New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi actually used to be unafraid to make the right decision for the good of the team, even if it ruffled some feathers. Remember, he batted the struggling Jorge Posada ninth against the Boston Red Sox, causing the catcher to have his sitdown snit and refuse to play. Of course, Girardi also pulled and benched Alex Rodriguez in the 2012 playoffs multiple times, to the point where he even chose playing the struggling Eric Chavez (!) over A-Rod.
But when it comes to Derek Jeter, it is clear that despite Girardi saying back in April that "I wasn’t hired to put on a farewell tour,” that is exactly what he is doing right now. Why else would he keep Jeter in the No. 2 spot, even though the captain had, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman notes, "the AL’s worst OPS in August at .487" for hitters with more than 100 plate appearances? (Jeter hit all of .207 in August, with a measly .226 on-base percentage.) Why would Girardi be so defensive with the media yesterday for them daring to question his lineup choices?
Girardi defends himself
As ESPN New York reported, Girardi accused the media of picking on Jeter and singling him out, and then complained, "So I move him? Who am I going to put there? That's my question." He also argued that Jeter should be batting second, saying, according the Daily News, that "I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, because we obviously need to win games,” because "throughout his career, [Jeter's] been clutch in the playoffs." Note: Paul O'Neill was clutch in the playoffs, too. Is he going to start in right field now?
Sure, Jeter is not the only problem with this team, but Girardi getting so defensive and insistent that the Captain should stay in his No. 2 spot, even though his numbers over the past month have been horrible, is troubling. Most players with stats like that wouldn't even be starting, let alone getting the second-most at-bats of anybody on the team.
I go back and forth on this issue. A few weeks ago, I was asked by Syracuse radio show host Mike Lindsley whether Jeter should be moved down, and I didn't think it would make a difference. But since then, Martin Prado has been the hottest hitter on the team, and Jeter has struggled even more. So it would have made sense to put Prado (who batted seventh last night) further up in the lineup, and Jeter further down. But because Girardi is indeed managing Jeter's retirement tour now, not for a playoff run, the captain stays where he is. (I know Prado may be injured after last night's game, but he still should have been higher in the lineup.)
Look, I don't think the Yankees are making the playoffs anyway. But the fact is that the team isn't hitting, and moving the players around the lineup couldn't hurt. Girardi complains that the media is singling Jeter out, but the manager is, as Newsday's David Lennon points out, singling Jeter out himself by refusing to even consider moving him.
Yankee beat writer defends Girardi
Sportswriter Brendan Kuty of the Newark Star-Ledger defended Girardi's lineup choices, writing:
"Dropping Jeter would be a bigger distraction than not dropping him has been to date. Because what if his replacement isn't much better? Or, worse, what if it at all damages the relationship between Jeter and the Yankees?"
Kuty also writes that the Yankees should worry more about protecting "Jeter's pristine legacy" than "any false playoff hopes."
Hmmm. I thought the Captain was the ultimate team-first guy. So why wouldn't he want what is best for the team? Why would doing what is best for the team damage things? Come to think of it, why wouldn't Jeter himself suggest that it was time to move him down the lineup, and take the heat off his manager for doing so?
On that crazy retirement patch
Speaking of that selfless, team-first player, how about the fact that a team that doesn't even put names on the back of the uniforms is putting Jeter's name on patches on their hats and jerseys for the last month of the season? (Who needs tradition when you can make even more money?) And how creepy is it going to be when Jeter himself wears patches honoring himself? Even more creepy than Jeter starring in a commercial with everybody kissing his tuchis, or wearing shoes calling himself the King of New York. (Cue the Jeter defenders writing in to say sexist things. But guess what? That doesn't make the Jeter patch and the Jeter cleats and the Jeter Re2pect commercial any less self-aggrandizing or obnoxious. And guess what else? Jeter agreed to all of this nonsense.)
Of course, Jeter and Steiner Sports and the Yankees will make a mint selling these special hats and jerseys, particularly the game-used ones. ESPN's Darren Rovell reported yesterday that Jeter game-used jerseys currently go for $25,000 (!) each. Undoubtedly the ones with the special patch will go for even more. But at what cost?
It's funny how so much of what purportedly made Jeter special -- his humility, his team-first attitude, his supposed desire not to draw attention to himself -- have been completely obliterated over the last few years, culminating in this debacle of a retirement tour. "At what point is the Jeter worship enough?" I asked last month "When does it end?" I guess it never ends, not until the team becomes the New York Jeters, who play at Jeter Stadium. Good grief indeed.