winning. But for how much longer can they ignore the issue?
It's not easy to bench Jeter. Heck, it's not comfortable to even move him in the lineup. The Rockies faced a similar situation with Todd Helton last year. Their most accomplished player ever couldn't carry his weight. Eventually his body betrayed him, but not before he was dropped out of the third spot in the lineup. That Helton handled it with class helped tremendously - not only last season, but this spring. It prevented fractures and uncertainty from infecting the clubhouse.
Jeter hasn't shown a willingness to embrace anything that hints of a demotion. He was upset he sat Thursday despite a hip issue. This is definitely the start of his decline, awful timing given the contentious contract negotiations that strained his relationship with Yankees ownership and general manager Brian Cashman during the winter. This doesn't have to end badly. Jeter doesn't want to cede his status to Alex Rodriguez. I get it. They have had an uneasy relationship for years.
This is the part of a career that no star wants to see or believe. If Jeter is everything he's always been - a leader, a winner - he needs to open his mind. His legacy is defined by championships. This Yankees team is good enough to claim another World Series title. Before they start losing, when his production will become a daily back-page item, Jeter needs to kill the story.
Derek Jeter can learn from Rockies' Todd Helton
Denver Post | May 8