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2010-11-18 / This Week's Attitude

Derek Jeter’s Value To Yankees Goes Beyond Field Of Play

This Week’s Attitude
By Neil S. Friedman

The New York Yankee faithful were disappointed when the team went into early hibernation last month, but Bomber fans anxiously await the fates of the “Core Four” veterans — shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, relief-pitching ace Mariano Riviera, who have been teammates for the last fifteen years, and starting hurler Andy Pettitte.

 

The quartet’s contracts expired and, if the Yankees don’t re-sign them, they are free to negotiate with other teams. However, they are not expected to play for another team next year. Pettitte had a one-year deal and is deciding whether or not he will hang up his glove and cleats to spend more time with his family in Texas or return to the Bronx for another year. On the other hand, it would surprise the baseball world if the other three weren’t on the Yankees’ roster next spring. It would be utterly shocking if Derek Jeter doesn’t return, yet that is a slim possibility since contract negotiations could be more complicated now that his age and ability are in question. Some reports indicate a few of the Yankee executives are skeptical that the 36-year-old, who has lost a step or two in recent years, can play his position much longer.

Jeter is perhaps the one player from the trio who should end his career in a Yankee uniform, as much as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle did before him, and as much as the interlocking “NY” is the team’s familiar logo. As his popularity with Yankee fans escalated over the years, it was just about fated that Jeter would retire in pinstripes.

Some maintain that Jeter should not be paid for past performance since he got an unprecedented, lucrative $189 million contract ten years ago. Nevertheless, he earned every penny — on and off the field.

Years ago when Jeter’s status was rising, he looked like he was going to be a frequent Page Six gossip item. But after team owner George Steinbrenner reportedly chastised him, the All-Star shortstop subsequently kept his social life out of print, while he continued to excel and was eventually named the team’s captain.

Neither the Yankees nor Jeter has set an agenda, but some reports indicate the shortstop wants a fouryear deal equal to what he earned for the last few years — $20 million per season. However, some reports suggest the Yankees are reluctant to re-sign an aging shortstop who batted a career-low .270 last season, for more than three years when he will be 39, which is after when the average ball player peaks.

Derek Jeter’s youthful passion to play for the legendary team came true when he was the Yankees first round pick in 1992. In his starting debut on opening day in 1996 he hit his first major-league home run. No one expected him to be a slugger, but Jeter matured into a consistent .300 hitter and should reach the distinguished 3,000-hit mark next season, which would make him the first Yankee ever to achieve that milestone.

When all is said and done, most fans expect the Yankees’ top brass to re-sign Derek Jeter and insure he ends his career as a Yankee. However, since this is a business matter, money and length of the contract could get sticky, though they’ll likely have to pay him more than most players his age deserve. Nonetheless, Derek Jeter’s ability as a player is only part of what he brings to a team with a history like no other in professional sports.

When you compare the man who has been the Yankee’s shortstop for the last fifteen years to the superstars in baseball and other pro sports during that era, Derek Jeter stands out, not only because of his performance on the field, but because of his behavior and class that have made him the most recognized face of the storied franchise.

For that alone, the Yankees have to pay Derek Jeter more than is merited most players his age. They can’t afford not to because his value to the team and its fans is an intangible that is priceless.

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