By Sweeny Murti
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When you look back at long-term, mega-dollar contracts, most are viewed with varying levels of dissatisfaction. There have been 21 contracts valued at $100 million or higher, and of those it’s hard to argue that many of them turned out better than Derek Jeter’s just completed 10-year, $189 million dollar deal.
Over the ten-year period (2001-2010) Jeter’s BA/OBP/SLG = .310/.380/.445. He averaged 192 hits, 108 runs scored, 22 stolen bases per season.
The Yankees won only one World Series (plus two AL Pennants) during the life of the deal. However, before Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira led the 2009 Yankees to a championship, the only players to sign for $100 million+ and win a ring during the life of that deal were Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez. Barry Zito just became a somewhat dubious addition to this list, considering he wasn’t even on the postseason roster for this year’s World Champion Giants.
The best of those mega-contracts has to be Ramirez. Manny carried a 1.010 OPS during his 8-year, $160 million deal and the Red Sox won the World Series twice in that time. Several others are far from complete (Joe Mauer’s deal, for instance, runs through 2018 and Ryan Howard’s through 2016, so still lots of time to judge them).
Jeter’s contract provided plenty of highlights every year. Having just completed my tenth year covering the Yankees for WFAN, I was fortunate enough to witness nearly every great Jeter moment of the decade. Here are some of my favorites, along with some personal recollections:
2001: The Flip Play. Game 3 of the Division Series in Oakland, it’s one of my favorite moments for one big reason—I get to see it in action every year when the Yankees practice cutoffs and relays in spring training. Just as he did that night, Jeter streaks across the field to retrieve an errant relay. It never, never, NEVER ends up the way it did that night. Usually, the runner is held up at third base or scores without a throw. That night it was the perfect storm and it’s still incredible to watch.
In May of that season, some fan sent Jeter some kids’ board games. During a 6-game road trip through Oakland and Seattle, Jeter and Tino Martinez engaged in daily battles of Connect Four. If you think these guys were intense and competitive on the field…you should have seen them play Connect Four. It was a glimpse into the personality of the same man who always talks about how much he hates to lose, dating back to his days as a 5-year old playing “The Price is Right” with his father.
2002: April 9th, Toronto. This was the day I learned how superstitious Jeter is about numbers and stats. I was fairly impressed that a week into the season and 34 trips to the plate, Jeter had not yet struck out. I thought it was quite a feat for a player who usually strikes out at least 100 times a year (only 99 each of the last two years he quickly reminded me).
Top of the first inning (against Roy Halladay mind you) Jeter struck out for the first time that season. I muttered a few four-letter words to myself. I mean, how stupid was I? Top of the third inning, Jeter struck out again. When the game was over, I noticed Jeter glaring at me from across the clubhouse and dragged myself over to his locker. I actually apologized for him striking out. I said something like, “Man, that’s a rookie mistake from a second year guy. I’m never doing that again, trust me.” Jeter shot back, “Don’t think I wasn’t thinking about you either.” It was somewhat playful since the Yankees won the game, and as I’d find out many more times over the decade, Jeter really doesn’t care how he performs as long as the team wins.
The next night, Jeter struck out three more times in a 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays. That was five strikeouts in two games after my little attempt at conversation. Jeter walked by me this time and said, “I’m not talking to you for a month as punishment.”
For years now, every time somebody tries to feed Jeter a statistical nugget about a hitting streak or errorless streak or whatever, he glares at them and begs them to stop. And I laugh.
2003: March 31st, Opening Night, Toronto. Jeter’s dislocated shoulder. It was ugly. It was painful. Jeter returned on May 13th, a little over a month later was hitting just .247. From June 20th to the end of the year Jeter hit .357 in 85 games.
In Game 3 of the World Series against Florida, Jeter went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles off Josh Beckett, a 6-1 Yankee victory. It turned out to be the last World Series game the Yanks would win for six years.
2004: 0 for 32. For eight days in April Jeter didn’t get a hit. Eight days doesn’t seem like a long time, until you take a couple of O-fers, including 0-for-13 in a 3-game sweep by the Red Sox at the height of the rivalry.
The nightmare ended April 29th in the first inning, a leadoff home run off Barry Zito, but as Memorial Day neared Jeter was still hitting under .200. Jeter would turn 30 in another month. All he did from May 26th to the end of the season was hit .336. The guy who was hitting .189 after his first 190 at-bats finished the year just five hits shy of a .300 average.
During the 2010 season, when I asked Jeter to compare his offensive struggles to the 0-for-32, he laughed and said, “Yea, that was a bad one.” That’s about as much of an admission as you ever get from the man.
July 1, The Dive into the stands vs. Boston. It’s on every Jeter highlight reel right up there with the Flip Play. It stands out to me because Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez were both in the building, Nomar on the bench and A-Rod just a few feet away watching in amazement. The other two were always viewed as better shortstops when the decade began, but you couldn’t imagine either one making the same play.
2005: April 5 vs. Boston. The only regular season walk-off home run of Jeter’s career, an opposite field shot off Keith Foulke. Like many of Jeter’s big hits over his career, hit hard the other way.
Think of his other big hits (1996 ALCS home run vs. Baltimore, the 2001 World Series walk-off “Mr. November” home run, the double off Pedro Martinez that started the 8th inning rally in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS) they almost always seem to come from that perfect inside-out swing.
2006: Jeter came as close as he ever would to winning the MVP award, finishing second to Minnesota’s Justin Morneau.
In May, he reached the 2,000 hit mark. Jeter was asked about the possibility of getting to 3,000 and in typical Jeter fashion said he was only worried about the next hit.
Later that summer Jeter embarked on a 25-game hitting streak and ended the season hitting safely in 36 of 37 games. I learned my lesson years earlier and let someone else ask those questions.
In the playoffs against the Tigers, the Yanks were dismissed in four games. Jeter hit .500 in the series, going 8 for 16.
2007: Hitting streaks continued for Jeter, who had four separate streaks of at least 15 games, first major leaguer to do that since World War II. Once again, I did my best to keep my mouth shut.
On the day he turned 33 (June 26th) Jeter had 2,250 career hits, 83 more hits than Pete Rose at the same age.
2008: The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in Jeter’s career. On September 21st, Jeter went 0 for 5 in the final game at old Yankee Stadium. He came off the field in the 9th inning to a tremendous ovation and later spoke for nine decades of Yankees that came before him. Addressing the crowd, Jeter said in part, “There are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change. That’s pride, it’s tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world.”
Jeter had become the face of the Yankees a decade earlier, but this was a night when it became stamped in bold print. It wasn’t Lou Gehrig and the “luckiest man on the face of the earth.” But it was the perfect ending to the night that closed the old Stadium.
2009: Maybe it wasn’t the last good season of Jeter’s career, but there’s a good chance it was the last great season of his career.
Jeter hit .334, won the Silver Slugger, the Gold Glove, the Hank Aaron Award, the Roberto Clemente Award, and the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
Oh yea, he also helped the Yanks win the World Series for the fifth time in his career.
On September 11th, Jeter singled to right field off Baltimore’s Chris Tillman and passed Lou Gehrig on the Yankees all-time hits list. With 2,722 hits Jeter now had more hits than any other man ever to wear pinstripes. It was as special a milestone in the new Stadium as there ever was in the old Stadium.
Two nights earlier, the night Jeter tied Gehrig’s mark, I ran into Dr. Charles Jeter in the hallway. I stopped him for a moment to congratulate him on his son’s achievement. We spoke for a only a minute, but what struck me was the pride in Dr. Jeter’s eyes, the sparkle, as he spoke to me about watching his son grow from knee-high Yankee wanna-be into the man with more hits than any Yankee in history. It’s the one memory from that event I will never forget.
2010: It was the worst statistical year of Jeter’s career, but he still continued his role as face of the franchise. Jeter spoke eloquently and emotionally on the night the Yankees remembered George Steinbrenner. Just like the night at the old Stadium two years earlier, he was the right choice with the right sentiment.
On the field, Jeter’s slump in a contract year became the topic of conversation. After going 1-for-7 in an extra-inning loss at Texas on September 10th, Jeter—a career .314 hitter—was batting just .260. Speaking to Jeter after that game, it was the first time he accepted publicly that his numbers weren’t going to add up nicely by season’s end. To this point he had never hit below .290 in a full season.
With plans already in place to make adjustments to his stance and swing this winter, Jeter rushed some of the modifications into place in September and hit .342 over his final 79 at-bats of the year. Jeter is capable of streaks…but is he capable of putting together another big year?
The Yankees have already re-signed hitting coach Kevin Long and all expectations are he will be working with Jeter shortly after New Year’s in the hopes that 2011 will be another typical Jeter year.
But now, the Yankees have to re-sign the Captain. For how much money and how many years will be the debate. It’s doubtful that at this stage of his career the next contract will be as productive as the last. But no matter how you remember the last ten years, it’s hard to think the Yankees—and the fans—didn’t get their money’s worth.