If you’re going to write anything this month about Derek Jeter and his current negotiations with the New York Yankees, you need to begin by weighing in. So, for what it’s worth: No, Derek Jeter is not worth six years at $25 million a year. It is also fair to say that he is worth more than three years at $15 million per season.
For many of us with a lot of Internet time and a lack of a social life (those two things go hand in hand) the story has another rather dark and surprising side. Looking over discussion boards and comment threads on the subject, you'll find quite a number of Yankee fans who are ready to crucify the man who’s been their franchise for the past 15 seasons.
Sure, it bears mentioning that there is no group of sports fans that are more easily goaded into fits of rage than the fans of the New York Yankees. Part of this quality can be attributed to their feelings of superiority and their anger over having to pay for the YES network. Much of it too comes from the fact that since there are at least three times the amount of Yankee-haters out there, the fans have to spend a lot of time getting grief about their favorite team, its sometimes dastardly late owner, and it’s obese payroll.
The one thing that most Yankees fans have taken very little grief over in the past decade and a half, however, is their shortstop. Derek Jeter is the textbook example of 'hard not to like'. He’s got lots of talent, a great smile and a winning personality. He dates the world’s most beautiful women and never gets in any hot water—on the field or off. Aside from the occasional barroom argument about whether his defense had been a bit overrated, Yankee faithful have gotten free passes where Jeter is concerned.
The fact that even a lot of Yankee-haters manage to find a compliment or two for Jeter makes some of the "fans" comments being posted and calls made to talk radio about the current negotiations all the more asinine.
Many Yankee fans have seemingly begun acting just like the hard-line Democrats and Republicans: they toe the party line, right or wrong, and as part of membership must obligatorily trash anyone who thinks differently. These “Stepford Fans” accuse Jeter of being everything from a “no talent hack” to a “gold digger”. One “fan” even compared him to Bernie Madoff, the investment guy who stole billions and billions of dollars from his clientele.
2010 was an off-year for Jeter, to be sure. Perhaps it is just bad luck (or good luck, if you’re Yankee GM Brian Cashman) that this slump came in his free agency year. No, Jeter will never play again like he did when he was 25. But perhaps the Yankees, and their fans, need to consider some other factors, as well.
Barring a major injury in the early season, Jeter will get his 3000th hit this coming season. He needs 74 hits and he’s never gotten less than double that in any full season.
Do you know how many of the 3000 hit club reached that milestone in Yankee pinstripes? Zero, not one of the 27 current holders of that record were Yankees at the time. Dave Winfield was a Yankee for quite a while (and we all remember how the front office treated him) but he reached his plateau while playing for Minnesota. Wade Boggs, also a Yankee for a time, got his 3000th with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Yankees have six monuments, 23 plaques, and 15 retired numbers in their franchise history. Their fans walk around with those “27” t-shirts on and give us all the impression that what happened to the franchise in the 20s and 30s matters to them and would somehow be relevant to the rest of us. But how are we, the non-Yankee-fans, supposed to embrace that sentiment when so much venom and hypocrisy is being spewed about the man who has been the Yankees for so long.
Let’s not forget that Derek Jeter is the Yankee captain. Some folks think that means nothing, that it is just sort of a public relations gimmick. Others believe that it does mean something, and that there is a reason why that “C” is not on A-Rod’s uniform, nor is it on that of Posada, Rivera, or Pettitte. If there are qualities that set Jeter above all else on the team, should those qualities be summarily ignored during negotiations?
For whatever reason, Derek Jeter and his agent have overshot on their estimation of his value—and overshot by quite a bit. Of course he’s not going to get a $200 million contract in his late 30s. But while the Yankees' offer is practical from a management perspective, they should be prepared to come up a ways, too.
If the organization lowballs Jeter totally (with the fans' support), you’re saying that history, tradition and sentiment mean nothing in the Bronx. If you’re willing to go that route, then you must be willing to admit that all the other stuff—the statues, the pompous references to the Yankees' long-time success are just nonsense. It’s only right now that matters. On April 1st, no one has any rings.
The Yankees did not treat Joe Torre in a respectful fashion at the end of his tenure as their manager. The fact that he has not gotten to another World Series should not matter because what is really relevant (again, if you’re into history) is all the championships he brought to New York while there.
Derek Jeter was there for every one of those World Series wins, not to mention another in 2009. Doesn’t there have to be some place in a real Yankee fan’s heart for that guy? In the end, its a question of whether being a Yankee fan means anything more than just having something to brag about.
Jeter's not going to get what he wants, but does that mean it’s appropriate to belittle everything he's meant to the Yankees? If you don't believe he warrants what he's asking, so be it. But trashing his career, and disparaging his character at this stage of the game seems petty and hypocritical.
I wonder if the faces on those monuments and plaques could talk what they’d have to say about the legacy of Derek Jeter?