12:13 pm Apr. 10, 2012
Analysts disagree on when a baseball player's peak is. Some say 24-28, others 26-32, others 25-30.
No one says 35. Or 37. Or 42.
Nevertheless, much of the success enjoyed by the New York Yankees in recent years has been due to players enjoying peak-level seasons at ages that usually mean a player is either declining, or retired.
Derek Jeter had an M.V.P. level season at age 35 for the Yankees in 2009. Jorge Posada, at a position, catcher, that ages players more quickly than most others, was dominant at 34 and 35 and still useful at 38. Andy Pettitte was an all-star at 38, and aims to return this year to contribute at 40. Mariano Rivera, 42, was the best closer of all time by the end of his thirties, and has been even better since turning 40.
Still, the flip side is that any decline from these players is taken, with good reason, as a sign that the Indian summer they've been enjoying is coming to an end. In Posada's case, that happened in 2011, when his production went down and the Yankees decided not to bring him back.
It looked like the same thing might be happening to Derek Jeter, who slumped to a career-low 90 OPS+ in 2010, and dipped even further in the first half of 2011. Shortstops his age, to paraphrase Casey Stengel, are retired at the present time.
But Jeter's second-half revival in 2011--he hit .327 after the all-star break--led him to believe he had solved the problem of aging. Any other player, you'd laugh.
But watch Derek Jeter's four hits last night. He's hitting the ball with authority. He's hitting .415 on the young season.
Apparently, Yankee superstars don't die. They don't even fade away. They just leave, when they're ready, on their own terms.