Now What Captain – By Guest Blogger Kiko Jones

The Street Hustle

Yesterday, Derek Jeter joined the 3,000 Hit Club and ensured himself a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Not bad for a guy who couldn’t pull the ball to save his life, had an average arm and limited power.  Before you run off thinking I’ve gone over into the ‘I hate Derek Jeter because he was a Yankee’ club, allow to state for the record Jeter is the best big game player of this generation.  There is no one I’d rather have up with two outs in the 9th, a man on second and two out.  He would find a way to bring that man home.

Yes, Jeter is a winner but he is also the captain of the New York Yankees, following in the footsteps of Gerhig, Mantle and DiMaggio.  So with his diminishing skills (2009 was Jeter’s last great year) and age (he’s 37) not on his side, whither Derek ‘The Captain’ Jeter in the new decade?

Guest blogger Kiko Jones answers that question and raises some far understated issues the Yankee fan base has with its team leader.


One of my most vivid baseball memories is watching Philadelphia Phillies 12 time All-Star third baseman Mike Schmidt announce his retirement at a televised press conference in May of 1989. It was quite humbling to see this reputed tough guy give an emotional, tearful speech in which he said goodbye to the game that he loved and in which he had so clearly excelled. But Schmidt had missed a chunk of the 1988 season due to injuries and had gotten off to a non-promising start in 1989. Instead of facing the prospect of rapidly diminishing returns awaiting him, the future Hall of Famer decided to pull the plug on his illustrious career and save his legacy from embarrassment. He may have cried like a baby at that press conference but to even the most casual observer Schmidt’s actions that day came off like nothing less than those of a real man.

Another infielder and future resident of Cooperstown who’s also played his entire a career with one team is featured quite prominently in the news these days. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s quest for and achievement of 3,000 hits is currently the main topic of the baseball world and deservedly so: the Yankee captain is arguably the face of the national pastime; a talented, hard-working, no-nonsense player whose numerous exploits on the diamond have thrilled fans and dismayed opponents and their followers for a long time. More importantly, he has not been tainted by any performance enhancing drug scandals despite having played in the thick of the so-called steroid era. This, in particular, has won him the admiration of the baseball public at-large; even among fans of the Yankees’ bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox, Jeter commands respect. No small feat.

But a funny yet predictable thing has happened on his route to Cooperstown: age has shown itself and made a claim on Derek Jeter. His decline, by all accounts, has been gradual and normal but quite noticeable, especially for a player of his stature; one who plays for the most recognizable American sports team and in the biggest media market. Jeter is obviously and undoubtedly a proud athlete. Thus, I expected him to do the right thing and make a Schmidt-type move whenever mediocrity loomed on the horizon. In late 2010 I got an inkling he just might not go along with that particular version of the script.

After his $20m/yr contract with the Yankees expired the day after the end of 2010 World Series, both parties began negotiating soon thereafter. The Yankees initially offered Jeter the more than fair 3 yr/$15m per. Considering he’s not worth more than $8m tops in the current market, the other $7m could be construed as compensation for being a Yankee icon and services rendered. Yes, he was already paid handsomely for the latter but expediency was on the team’s mind, as well as the looming 3,000 hit mark, one that no Yankee has ever reached, so the Steinbrenner’s made their offer. I don’t know if they were expecting Jeter to reject their offer but that he did and a new soap opera in the Bronx made its debut.

So, the Yankees front office knowing full well there was a very slim Jeter would leave the Bronx, and that NO OTHER TEAMS would meet his financial demands, played hardball – for a minute. What they eventually did was bid against themselves and up the offer to $17m per and add a 4th year player option! Ugh. By overpaying Jeter even more and still not appeasing those who worship at his altar, the front office failed. Twice. Good grief!

Jeter subsequently let it be known publicly he was not happy with how the situation was handled and many in the press echoed his claims and labeled the negotiations as disrespectful towards him. (Since when is overpaying disrespectful? I’d like to get Bernie Williams’ take on that one.) But what I have always suspected as the cause for Jeter’s displeasure was that a bit of his “I’m not about money, I’m all about the team and winning” façade finally cracked in full view for all to see. The 70% of Yankee fans polled on the subject of his contract who sided with the team instead of their beloved captain must’ve made quite the impression on Jeter. Maybe not but he could’ve avoided all this nonsense by accepting the Yankees initial offer and countered with performance bonuses and using his wounded ego as a catalyst to spark the drive to perform at a level which we are all accustomed to seeing from him. Instead, he chose to play both the victim and entitlement card while getting as much money as he possibly could from his new contract (Compare that to St. Louis Cardinal great Stan Musial, who after a disappointing season in 1959—during which he reached the 3,000 hits milestone—requested and got a 25% pay cut the following year.).

I bring this up in light of the copious volumes of fawning press the arrival of hit no. 3,000 has garnered much, if not most of it, rehashing Jeter’s image as a selfless ballplayer. Which, of course, took a hit during his most recent contract negotiations. Oh, how soon they forget.

By the way, if you think this is some sort of hit job from another hater who wants to piss in the Yankees punchbowl, guess what? I happen to be a hardcore Yankee fan. I must confess, however, that while I appreciate and respect Jeter and what he’s done for my team, I am not, and never have been, a consumer of the proverbial sugary beverage that has granted him the status of a deity amongst many of my fellow pinstripe faithful. And now that his skills have markedly declined, he’s making a whole lot more loot than he’s worth and still hitting leadoff, while not helping the team very much. If Jeter were truly selfless he’d pick up his 3,000 plus hits, tell manager Joe Girardi to bat him 7-9 in the lineup and sail off into the sunset after this season. A captain is supposed to go down with the ship, but he’s not supposed to bring it down with him.

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