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…. More on the Captain

I’m sorry, but I just can’t help myself. ;-)

Eric, one of my backtalkers, pretty much sums up the common thread in all of the internet-wide negativity surrounding Jeter’s negotiations:

“I don’t know that he deserves anything. He has given a lot to the Yankees, yes, but he has received a lot, too. How many other players have had the chance he has? Playing for the Yankees, especially in the last 15-20 years in an era of unprecedented revenue (allowing the Yankees to REALLY shoot off the charts with their payroll) has helped Jeter become the player he is/was. “

My question is this, how can Eric –and pretty much everyone else that is thinking along these lines– miss the single most salient point in this debate by so much?

The reason the Yankees’ revenue has gone up so much in the last 15 years is because they became a dynasty. It is because they won 4 World Series in 5 years (and just missed 4 in a row), and have made the postseason fourteen of the last fifteen seasons, and Derek Jeter is one of the main reasons that has happened. Not to pick on you, Eric, but, did you even read what I wrote? Do you, or for that matter, anybody, have any sense of history whatsoever?

Prior to Jeter’s arrival, the Yankees had won nothing for almost 20 years. NOTHING.

NOTHING! NOTHING! NOTHING! NOTHING!!!!!!

How can you even discuss this, if you have no apparent knowledge about the history of what has happened, unless you’ve already decided that you know everything there is to know about the issue? The Yankees in 1995, went to the postseason for the first time in Don Mattingly’s career. His last season. Prior to that, the Yankees hadn’t made the playoffs since 1981. The only reason people wanted to be a Yankee was for the cash General von Steingrabber was doling out, and even then, the lure of big bucks wasn’t always enough. There was no cache, no pizzaz. The “Aura” of the Yankees was a memory. No ballplayers talked about how much they wished for “the chance to play for the Yankees.” In 1992, Greg Maddux turned the Yankees down when Steinbrenner tried to sign him as a free agent. The “Boss” offered more money than Atlanta, and Maddux said no thanks. Forget about how ballplayers didn’t want to come to the Yankees, neither did the fans. No fans poured into Yankee Stadium to watch the greatest team the game had seen in the last 50 years, because that team didn’t exist!

The Yankees drew 1.7 million fans in 1995, good for 7th out of the fourteen teams in the league. SEVENTH!!!!! They were 7th again in 1996, 5th in 1997. In 1998, when the Yankees went 125-50 throughout the regular season and the playoffs, making a case for being the greatest baseball team in history, they were still only 3rd in the league in attendance. (By the way, you know who was the best player on that team, arguably the best team of all-time? Derek Jeter, with 7.8 WAR) They were 3rd again in 1999, and then again in 2000, as they were winning their third consecutive World Series. It wasn’t until 2003 that the Yankees led the league in attendance, after they had been in the World Series for the 6th time in 8 years.

Over the course of that eight year run, during the regular season, Derek Jeter led the Yankees in almost every meaningful, measurable statistic: hits, times on base, at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, doubles, games played. He was a Rookie of the Year, an All Star every season. He played in 1,197 of a possible 1,296 games. In the postseason, he was simply a sensation. A quick look at what he did during those first eight years is illuminating.

In ’96, he hit .360. In ’97, he hit .333. 1998 saw him post just a .235 batting average overall, but he hit .353 in the Serious. In 1999, he was on fire, batting .375 to carry the team. In 2000, he posted a .317 batting average. In 2001, after going 8 for 18 while leading the Yankees back from an 0-2 deficit against the A’s, he hurt himself diving into the stands in Game Five and managed just 6 hits the rest of the playoffs. It should be noted that his injury certainly contributed to the Yankees falling to the D’backs and derailing their chances of winning their fourth title in a row. In 2002, against the eventual champions, the Anaheim Angels, Jeter did all he could, going 8 for 16 in the four game loss, with 2 home runs and 6 runs scored. And in 2003, when the Yankees went to the Series again, Jeter batted .314 for the playoffs, and .356 in the World Series. Today he is the all-time leader in virtually every significant statistic. He’s even third all-time in postseason home runs, with 20. Sure, he’s played in a lot of playoff games. He’s one of the reasons why.

And don’t give me that Core Four bullshit. Pettitte left. And, sure, Mariano Rivera is the best closer ever, but he’s responsible for something like 200-250 batters a season. Posada’s been the number one catcher for a while, but let’s not forget, Girardi was the number one catcher in 1996 and 1997, and in 1998 and 1999, he was still getting 75-odd games behind the dish. That’s three of the first four titles. During these fifteen years, the Yankees have had a parade of players at virtually every postion but short, many of them players who were paid more money than Jeter at the time. No matter how you slice it, it’s been Jeter who has been the one constant.

Nothing had changed in the world of the Yankees over the last fifteen years, other than all the winning. Steinbrenner was still going out and signing the best free agents available, as he had been since he took over the team in the 70′s. He was still giving those players –players who hadn’t contributed to any Yankee tradition, championships, or anything– huge sums of money, almost always more than anyone else was offering. Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, hell, people forget that Tino Martinez was a free agent they brought in to replace Mattingly. Roger Clemens, David Cone, anyone remember Chuck Knoblauch? When they signed Knoblauch after the 1997 season (his fourth All Star season in the previous six), they gave him a four year deal worth $6 million per. You know how much Jeter made in 1998? $750,000. Even Darryl Strawberry ($825,000) made more than Jeter in 1998. Virtually every player on the team did. Practically every everyday player in baseball did. Derek Jeter’s 7.8 WAR was second to A-Rod’s 7.9 in the American League that season. A-Rod made $2.6 million, even though he played for Seattle. That’s a terrific illustration of how much things have changed. The Seattle Mariners were paying their All Star shortstop three times as much as the Yankees were paying theirs.

Over the last 15 years, Derek Jeter has been the Yankee shortstop day after day, at the plate 600 times a season, gets 190-plus hits like clockwork, and has been

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a team leader of the highest order. He is the face of the franchise, and the franchise’s outrageous financial success is intrinsically tied to what the team has done on the field, which is tied to the one player who has been there the whole time, a decade and a half that has changed the fortunes of the Steinbrenner family, and the Yankee franchise, forever.

The Yankees gave 37-year old Kevin Brown $32 million dollars for 200 innings of 5-plus ERA. Don’t tell me how they can’t overpay Derek Jeter, that this is a business decision, that his worth is set by the market. That is utter nonsense.

If the Yankees can throw $90 million dollars combined on the ground for Carl Pavano and Kei Ishigawa; they can absolutely, without question, and without reservation, give Derek Jeter the same amount of money for his last four years with the team. He is different. He is not just any player, and the Yankees are wrong to pretend like he is.


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