The age at which a top level professional athlete's skill begins to wane varies on which sport they play. When was the last time you saw a 55-year-old pork chop crammed into an under-sized Speedo attempting some serious flips and twists off the springboard or diving platform? The closest thing you'll ever see to that is some hairy, farmer-tanned behemoth doing a cannonball into your neighbours' backyard pool with a beer in one hand and the family Schnauzer in the other. When the kids stop crying and you re-fill the pool, remind your buddy that it wasn't the big splash that he created which displaced half the volume of water that frightened the kids and drowned the pooch,but rather the orange Speedo that went out of style when his mullet haircut did and that his diving days are over.
I played eight years in an over 40 master's touch football league and the post patterns took so long the quarterback usually had enough time for a cigarette. Sometimes you just have to know when it's time to hang 'em up.
The same applies to other lines of work as witnessed by a friend of mine who went in for a simple hip replacement surgery andfullyexpected to have issues with airport security with his new stainless steel hip socket but when the full body scan took a closer look, they discovered that the surgeon left his car keys behind before he stitched him up. Everytimemy pal stands up too fast, a BMW command start kicks in from miles away and a witless orthopedic surgeon finds his car in the parking lot with its lights on and out of gas.
There are whispers that Derek Jeter - the noble captain of my precious New York Yankees - has skipped the slow fade process of a natural decline in talent and reflexes and skipped right to the phase where curve balls make him look like a blind grandmother playing ping pong with Forest Gump.
With a lifetime batting average of .314 and eclipsing the .330 mark four times, Jeter is knocking on the door of several all-time Yankees' offensive departments and is a certain hall of famer - unless of course he keeps playing like he needs immediate cataract surgery and a walker.
His recent slide, or as we call it for veteran all-stars, a "prolonged slump" is worrisome to say the least.
After a decent start, Jeter has struggled to keep his average above the .270 mark, which is exactly eight points lower than the team batting average of the Minnesota Twins. Granted the Twins are leading the league in hitting, but Jeter seems to be utterly lost at the plate, consistently late on fastballs and fooled on breaking balls. As bad as he has looked at the plate, he has obviously lost a lot of range at shortstop as welland these days relies on his ultra-talented second baseman to bail him out on balls hit through the middle.
On top of this troublesome drop-off in production is the fact Jeter is playing in the final year of his contract and, when he and the Steinbrenner boys sit down to talk about another long-term deal, someone's feelings are about to be hurt. His days of making $20 million a year are behind him and the fact is he is close to forcing the Yankees to find him another position. Three years ago the Yanks brass faced the same contractual negotiations with Jorge Posada and they bit the bullet to sign the aging backstop to another lengthy and lucrative contract. Jorge can still tear the cover off the ball, but the last time he threw out a base stealer was when they played an exhibition game against a team of Clydesdales.
It took five years for Willie Mays to finally admit his skills had eroded and as a devout Yankee fan I have my fingers crossed that Jeter is just having an off year.
Shortstop might be among the most taxing positions to play and, at 36, Jeter's best days are likely behind him. He holds a career .321 mark in seven World Series appearances and will be fondly remembered for many clutch hits and his classic backhanded jump and throw ability to rob a batter of a sure hit, but these days I just cringe when he steps into the batter's box.
As the column headline suggests, not only am I having some paranoia over the sudden inept play of Jeter, but also of the starting rotation. Other than big CC Sabathia, the rest of the crew looks done. Hughes has likely run out of gas after too many innings and even the Jays wouldn't take AJ Burnett back the way he's throwing. With Pettitte still hurt and Javier Vasquez suffering from a mysterious lack of velocity, I am not walking around with my regular swagger. Thehuge upsideis that Boston continues tolose. It is kind of the same emotional strategy I invoke whenmy Montreal Canadiens struggle, but as long as the Leafs are worse, then I can sleep at night. Adios.