Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On the Dimming of Bright Stars

"Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought."
--Emily Dickinson

The Core Four saw its swan song in 2009. Pettitte left the game on his own terms a year later. Jeter, Rivera, and Posada soldier on. Welcome to decline, dear friends.

Jorge Posada – he of the .182 batting average, lowest among qualifying players – laced a line drive into the gap during Sunday's Subway Series finale that had double written all over it. Mets center fielder Jason Pridie made an excellent play to the cut the ball off and fire into second. It shouldn't have mattered – most major leaguers would be standing on second by the time the ball had gotten there anyway – but it did. Posada was out by a parsec.

The play brought to mind a play made (or not made) in the final year of another New York great, Willie Mays. Patrolling center field for the new-kid-on-the-block Metropolitans, he fell face-forward while trying to make a diving catch on a swooping drive. For the young Say Hey Kid the tough play would have been routine. You could tell that, rather than back up and play it safe, his mind directed him to make the catch – he knew no other way – but his 42-year-old body would not comply. Such was the snap-decision equation for Posada. Ball squarely in the gap = double. Except when, physically, you just can't.

Your ego is writing checks your body can't cash!

"Growing old is just a helpless hurt," Mays would later say. It's difficult to watch a once-great player unable to perform at the high standard to which he and we are accustomed. Apparently, that player is also difficult to manage. Posada removed himself from the lineup a week ago, rather than face the ignominy of batting ninth in a nationally televised Yankees—Red Sox showdown. Posada made vague reference to a stiff back and said needed a day to clear his head. He got his off-day, along with a media firestorm that had everyone from ownership, management, in-game Fox Sports announcers, fans of all stripes, and the national sports commentariat weighing in.

Will he retire? Was this insubordination? Should he be disciplined? Would the Yankees try to void his contract? Is an apology in order? (On the last question, Derek Jeter, ensnared in his own public fray with Father Time, answered no, creating a secondary conflagration that required a conference call with Cashman, Girardi, and the brothers Steinbrenner to ensure that everyone was "on the same page.")

"Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art---," Keats wrote in 1819, no doubt anticipating the age-defying dominance of Mariano Rivera.

Posada apologized the next day, and the word from team spokespeople was that the issue was resolved, let's move on. But for the Yankees' "legacy assets" and the man with the unenviable task of managing their subsiding value, the struggle to redirect time's arrow continues.