As the Derek Jeter Farewell tour rolls into its second month, the namesake of the tour finds himself in a bit of a hitting slump.
Slumps in baseball are part of the game. So, the fact that Derek Jeter is in one, on the surface, is no cause for concern.
Below the surface, however, trouble is lurking in the form of how to handle an extended slump.
While benching players in a slump is commonplace, how does one bench a player in the middle of a Farewell Tour without ruffling the feathers of the fans who have paid their money for one last look at the Captain of the Yankees?
In recent days, the manager of the Yankees, Joe Girardi, (who also was a teammate of Jeter’s) has been asked by various media outlets about the possibility of benching Jeter, or moving him down to the bottom of the batting order if his production at the plate does not improve.
Girardi responded by saying that every option remains on the table. To date, Jeter is still in the lineup most days trying to hit his way out of the slump while the Yankees have dropped a couple of games to division opponents.
Benching Jeter is certainly within the purview of a manager to do, but will added pressure be brought to ensure that Derek Jeter plays in each of the cities on the tour?
Last year during the Mariano Rivera Farewell tour, Rivera decided to not play during a visit to play the Houston Astros since he wanted his last memories of the mound to be when Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to take him out of his last game at Yankee Stadium.
While many in attendance at Minute Maid Park were certainly disappointed to not have the opportunity to see Mariano play, as the chorus of boos rocking the rafters when each pitcher not named Mariano Rivera came out of the Yankees’ bullpen demonstrated, in hindsight one can certainly respect Rivera’s wishes.
Rivera only had to be on for one to two innings a game. So, he faced less pressure than the expectation for Jeter to be on the field for nine innings a game.
There will be people in each of the remaining cites on the farewell tour who will have purchased their tickets with the sole purpose of seeing Jeter play one last time.
While the time may come this season when benching a slumping Jeter is in the best interests of the Yankees as a whole, there will likely be more Ballparks filled with booing fans in the event that Jeter does not take the field during his final visits to each city.
Derek Jeter is certainly not the first athlete to falter down the stretch during their careers.
In fact, comparisons to Jeter’s current slump and that of a former NASCAR driver on his “victory tour” can certainly be made.
In 2000 Darrell Waltrip entered what was to be his final year as a race car driver in a season dubbed his “Victory Tour.”
With full sponsorship from a “big box” retailer, and a marketing campaign to boot, the Victory Tour begin with all of the brashness and pomp that one had come to expect from the driver nicknamed “Jaws.”
While few drivers could compete with Waltrip during his prime, the fact remained that the 2000 season was far from DW’s prime as a driver.
In fact, by the time Waltrip’s Victory Tour rolled around, it had been eight years since the three-time series champion had been to victory lane.
Waltrip had to use a Champion’s Provisional to qualify for most of the races, and when those dried up there were many races that he failed to qualify for.
Even in the races where Waltrip did qualify, he was often many laps down or out of the race by the time the checkered flag waved.
While Derek Jeter still seems to have more in the tank than Darrell Waltrip did at the end of his career, the fact remains that both men likely held on a little too long, making their farewell tours seem a little sad for fans who remember the way they were in their prime.
Despite the lackluster “Victory Tour,” Darrell Waltrip was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for his many career accomplishments. There is little doubt that regardless of how his farewell tour goes that Derek Jeter will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite struggles at the end of their respective runs, few can argue that both men weren’t champions for the bulk of their careers.
There will still be moments where the Derek Jeter of old shows through this year, but fans need to temper their expectations and realize that more times than not there will be strikeouts and hitless nights.
There will also likely be nights coming up where Derek Jeter is not even in the lineup.
In a perfect world, Jeter would want the farewell tour to end with a sixth World Series title for his career. That still could happen despite any potential benchings or extended slumps.
Unlike Darrell Waltrip, who was left to mainly fend for himself on the track, there are eight other players on the field with Jeter at any given time to help pick up the slack as the team moves towards October.
But even if the Yankees do give Jeter the final World Series title, the whispers of him hanging on too long will still continue just as they do for every athlete who finds themselves staying around while the mind is still willing but the body is weak.
For every Ray Lewis and John Elway who retire with a Super Bowl title, there are countless other athletes who just don’t know when to say when.
Now if you’ll excuse me, in the words of Darrell Waltrip it is time to boggitty, boggitty, boggitty.
Copyright 2014 R. Anderson