April 27, 2011

For Love of the Fist Pump.


I don’t know if you guys caught the preview of Ian O’Connor’s book, The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter, on ESPN, but it provided a really interesting glimpse into the strained relationship between Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ all-star shortstop.  You should read the whole piece; it offers insight on Jeter’s fury over his leaked contract talks, his successful pleas to Randy Levine for additional performance incentives, the failure of a bromance with Alex Rodriguez (and Jeter’s attempts to fix it), his desire to become a better ballplayer and improve his defense, and the overall drama and details of a professional relationship that has soured and changed over time.  

For example, in 2006, during a Yankees blowout loss to the Orioles, a pop-up was dropped between shortstop and third base; afterwards, Jeter was allegedly caught glaring at ARod.  Cashman took sides in the matter, reprimanding Jeter: “Listen, this has to stop. Everybody in the press box, every team official, everyone watching, they saw you look at the ball on the ground and look at him with disgust like you were saying ‘That’s your mess, you clean it up.’”  In response, Jeter argued, “Don't you think I've tried? I try, and sometimes I've just got to walk away and come back and try again, but you know I've tried. And every time I try, he'll do something that pushes me away.”  It has some genuinely juicy bits laced throughout that made me excited to read the whole book.   

The dynamic between Cashman and Jeter is much more complicated and intriguing than I originally thought.  Do I fault Cashman for doing his job? For demanding more production from an employee he paid $20 million per year? For wanting the Yankees to be better, no matter what the cost - financial or emotional?  Not really. If I did, Bernie Williams would still be playing centerfield. Derek Jeter has the special honor of being our captain, one of the few in Yankees’ history, and that title comes with extra responsibilities.  He should be implored to improve chemistry in the clubhouse, even if that means burying the hatchet with the douchebag he used to call his BFF.  Brian Cashman was just acting like a cut-throat, win-at-all-costs general manager.  And as a Yankees fan, what more could I possibly want?

In fact, the most surprising thing that Brian Cashman said was that he said anything at all.  It is more interesting that he made these comments publicly, while Jeter is still playing, than the details of what he actually shared.  But this should no longer surprise us.  Brian Cashman, especially over the past two years, has become more and more open with the press.  He told us that did not like the Soriano signing, he informed Jeets to go check out the market during contract talks, he let us know that we shouldn’t expect Pettitte back, he mentioned a future position switch for the Captain, and made it clear that Jorge better get used to his DH role.  Brian Cashman has simply told us the truth, and I do not fault him at all for that.  I appreciate the candor and due diligence. 

In many ways, this comes down to the question of whether Derek Jeter deserves to be treated differently than any other employee.   And the answer is, at least in part, yes.  Like with other Fortune 500 billion-dollar businesses, important employees often get a golden parachute and the dignity of fading happily into the sunset. Do I support that when it comes to Goldman Sachs or any of its other sleazy counterparts on Wall Street?  No, I do not. But I am a hypocrite here, because I think Derek Jeter is the exception to every rule.

Really, in my whole life, I have never idolized or adored an athlete, like I have with The Baseball Jesus. The origins of that nickname should be understood and packed with my teenage adolescent glee.  He has earned every last penny the Yankees have paid him.  He has won us five World Series titles.  He has been the face of Major League Baseball and the city of New York for over a decade.  He has represented the Yankees with dignity and pride.  I don’t have to go through his career.  But you think about The Flip, Mr. November, all of his Captain Clutch moments, and you try to argue that Derek Jeter has not, at the very least, earned the right to be treated with a special level of respect.  So, while I do not blame Brian Cashman for oversharing or for trying to be the best damn GM he can be, I also can’t help but think that this was a battle he never should have waged.  Even as his skills diminish before us, Derek Jeter is in a league of his own.  And he always will be – no matter how many groundball outs he makes or how many sharp grounders up the middle that he misses.  

The Yankees have always been my favorite reality show – and this book, this public drama, is what makes it worth watching.   The 27 world championships do not hurt either.  

1 comment:

  1. Jeter is an all-time favorite of mine and this should carry a certain amount of credibility coming from a Red Sox fan. My respect for Cashman over the past couple years has also increased, for the same reasons you state, Jill.

    Here's where I feel Jeter was ill-advised (agents are often their client's own worst enemies). After having earned "island-buying" money through most of his career, this last contract had to be treated differently - not by the Yankees (their job is to do just what they did), but by the player, who is not fighting for money this time around, but for a contract that is compatible with his declining skill set (the fixed amount) yet provides incentives that brings him back to his old money for as long as he can perform at those levels. This way, as his role changes, the fans get treated to the long goodbye of a beloved player who is not earning an outrageous salary while underperforming. The cheers aren't tinged with frustration (I've heard a lot of that already from Yankees fans this season).

    The Red Sox fans (and team) are enjoying twilight careers from Wakefield and Varitek under these types of contracts. Their team-first attitude has resonated. Jeter could have done the same. $8M a year with another $8M in performance incentives would have been the final "he really is a god!" banner on Jeter's bucket list. He's still a Hall of Famer, and an all-time great and class act, but this contract left a bad taste in everybody's mouth.

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