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…. The Captain, redux

Wow, I am stunned by the negative reaction. I know that many people feel Jeter is over-rated and all that, but to hear that he’s not a leader, already over-paid, in obvious decline, etc.. Stunning. I’ve always thought that his leadership qualities were overblown, sure. I mean, it was clear to me that when the Yankees landed A-Rod, A-Rod probably should have taken over short, and Jeter should’ve slid to center-field, like Yount did for Milwaukee about a thousand

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years ago. In terms of what’s best for the team, that move was a no-brainer, A-Rod was clearly the better player, the Yankees at the time needed a center-fielder, and Jeter had always shown excellent instincts on fly ball. Of course, only Jeter could’ve have stopped it, and when he did, he dropped down a notch in my estimation.

That said, he is one of the constants during this historic run of dominance by the Yankees. This is a fact, and it is not in dispute. What is in dispute is what he is going to be paid for the next four years or so. The fact that the Phillies gave Jimmy Rollins a lesser deal, or gave Chase Utley, who is younger and a better hitter, the same deal as the Yankees are offering Jeter doesn’t matter at all. What other team are paying their players has no bearing on this at all. When the market said CC Sabathia was worth $100 million, the Yankees gave him $161 million. The Yankees pay more. They pay more, because they make more.

If you are the top software programmer for Bob’s software company, you’re gonna make a lot less than if you are the top software programmer for Apple. I would’ve thought this is common knowledge, but apparently, it isn’t. If a player comes to the Yankees and helps lead them to the playoffs and beyond, he is making an impact on the Yankees bottom line, and the Yankees bottom line is bigger, much bigger, than just about any other team’s. He is adding value to the franchise. Jeter has added massive value to the franchise over the 15 years he’s been there. You don’t compare his salary to what a player in San Francisco or Philadelphia makes, because there is no comparison.

And one of the main reasons that that is the case just happens to be the current dynastic run that Derek Jeter is an irreplaceable part of. Obviously, people don’t remember, but back in 1996, the Yankees hadn’t won anything in almost 20 years. Don Mattingly played his entire career as a Yankee, and only made the playoffs in the last year. And, Steinbrenner was considered a joke, a buffoon. Lupica called him General von Steingrabber, and he was –rightfully– regularly pilloried in the NY Daily News, the NY Post, and even Sports Illustrated for his antics. Remember Billy Martin? Steinbrenner hired him 5 times. 5 times! He fired Yogi Berra 16 games into the season, a move that prompted Berra to boycott the Yankees for some 15 years. Steinbrenner was a gas bag, a joke, widely ridiculed around the league.

Now, they’re talking about whether Steinbrenner will get in the Hall of Fame within a year of his death. The Yankees were rich, and they spent more than anybody, but they weren’t rich like this. They weren’t a team the rest of the league worried about at all, because they never won anything, even though they spent and spent and spent. During Jeter’s time with the team, they’ve made the playoffs fourteen of the last fifteen years, been to the World Series seven times, and won five championships. The Yankees have represented the American League in almost half of the World Series that have been played while Jeter has been on the team. Read that sentence twice. I mean, how can that be overstated? What team wouldn’t give $100 million dollars right now to have that sentence be written about their team instead of the Yankees? What team’s fans wouldn’t trade the last fifteen years of their franchise with the Yankees?

In the fifteen years prior to Jeter’s arrival, the Yankees had Don Mattingly, by all measures, a much better baseball player than Derek Jeter, a man who also happened to be considered Jeter’s equal in terms of being revered by the fans, being classy, in handling the media, the spotlight of Yankee stardom. He was surrounded by some considerable talent, including Hall of Fame players Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, as well as a few almost HoFers like Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti. The Yankees during those 15 years, the Lost Mattingly years, for lack of a better term, lost the 1981 World Series, and lost in the Wild Card round in 1995. That’s it. 15 years of baseball with the highest payroll, just like now, with the best player in the league for something like half the time, just like now, the Yankees won nothing. They weren’t on TV all the time, the series with the Red Sox weren’t considered the best baseball there was. They were an afterthought.

During the last fifteen years, the Atlanta Braves had a run of dominance that neatly coincided with the Yankees run. They’ve been to the Serious five times, and won only once. Why is that? They had plenty of talent. If you guys think it’s so easy to replace Jeter with Adrian Beltre, how come the Braves were only able to parlay all that talent into just a single championship? The Marlins were able to get two titles, for crying out loud.

Derek Jeter is one of the constants of this run. He is one of the Core Four, and they are one of the main reasons the team is where it is now, where the Steinbrenners are now. As a member of the Core Four, he’s been the top ranked player on the team four times during that stretch, a feat only equaled by A-Rod (four of the last six seasons). You want to tell me that it’s just a coincidence that the last fifteen years have seen the Yankees make the Serious half the time, while the previous fifteen it was once? Jeter’s not a leader? He should be paid like a Hanley Ramirez?

I don’t see it that way. He deserves a nice send-off, a thank you, if you will. Not to have his legacy trashed by a group of people who should know better, people who are riding on the coattails of some of his best work.

UPDATE: Still loads of vitriol all over the web about Jeter. Astounded to see how much of it is anti-Derek. Harvey Araton sees my point:

…. let the Yankees, who have thrown countless millions at players who gave back next to nothing, try to tell Jeter to go shop the qualities that have helped put such a classy face on a franchise run by people who would take the last dime from the pocket of a homeless person.

Let them say to Jeter with a straight face that there will be no position for him to play when he makes the inevitable move from shortstop — after winning 1990s championships with the likes of Charlie Hayes at third and a second baseman, Chuck Knoblauch, whose throws to first base were the stuff of tee-ball legend.


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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