As Derek Jeter envisioned his final tour around baseball, certainly he didn’t imagine it like this. There’s something about watching a hero struggle to maintain his high standards that makes us cringe.
“You gotta have fun,” Jeter has said according to The Baseball Almanac. Regardless of how you look at it, we’re playing a game. It’s a business, it’s our job, but I don’t think you can do well unless you’re having fun.”
And after his solid start, we thought he was headed for the quality final season that Mariano Rivera gave us last year.
So the question has become, how much fun is Jeter having in 2014? As his batting average slipped below .260, the calls began for his long-term drop in the lineup. And there has even been speculation of his benching. So how long can he keep that smile going?
The truth is, Jeter is following the path of another Yankee immortal, The Yankee Clipper. Joe DiMaggio also saw his numbers drop dramatically in his final season. Joe’s 1951 average was .263, a full 62 points below his career average. “I no longer have it,” DiMaggio declared, also according to Baseball Almanac.
And the comparison doesn’t stop there. DiMaggio struggled to make his customary contact in his final season. His total strike outs in 1951 was the most in his last six seasons.
In similar fashion, Jeter’s long-standing benchmark, 200 hits per season, seems unreachable. He’s on pace for 150 to 160. That would make it one of his worst hits output in a full season of his career.
But Yankee historians know that despite his regular season struggles in 1951, DiMaggio found a way to nearly match his usual success in the postseason. He left the game by rekindling his high standards, leaving Yankee fans with a dignified memory.
So those who are jumping off the Jeter band wagon should remember that the season is still young. Like DiMaggio, Jeter has always found a way to come through for the Yankees when it has mattered most.
And with typical Joe Girardi pacing to keep him rested, he could also leave us with something very special to remember. But no matter what happens, no matter what his final stats show, let’s get on our feet and honor him as he leaves the game with the same dignity as Joe D.