In November 2008, not long after Mike Mussina announced his retirement, I wrote a column about the concept of “dying at the right time.” In short, dying at the right time involves deciding to leave the game, or, “die” on your own terms. I commended Mussina for having the courage and self-awareness to know that after a 20-win season, ending his career was a better option than returning for another shot at a title, at age 40, with diminished stuff.
That column was written in the context of a well-thought, fully formulated decision that likely took weeks, maybe even months, to plan. Andy Pettitte weighed it several times and took a similar path after last season.
Longtime Banterer The Hawk had some great comments on the Mussina piece, including this one:
I appreciate tenacity, competitiveness and a never-say-die spirit in athletes far more than a sense of decorum or the good taste to retire without “embarrassing” themselves. I can’t say I believe this across the board but in general I love the guys who can’t let go, who’s desire to compete wins out over pride or legacy-building.
Do you love Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada now? Sure, their desire to compete — save for Saturday’s Posada drama — is unwavering, but do you want to continue watching them turn into Benjamin Button? We want to see the youthfulness and greatness demonstrated in the first 10-12 years of their careers, but the reality is that this season they are aging rapidly. We know it. They know it. They’re holding on. Barely.
Jeter gave us a glimmer of hope with his two-home-run effort in Texas. But watching him since then, even though he’s gotten hits and his march to 3,000 is going strong, he’s still hitting less than .260. His at-bats used to be filled with expectations of line drives to right field. Now the expectations are anemic groundballs to second base. Every out he makes is riddled with Tweets and jeers of “THREE MORE YEARS OF THIS!” We know. But who’s a better option? Eduardo Nuñez? We won’t touch the defensive range issue with Jeter.
Posada should have had the easiest route. He moved away from being the everyday catcher to designated hitter, but his pride, hubris, whatever, is preventing him from accepting the current role and producing. It’s not like Posada has forgotten how to hit; he still has a good eye and can draw a walk. He isn’t adjusting to seeing more sliders, and isn’t adjusting to channeling his entire focus into four or five individual at-bats.
Sometimes, the game lets you know when it’s your time. It did for Ken Griffey, Jr., last year. Jeter and Posada are on the brink.
Would you rather see them continue to try to recapture the magic of 3 or 5 years ago, at the risk of their efforts being a detriment to the team and their own legacies? Or would you rather see them accept their fates, recognize the end of their respective careers and act accordingly?