And still it wasn't easy.
This wasn't about his spot atop the batting order. This wasn't about his place in the middle of the infield.
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This wasn't about whether the Yankees are better without him in the lineup.
This was about whether he would go on the disabled list, when everyone agreed he was hurt, and when everyone agreed it would be at least a week or so before he could play.
And it wasn't easy.
Eventually, the Yankees made the only move that made any sense Tuesday, putting Jeter on the disabled list with a strained right calf. But first they delayed the decision so that Jeter could plead his case, delayed it so that Jeter could hear directly from the team doctor that the best move would be to take two weeks off, delayed it because this is Derek Jeter and they had a hard time telling him, "Derek, you're going on the DL."
He didn't want to do it. He wanted to play. He said that if they told him the injury would heal in 14 days, he wouldn't want to go on the 15-day DL because it would cost him a game he could have played.
"I don't like not to play," Jeter said.
Call that selfish if you will. I've already heard from Yankees fans who called it worse things than that, because the Yankees captain has evolved into a player who polarizes Yankees fans more than any other.
And remember, he's signed for two more years, three if he exercises a player option for 2014.
But also understand this: Jeter doesn't think he's being selfish. The great ones never do.
One thing that makes the great ones great is that they always believe they're the team's best option. They want to be in the lineup every day, because they truly believe the team has a better chance of winning if they're playing.
So you can watch Jeter play and say his skills have diminished. I can watch him play and say the same thing. The numbers crunchers can crunch their numbers and say it.
Derek Jeter is not going to believe it.
He's going to want to stay in the lineup. He's going to want to stay at the top of the lineup. He's going to want to stay in the middle of the infield.
And it's not going to be easy for the Yankees to decide otherwise.
Look at Tuesday. Look at how hard it was for them to simply put their injured captain on the disabled list.
|Derek Jeter grimaces in pain after injuring his right calf in a game against the Indians. (Getty Images)|
It's crazy that the Yankees ever considered the idea of playing a man short through this weekend's DH-less series at Wrigley Field, simply so Jeter could return to the lineup the very day he was able to play.
It's hard to believe they would have done that with any other player, but this is Derek Jeter.
He earned that status with his nearly 3,000 hits, and more than that, he earned it with his five championships. But that status turns even small decisions like Tuesday's into a near-crisis.
And decisions like Tuesday's remind you of how tough those really big decisions will eventually be.
For now, the Yankees will get to watch Eduardo Nunez play shortstop every day for a couple of weeks. Until now, Nunez played only on those days when Jeter was the designated hitter, plus the two games he had missed. And while Nunez showed better range than Jeter, he committed more errors in 77 innings at shortstop (five) than Jeter did in 505 innings there (four).
For now, the Yankees will look at Brett Gardner atop their lineup. Gardner is having a better offensive season than Jeter, but in 10 previous games as the leadoff hitter, Gardner's on-base percentage (.222) was more than 100 points lower than Jeter had (.336) in 53 games as the leadoff hitter.
Is Nunez a better option than Jeter at shortstop? Is Gardner a better leadoff hitter?
That doesn't matter yet. Obviously, Jeter will return as soon as he's healthy (or as soon as his DL time is up), he'll return as the shortstop, and he'll return batting first or second.
But the time seems to be coming when it will be obvious to everyone (Yankees manager Joe Girardi included) that Jeter needs to move, either down in the order, off shortstop or both. What happens when it's obvious -- to everyone but Derek Jeter?
One thing you can be sure of: It's not going to be easy.