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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who’s Your Daddy? Father Time – Part I

New York Yankees shortstop and future National Baseball Hall of Fame enshrinee Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. Jeter is out for the remainder of the season. Jeter has a year remaining plus a player option/buyout year remaining on a lucrative contract, so we can expect to see the 38 year old Jeter back next season, minimally.

However, Jeter won’t be playing forever. Neither will others like him, future Hall of Famers who had great, long careers. These guys may have lost a step, but are still pretty good. They may have one year left…two years…maybe three or more. But they are once in a generation players at the back ends of their careers. Once they are gone, they are gone, and the era in sports they represent, will slide closer and closer to becoming part of our spots history rather than our sports landscape.

Today, and over the course of the coming weeks, the Hat Trick is going to look at the careers, the impacts, and the remaining time of three all time greats, one in football, one in basketball, and one in baseball. Enjoy them while they are here. Sooner than you realize, they will be on television, coaching, or just riding off into the sunset and back to relative anonymity.

DEREK JETER

We are going to begin with Derek Jeter. Jeter is in his 17th full season (18 total) on the Yankees’ roster. The 1996 American League Rookie of the Year has been anything if not the consummate professional. In his 17 full major league seasons, Jeter has never played in less than 119 games, playing in 150 games or more in 15 of those seasons.

Even at age 38 Jeter reached the All-Star Game (13th career appearance), led the American League in plate appearances (for the 5th time in his career), at bats (for the first time), and hits (for the second time) with 216. Jeter finished the season with a .316 batting average, three points above his career average. In spite of Father Time, Jeter may have gotten older, but his stat sheet got better!

Jeter, however, is not getting younger. After breaking an ankle, which will keep him out of action for at least three months, questions are bound to arise among baseball writers about how effective Jeter can be in 2013 and beyond. The past performance would indicate that he could only have so much of a dropoff after a season in which he may finish Top 5 in A.L. MVP voting.

What happens in 2013 will certainly decide whether Jeter plays in 2014. With the contentious nature of the negotiations on Jeter’s current contract (and contract negotiations in general) combined with the fact that Jeter will be 40 years old following his option year, realistically, Jeter is approaching the final two years of his illustrious career.

How many more of these can Jeter absorb and continue to be effective? 1

PEYTON MANNING

Last name, “Ever,” first name, “Greatest”? I have consistently stated that I thought Jerry Rice was, unequivocally, the greatest player in NFL history since he retired during the 2005 preseason while with the Denver Broncos. I try to hold off on evaluating careers in an historical context until after those careers have concluded, but I may be equivocating once Manning retires. It is ironic that three players for whom one could argue within reason are the three greatest players in the history of the game made their final stops in Denver (Rice, Manning, and Hall of Fame quarterback and current Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway).

Manning’s final stop may be in Denver, but his legacy was forged in the Midwestern town of Indianapolis, Indiana. After a rough start to his 1998 rookie season, Manning appeared to turn a corner in the final weeks of his freshman year and has never looked back since. Manning took the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs in 11 of his next 12 seasons as the Colts’ quarterback, including eight division titles (one AFC East championship and seven AFC South championships), two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl XLI championship to conclude the 2006 NFL season.

For those of you who have been in a coma for the last year, Manning struggled to recover from neck surgery following the 2010 season and did not play in 2011. His career appeared to be in jeopardy and he was released from the Colts in early 2012. It was far from the end. It was just the beginning.

Manning’s 2012 offseason was the most aggressive courting and recruiting of a free agent in recent memory. It was the most covered free agency by the media (social, electronic, and otherwise), possibly, ever. Rumors flew around. Would he prefer an indoor team? Would he avoid an NFC team so not to directly compete with his brother, Eli, with the New York Giants? Would the 49ers jettison Alex Smith, in a contract year, in exchange for the back end of Manning’s career?

Manning ended up in the last place I expected because I could not envision Manning coexisting with the most popular player in the NFL, Tim Tebow. Tebow would have to become a backup. There was no way the Broncos would release their fan favorite first round pick from just two years ago, right?

WRONG. Tebow was traded to the New York Jets to become the bane of Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez’s existence and the rest, as it is said, is history. Manning has had to shake off the process of aging and a year of rust. He does not appear to be in the form he was in at the peak of his career nor does he appear to possess the arm strength he had with the Colts, but he has carried his team and appears to have delivered what Elway bargained for when Manning was signed. Manning is one of the front runners for the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player.

At age 36, just how many years Manning has remaining is uncertain. His contract, assuming the Broncos honor it through its duration, would keep him around until the 2014 season, when he will be 38. Considering the extensive rehabilitation and risk involved with Manning’s neck and the elevated possibility that the Broncos could win the Super Bowl during the duration of Manning’s current deal, we may be witnessing the final two or three years of Manning’s career.

Manning has to remind the San Diego Chargers who the man was on Monday night, leading the Broncos from a 24 point deficit to win. 2
KOBE BRYANT

Kobe Bryant, one may ask? He just came up fourth in MVP voting last year! He helped lure Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s focused on an NBA championship, not a fishing rodeo during retirement.

The Black Mamba is as fierce a competitor as anyone and can compete with any star player in the NBA – LeBron James, Kevin Durant, it doesn’t matter…. Still, Kobe has noticeably had to alter his game, compared to his MVP winning season of 2008, to accommodate for the aging process. Speaking of aging, Kobe is 34 years old. He is a shooting guard, a position that requires speed, agility, and durability (when penetrating the paint). Stars decline rapidly, often with very little notice to the casual observer, at the 2-guard position.

Kobe himself has dropped very nuanced hints that the over/under on his number of remaining years in his career is about three. I don’t have any sources, but I have listened to enough of Kobe’s interviews and listened to him dance around the topic enough to make an educated guess. In the meanwhile, Bryant will continue to be one of the five most dangerous threats in the NBA.

He will continue to be the guy opposing teams want to keep the ball from in the closing moments of a close game. Bryant has made adjustments but, by and large, he is at the top of his game. How long that continues is uncertain, but Kobe’s stock is “up” and has yet to come down.

Lil' Wayne on who the 2012 All-Star Game MVP might be. 

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  1) Image from http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com
2) Image from www.usatoday.com

3) Video from www.youtube.com

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