Why time is gaining on Derek Jeter

Updated: February 19, 2013, 9:33 AM ET
By Buster Olney

TAMPA, Fla. -- Don't tell Derek Jeter this, but time is gaining on him.

He has heeded Satchel Paige's advice and refrained from looking back, and last summer he all but thumbed his nose at age. He fought off inside fastballs and rolled out 216 hits at age 38, the most since he was 25. He was an All-Star, finished seventh in the MVP voting and passed a whole bunch of Hall of Famers on the all-time leaderboards.

At the end of his season, when he collapsed on the field with a broken ankle, he refused to give in to time. When New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi reached him while Jeter while sprawled on the dirt, the first thing Jeter said -- knowing that he was seriously injured -- was that he didn't want to be carried off the field. So he half-limped, half-walked off, supported by others, before anybody thought about bringing out a cart.

But time is relentless. You may have heard that it posted 50 years on Michael Jordan today, who seemed an immortal in his time. It will get Jeter eventually.

Will that happen this summer? Who knows? Jeter has spoken confidently about his rehab work, about how he's right on schedule, and after his resurgence over the past year and a half, we'd be fools to doubt him.

But he's now reached the stage of his career when it wouldn't be a surprise if the decline came at any time. If his batting average plummeted from the .316 of last season to something much lower, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken would probably nod their heads and say, Yeah, it happens. In the summer of 1973, when Aaron was 39 years old, he clubbed 40 homers. The next season, he hit 20. Two years after that, he retired.