BALTIMORE - What do you give a future Hall of Famer who has everything?
Buck Showalter had an idea. Too bad the Orioles didn't take him up on it.
Showalter's plan for a going-away gift was a poster of Jeffrey Maier leaning over the rightfield wall to interfere with Jeter's tying home run in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS.
And to present it?
"I would have had Tony Tarasco come out and hand him the picture,'' Showalter said, referring to the Orioles rightfielder who was foiled by the 12-year-old's glove. "That's how we think of him. We're excited he's retiring. I want him to go.''
Showalter was kidding -- or at least we think he was. So we asked Jeter if he would have appreciated the gesture.
"I've already reaped the benefits of it, so I don't need a poster,'' Jeter said, smiling. "I've had other reminders of it.''
One souvenir is the '96 World Series ring, which came at the Orioles' expense that October.
Showalter and the Yankees had parted ways after the previous season, but he and Gene Michael were responsible for building the foundation of a championship core. And the heart of those teams was Jeter, who got his first taste of the majors under Showalter.
Jeter played 15 games during Showalter's final season in the Bronx, but it was the 1995 Division Series invitation that stuck with him the most. Even though he wasn't eligible to play, Jeter had a dugout seat for the epic five-game series with the Mariners, and that's when the seeds were planted for his playoff success. Much of that, he says, was due to Showalter's decision to bring him along.
"I got a chance to feel what the atmosphere was like, and I owe him for that,'' Jeter said. "I think I was more nervous watching the playoffs in '95 than I was playing in '96, so a lot of that is a credit to him.''
Showalter made the connection between Jeter and another Yankees captain, Don Mattingly, while reflecting on these last few weeks of Jeter's career.
Mattingly also is a beloved Yankee, but he endured one of the longest playoff droughts in club history, and his team came up short when he finally did get there in his last year.
The way Showalter remembers it, Mattingly was laboring with back issues when he approached his manager with two weeks left in the season -- about where Jeter is now. The Yankees were battling for a wild card and Mattingly told Showalter that he was pushing full-throttle from that point on.
"He said, 'I'm going for it -- I just want you to know,' '' Showalter said. " 'I might blow my back out, but we need something else from me.' And for two weeks, he was the Mattingly of old. Holy cow. Every swing he took I thought was going to be his last.''
Mattingly, 34 at the time, somehow found a higher gear. During those last 14 games, he had a slash line of .375/.446/.604, going 18-for-48 with six doubles, a triple and a home run, as the Yankees earned their first playoff berth since 1981. In the ALDS, he went .417/.440/.708 with 10 hits and six RBIs in five games. But after a gut-wrenching walk-off loss in the deciding Game 5, Mattingly told Showalter on the plane ride home, "I'm done.''
Jeter's impending retirement and Sunday night's ceremony evidently had Showalter in a nostalgic mood. Jeter's Yankees have a bigger uphill climb to the playoffs than Mattingly's team did in '95, but we wonder if the current captain can summon one last sprint in the next two weeks.
Jeter is six years older than Mattingly was then, but the competitive fire burns as brightly. It's just that he knew it was over before the season began rather than figuring it out at the end.
"Could he play again next year and be a contributor? Of course he could,'' Showalter said of Jeter. "But he's not going to put a manager in that spot.''
With Jeter going 0-for-4 Sunday night and now hitting .164 in his last 32 games to drop to .250, Showalter probably is being a little generous. Jeter's timing, as usual, looks perfect. The magic of that Maier night in the Bronx feels like a long time ago now.