<
>

Most burning question: Why now, Derek?

Derek Jeter will face the media Wednesday morning. And there's one thing, above all, we'd like to know about his impending retirement. John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER/USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- It is not often that a bunch of divergent groups with differing agendas can approach a story with the same basic question, but when Derek Jeter takes the podium Wednesday at New York Yankees camp to address his recent retirement announcement, GM Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi, most of his teammates, all of the media and millions of Yankees fans will likely want to hear just one particular question:

Why?

Why now, Derek?

Why announce you are walking away from the game before you even know for sure how much baseball you have left in you?

That is just one of many questions that remain unanswered, but to the team and its fans, it has to be the most important one.

Because if one thing has become clear in discussing Jeter with his boss, his manager and some of his teammates, it is that just about everyone was blindsided by the announcement, made not in a private phone conversation with Cashman or Girardi -- although Jeter did call owner Hal Steinbrenner -- but in a lengthy post on his Facebook page.

Cashman said he was “surprised" by Jeter’s announcement. Girardi chose “taken aback" as his reaction. CC Sabathia said he was “saddened." Mark Teixeira allowed that he was "shocked."

“I thought that Derek had a couple years left in him," Teixeira said. “I knew how excited he would be about this season, the same way I am. When you only play 15 or 17 games, you just get really excited about playing the next year. I could have seen Derek playing until he was 44 or 45; I really could have."

That was what most people thought, that Jeter would be one of those guys who would need the uniform cut off his body before he would leave the field.

In one sense, it is better this way, because it pretty much insures he will not stumble through a prolonged, sad ending of the type that we’ve seen with other great players of the past.

But in another, it is a mystery why a player whose hallmark is his unshakeable self-belief would decide before even taking a single spring training batting practice swing that he could no longer commit himself to the game that has been his life for the better part of four decades.

It makes you wonder if the broken ankle that limited him to 17 games last season is still troubling him, or if his early fielding and hitting drills have made it clear to him that he can no longer play up to his former standards.

But in that case, you’d think he would retire now, before the rest of the world could learn what he already knows.

The truth is, no one really knows how much game Derek Jeter has left. Hitting in the cage and fielding some soft grounder hit by a coach tells a player nothing about his ability to perform in a real game. Not even live batting practice, against a real pitcher, or the customary five innings in a preseason game can come close to simulating the intensity of a major league ballgame.

What if the guy rebounds from his torturous 2013 season to hit .300 again? We already know he’s capable of that kind of bounce-back from his 2012 season, when he batted .316 and led the American League in hits after suffering through a nightmarish 2011.

What if he racks up another 200 hits and finds himself suddenly fifth on baseball’s all-time hit list, needing fewer than 120 to vault himself over Stan Musial and trailing just Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron in all of baseball history?

How tempting will it be to rescind that Facebook post?

In that entry, Jeter said baseball had started to "feel like a job," and that he "could not be more sure" that his decision to pack it in after this year is the right one.

But why did he feel the need to announce it now, when he is sure to be asked about it at every stop the Yankees make this season? Why couldn't this most private of professional athletes keep such a momentous decision to himself for six more months?

There are dozens of other questions that will be asked of Jeter on Wednesday. Some will be hagiographic, others will be probing. What did he mean when he said he wanted to start a family? Is he on the verge of announcing an engagement, as well?

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

#2 SS
New York Yankees

2013 STATS

  • GM17
  • HR1

  • RBI7

  • R8

  • OBP.288

  • AVG.190

Jeter wrote he wants “new challenges," he wants to “see the world" and enjoy a first-ever summer vacation. Does that mean he will disappear from the public eye for a while? Relocate to Europe? Host barbecues at St. Jetersburg, the 30,000-square-foot mansion he owns not far from the Yankees' spring training complex?

And what of his post-baseball life? He wrote of pursuing opportunities in business and philanthropic causes. But what will his relationship with the Yankees be? Will he show up every spring in a Yankees hoodie to hit fungoes to the infielders, like David Wells? Could he see himself as a part owner, or a GM, or a manager? Would he be interested in working some games as a TV commentator?

Is he emotionally ready to appear at a Yankees Old-Timers' Day?

Or will he aim even higher, and try to leave his mark on the game as an MLBPA official or, dare we suggest, as the commissioner of baseball? The odds of any player ever being approved by the owners to occupy the commissioner’s office are slim, but if any player could serve as the perfect front man for the game, it is Jeter. He’s already done it for 20 years as a player.

Or will he take a page from the Jim Brown playbook and leave his sport behind in favor of Hollywood?

The possibilities are endless, and tantalizing to explore.

But of all the questions we might want to ask Derek Jeter on Wednesday, and all the answers we would like to hear, none is more intriguing than the simplest of all:

Why now, Derek?

That is the one question no one seems to have a satisfactory answer for.

No one, I presume, but Jeter. And I can't wait to hear it.