Derek Jeter's final season in Yankee pinstripes is coming to an ignominious close. Jeter, a five-time World Series champion who sits sixth on baseball's all-time hits list and is an all-but-guaranteed first ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame, is playing out the string with a combination of iffy prospects, overpaid free agents, and past-their-prime position players. For a player who has famously played in only one regular season game in his entire career when the Yankees had no chance of making the post-season, Jeter's whimper-not-a-bang final season won't even end in Yankee Stadium. The team closes on the road in Boston.
Of course, anyone who follows baseball knows the Yankees have been flirting with a redux of their slide to the basement in the late 1960s for some time now. While the team scratched out a World Series win 5 years ago after dropping nearly half-a-billion dollars the previous offseason, things have been going downhill ever since. This season exposed all the team's long-term failings. A fallow minor league system that has produced only one all-star since Jeter's arrival (Robinson Cano, who is no longer with the team), the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, the wear and tear of thousands of innings finally catching up with CC Sabathia, underperforming recruits like Brian McCann and of course, Masahiro Tanaka's balky ulnar collateral ligament, which, when it gave out just after the all-star break, sealed the team's fate.
Surely, someone who has probably meant more to the Yankees than anyone since Mickey Mantle - "the captain," "the face of baseball" - deserves better than a nostalgic farewell tour larded with tacky gifts and a recent 0-for-28 slide that dropped his average close to .250. But the sports gods have a quirky sense of humor. Offered the opportunity to bow out gracefully, few athletes ever do. Indeed, John Elway's retirement after winning his second Super Bowl is more the exception than the rule. Tim Duncan could have called it a career after San Antonio secured its fifth NBA title in June, but he's coming back for another season. Peyton Manning set several NFL passing records last year and led his team to the Super Bowl, but even after four neck surgeries and one of the most prolific careers by a quarterback, he's back under center in Denver. Even the great Michael Jordan could not leave well enough alone. Having secured a sixth title with an iconic jump shot against the Utah Jazz in 1998, MJ made an ill-fated comeback in a Wizards jersey that while doing nothing to taint his place as one of the sport's all-time greats, was an odd coda to an otherwise exceptional career.
While this is not Willie Mays stumbling in center field for the Mets in 1973, or Johnny U closing out his career looking lost and old with the San Diego Chargers, Jeter's decision to continue playing after that last World Series title shows that while his career may have been charmed, even he will be denied a storybook ending.