By Jason Keidel
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Fans and media are strapped in courtside, watching the verbal volley between Derek Jeter and the Yankees. And like all things New York, it is essential to take sides, even if both sides are at fault.
Casey Close, Jeter’s agent, is doing what agents do: feigning indignity while scoffing at the team’s 3-year, $45 million offer to its captain. Brian Cashman urged Jeter to test the market, listen to the crickets in the shadow of an offer no one else will approach.
This isn’t about the inequity of athletes making more in one game than a schoolteacher makes in a year. Derek Jeter is worth whatever the market will pay him. In this case, the Yankees are the market. As always, the Yankees bid against themselves in the vacuum of nearly infinite income. It is, as they say, a nice problem to have. Just remember that there are no victims in this tussle.
Everyone knows Jeter is being offered a de facto legacy contract, an opulent slap on the behind for having the team and the town’s back since 1996. It is the prerogative of legends.
You want to calculate how much money Jeter has generated for the Yankees, which is impossible. Part of Jeter’s genius is making us think he plays solely for the love of the game, and since he has been so good and so quiet for so long we assume he has done it for so little. But Derek Jeter is a very rich man, in many ways.
It is his agent’s job to tell us that Jeter transcends numbers, which is very convenient right after he hits .270. Jeter’s defenders are asking us to feel sorry for an icon who has made $200 million before his 37th birthday, dates supermodels, has a fistful of World Series rings, and has been the captain of the New York Yankees for eight years.
“You can’t put a dollar sign on what he means to the team!” you shout. But we must. We keep score in all matters. Jeter’s prior contract was based on the physical, while his next contract will be based on the metaphysical, things like pride and symbolism and tradition. And, to some extent, it should. Baseball, more than any other team sport, trades on nostalgia. And if the Yankees pay Jeter double rather than triple what he’s currently worth, we’ll all just have to survive.
Hank Steinbrenner inherited his father’s penchant for poorly worded sentiments. But he is correct when he says the Yankees have made many of their employees rich, richer than they would have been with any other employer. The fact that it came from the mouth of a man who was born rich should not negate the truth of his assertion.
The mistake the Yankees made is in making this public and, therefore, inelegant. Let Jeter’s people make the noise and all you have to do is make the offer, a rather reasonable one at that.
Some will point to third base and wonder why Alex Rodriguez gets a $300 million contract while the emblem of Yankee Pride toils for a few extra million. Pointing to one bad contract doesn’t justify another.
The Yankees will probably tack another $10 million onto the offer and Jeter will sign, thus making him (by far) the richest shortstop in baseball history. And in two years, when Joe Girardi has to hide Jeter somewhere in an otherwise volcanic lineup, you’ll wonder why they paid him so much to do so little.
But for some reason if you feel Jeter or his people are wrong then you are wrong; worse, you are ungrateful for the fifteen years of service and sweat he has given. It is possible that someone who appears perfect is actually imperfect, that Jeter has not handled this negotiation as smoothly as he has so many summer double plays.
And you’ll notice the greatest reason for the greatness of the Yankees over the last 15 years, Mariano Rivera – the best Yankee since Babe Ruth – is negotiating his contract in virtual silence, with the surreal humility that has defined his indefinable career. Perhaps No. 2 can learn from No. 1.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com