Weird column from Mike Vaccaro at the Post today. In it he looks at Derek Jeter’s swan song and compares it to Mickey Mantle’s, Joe DiMaggio’s and Don Mattingly’s. The upshot: Mantle, DiMaggio and Mattingly all had their glorious careers end rather ignominiously, with their bodies hobbled and their production a shadow of what it once was. Jeter, on the other hand, is “sticking the landing” better, still being reliable and atoning nicely for his 2013, which was lost to injury:
Could he have a skid like the one that nearly obliterated Mattingly’s last go-round? He could. He’s had stretches of ineffectiveness this year. But again, when you’ve watched Jeter as long as you have, you understand something: There’s no way he will allow himself to become a burden. It seems he’s come to peace with who he is at age 40: a contributor, a leader, a captain, a player you’d certainly rather have on your team than not, a star by reputation rather than repetition. Reliably reliable.
I guess he’s certainly in better physical shape than those other guys were but it’s not like they were chopped liver while Jeter remains some prime contributor:
- Mantle’s final season by OPS+: 143
- DiMaggio’s final season by OPS+: 116
- Mattingly’s final season by OPS+: 97
- Jeter’s final season by OPS+ 81
I get that the optics were bad for those other guys given that they were hobbled physically while Jeter is not, but I feel like the stories told about the end to their careers — and careers like that of Willie Mays and other major stars — are often misleading. Mantle was still an extremely valuable hitter and most people who say otherwise don’t appreciate how good an offensive season he was actually having in 1968 given that it was The Year of the Pitcher. The other guys weren’t what they used to be, but to say they left on a terrible note says more about what we thought of them in their primes, not what they actually were in their last year.
Jeter really isn’t that different than them. He’s still useful given how thin shortstop is in major league baseball, but he has fallen off just as much if not more than the other retiring Yankees legends have. It’s the same story that can be told about most players when they reach this point, actually. Not a different one in any notable respect.
It just feels like yet another instance of telling stories we want to be true rather than stories that actually are true. We were sad that Mickey Mantle didn’t look like Mickey Mantle anymore so we overstate his decline. We’re generally OK with how Jeter looks now so we overstate the value of his final season.