Here is the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor.
Several years after he retired, Mickey Mantle told reporters that his one baseball regret was he played too long. In his final 1968 season, Mantle hit .237. Had Mantle retired in 1967, when his .245 batting average made it clear to all he was finished, he would have ended his career with a .302 average instead of .298
Mantle’s hindsight provides a good object lesson for Derek Jeter should he care to learn from it.
Jeter, according to all accounts, has two choices: to accept the 3-year $45 million contract the New York Yankees have offered (or some compromise between that and the $22 million, five year deal he’s seeking) or test the free agent market.
But Jeter has a third and much better option: to retire now before he embarrasses himself by playing out the string as a 41-year-old bench warmer and the inevitable object of baseball ridicule. Joe DiMaggio retired as a Yankee at 36. Jeter should too.
No doubt Jeter would have a hard time making the decision to hang it up. But if, as we are repeatedly told, Jeter treasures his image, then he should project how the media will be talking about him in 2013, when he’s batting about .225 as an occasional designated hitter.
All Jeter has to do is watch how the ESPN talking heads have described the iconic but also aging Brett Favre: “useless,” “washed up,” and “the Vikings biggest problem.” If Jeter substitutes his name for Favre’s in those searing evaluations, he’ll get the picture.
But, you’re asking, what about the tens of millions that Jeter will leave on the table if he retires?
I assume Jeter has had sound financial advice during the 10 years when he has earned nearly $200 million plus millions more from endorsements. Judging from his 30,000-square-foot home he built in Tampa, Jeter doesn’t have any worries. (See it here.) If worst comes to worst, Jeter could always rent out rooms.
But I’m confident that Jeter could talk the Yankees into a comfortable package to not play that would allow him to easily meet his monthly mortgage obligations.
Jeter should approach Hank Steinbrenner with the suggestion that at a salary of, for example, $4 million annually he be named roving scout, Yankee good will ambassador, spring training batting instructor, assistant to the president, bench coach or any other of the innocuous non-jobs that abound in baseball. Jeter would serve at his own pleasure; do pretty much whatever he wants, whenever he wants to. When Jeter wants to travel with the team and hit fungoes, that’s great. If he wants to sit in a corner office with his feet up, that’s fine too.
While it will be disappointing to Jeter not to get 3,000 hits, missing that goal means little since Jeter is a lock for the Hall of Fame. Nothing is less appealing to fans than players who linger too long to reach a milestone that’s insignificant in the big picture. The difference between Jeter’s 2,926 hits and 3,000 won’t alter his legacy.
My proposed solution provides Jeter a dignified way out that allows him to gracefully step aside, protect his status as a Yankee all time great yet still get the bonus income he feels he’s owed for his years of dutiful service.
If you ask me, that’s a lot better for Jeter than being maligned in the press every day for the next three seasons as another player who didn’t recognize when it was time to say good-bye.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org