Derek Jeter isn’t about personal accomplishments, but the most celebrated Yankee since Mickey Mantle will be the early focus of the 2011 season as he approaches 3,000 career hits.
Jeter is just 74 shy of the magical number that will create an even greater resume for his Hall of Fame candidacy.
The acrimony of his contract negotiations will fade away early in spring training. Jeter will be asked at least once more if he has any lingering bitterness. He will not stain his reputation by engaging in any such conversations. Jeter spends his offseason in Florida and there is scant news about his day to day activities.
There was a report over the holidays that Jeter’s father chased away a photographer near his son’s home. Note that it was dad who put himself out there, not the son.
Age has become Jeter’s opponent, at least in the questions he has had to field. He acknowledged getting older, but said so is everyone else. But no one else is the starting shortstop for the Yankees. Jeter will turn 37 on June 26. He is projected to reach the 3,000-mark sometime that month. It might even occur on his birthday.
Jeter’s pursuit of the milestone could be undercut by his overall average. He is coming off a sub-Jeter season, batting .270 with a .340 OBP. But it should be pointed out that Jeter hit 342 in his last 79 at-bats and, with scant attention and even some derision by some media observers, won his fifth Gold Glove award
But Jeter watchers yearn for a vintage Jeter, circa 1999 when he hit .349 with 24 homers, 102 runs batted in and 219 hits. Jeter took his place in Yankee history in 1996 by becoming the first rookie in 34 years to start at shortstop. Jeter was the rookie of the year and was credited as the driving force behind the Joe Torre-managed championship seasons.
But Jeter gets no respite in the presumed twilight of his career. The Yankees will pay him at least $51 million overt the next three seasons. The money is guaranteed, but his position is not. It is possible that shortstop could be take from him. One scenario has Jeter moving over to third, with Alex Rodriguez becoming the designated hitter after Jorge Posada retires. With Posada entering the final year of his contract, Jeter could be on the move a year from now.
That will clearly signal that time is running out on a great career. But that time has not yet arrived. This season portends a celebration for Jeter.