Monday, November 29, 2010

Pay no attention to the captain behind the curtain

As anybody who has read this blog for more than five minutes knows, I'm fairly cynical about the way the media builds up their favorite athletes as saints, and others as sinners. A lot of what we know about professional athletes comes from what the press chooses to tell us -- or not to tell us -- about a star. And frequently, even though they knew plenty of negative stuff on their favorites, we don't hear about those things until years or even decades later, like when the elegant, classy Joe DiMaggio was revealed to be a grudge-holding cheapskate.

Over the last fifteen years, there is nobody in professional sports who has been the beneficiary of such positive press treatment as Derek Jeter. So even when Jeter is asking for a ridiculous amount of money in his next deal, looking like the worst of the me-first players, and the opposite of his carefully crafted persona, some members of the press are blaming the Yankees, not Jeter, for the mess. Shocker, I know.

The New York Daily News' Bob Raissman writes:

Whether by design, or the fact this story is totally out of control, Jeter is being more and more perceived as spoiled and greedy. This a far different portrait of a man who has been deified throughout his distinguished career.

In the long run this ain't good for Jeter or the Yankees. If the Captain's storybook tale is even slightly soiled the Bombers' brand is harmed. In what has turned into a petty and mean spirited negotiation, the Yankees are eating away at Jeter's iconic image.

The "damage" is being done through columns that stop short of calling Jeter a shot ballplayer, but contend his only leverage for a megabucks contract are past accomplishments and status. Stories reporting he is demanding $25 million per over six years lead to a perception that Jeter is money grubbing and delusional. That characterization doesn't play well, especially in this economy.
Well, if Jeter doesn't want to be perceived as "money grubbing and delusional," then he shouldn't be asking for money and years way above his market value. Problem solved!

But to blame the Yankees for this is silly. They haven't said boo about Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte in the press. They brought up that the Jeter contract negotiations as a pre-emptive strike, because they had an inkling on how ridiculous his demands would be. That's not the Yankees' fault -- that's Jeter's fault. And the only "brand" that is being damaged here is Jeter's, not the team.

ESPN New York columnist Ian O'Connor has written yet another valiant defense of Derek Jeter, the subject of his upcoming book. And, guess what? There is still no mention in this article about said biography, a book that Jeter and his people are cooperating with. Shocker, I know.

In this latest column, O'Connor acknowledges having a little bit of egg on his face for not foreseeing this contract battle:
Last month, I guessed that the Yankees and Jeter would find a fair compromise at four years and about $23 million a pop. At the time I overestimated the team's eagerness to compensate Jeter for being Jeter, for succeeding where DiMaggio and Mantle failed -- namely, maintaining his iconic aura without treating others like dirt.
I'll give O'Connor a lot of props for actually admitting that his prediction was off base, and even bringing it up again, when it would have been easy for him to pretend he never said it. That being said, his suggestion to pay somebody so much above market value for not being a jerk was a dopey idea in the first place. As Chris Rock might say, you're supposed to not treat others like dirt. What do you want, a cookie?

O'Connor doesn't mention, though, that he also wrote that the captain "is the ultimate money player who doesn't play for money." So much for that. But he's got an excuse for Jeter's greed as well:

Jeter's extreme faith in himself explains why he stands among the enduring Yankees and winners of all time, and why he could go down as the game's greatest all-around shortstop. It explains why he told his trainer, Jason Riley, and longtime Yankees executive Gene Michael that he feels he can play another seven seasons, through his 43rd birthday.  also explains why Jeter is asking for superstar money.

Like an aging Jordan, Jeter can't see himself as anything but, you know, a superstar.
Please. You can't tell us that Jeter doesn't play for money, and then justify his greed and arrogance as being why he's great. His image is built on putting the team first.

(And don't get me started on the idea that Jeter is the greatest all-around shortstop in history -- I could write a Squawk just on that!)

Oh, and by the way, Michael Jordan didn't play for money when he returned to professional play with the Washington Wizards. As part owner of the team, he took the league minimum in salary as a player, and donated it all with the Washington Wizards to help 9/11 victims' families. So that analogy doesn't really work here. In fact, one could argue that Jordan was really being "the ultimate money player who doesn't play for money," to use an O'Connorism!

What do you think? Tell us about it!


BrooklynGirl said...

"Toto,toto, come back here now!"

Uh, oh,... its too late.

Uncle Mike said...

Wrong movie analogy. Jeter isn't the Wizard of Oz. He's Tom Hagen, loved by the father (Don Vito) but being pushed aside but the sons (first Sonny, then Michael). That didn't exactly work well for the Corleones, did it?

Who knows, Jeter could become Sal Tessio, defecting to another "family" -- and unlike Michael Corleone, Hal Steinbrenner won't be able to "whack" him.

And Lisa is Kay, the one who's really "being naive."

Subway Squawkers said...

Heh, BrooklynGirl.

Mike, your Godfather analogy is weak. Too bad Jeter wants to make it personal, not business.

r.waters81 said...

Jeez, after reading some of your last posts, I would have thought Jeter killed your parents or something.

Uncle Mike said...

It wasn't Jeter who "made it personal."

Remember "North Dallas Forty"? John Matuszak, real-life Oakland Raider, said, "Every time I say it's a game, you say it's a business. Every time I say it's a business, you say it's a game!" Not since Bill Veeck sold the White Sox to the Reinhorn Twins has an MLB owner had the moral high ground.

Apparently, on Planet Swan, no player is allowed to say, "I deserve more money than I'm being offered by the team owners." No manager, either.

Well, one player. One player who, were he still on the Texas Rangers, would probably have won the Pennant this year... by throwing it away to the Yankees.

Lisa Swan said...

"Apparently, on Planet Swan, no player is allowed to say, "I deserve more money than I'm being offered by the team owners. No manager, either."

Um, no. If Mariano Rivera asks for a two-year deal for a reported $17 million a year, it makes sense because he is asking to be paid his market value. He's actually still worth a lot of money on the open market.

There's a big difference between asking to be paid your market value, and asking, like Jeter, is to be paid more than you ever made when you were at your peak. Especially when the intangibles you think entitle you to that premium money involve you having the reputation as being the type of team-first guy who isn't all about the money. That's known as being a hypocrite on Planet Swan.

The same with Joe Torre. He thought the Yankees' offer was an insult, but the Dodgers never offered him as much money as that insulting offer.

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