Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Captain Candid: Derek Jeter Opens Up on Contract Odyssey

Stop the presses: Derek Jeter said something interesting.

We've waited a long time for this; sat through 15 years of interviews and press conferences devoid of even the slightest semblance of insight or intimacy. It's been a decade and a half of stock quotes lifted from the Professional Athlete Handbook of Clichés, the forward written, naturally, by Derek Sanderson Jeter.

Everyone from Peter Gammons to Suzyn Waldman, from Bob Costas to Sweeny Murti have attempted to get Jeter to divulge something ... anything. No dice.

Vanilla is the flavor of the captain's ice cream. Frankly, who can blame him?

Vanilla doesn't provoke follow-up questions. Vanilla doesn't create friction with your manager. Vanilla doesn't lead to animosity with the media. Vanilla keeps you off the back page.

It's something A-Rod took years to understand. Jeter knew it from the first time he walked in the Yankees clubhouse in 1995.

On Tuesday, Jeter decided to crack the door open and let people take a peek inside.

He could have stood at that podium in Tampa and lied through his teeth. "This is the business of the game." "Cash was just doing his job." "Being part of the Yankee legacy is blah blah blah."

But it was clear the "messy" negotiations that ended with his three-year, $51 million deal left a bad taste in his mouth. He had a message to send.

“I can’t tell you I ever thought it was going to go this way,” he said as Brian Cashman looked on from a protective cube of plexi-glass. “My understanding is that it was supposed to be a private negotiation. That’s how it’s supposed to go, but it didn’t go that way.”

I'd say he was picking at the scab, but that would infer that the wound has reached the healing process. I'm not so sure we're there yet. Right now we're dealing with some raw, gnarly stuff.

Jeter used the word "angry" multiple times to describe the process. It appeared most of that ire was directed at Cashman, who certainly isn't Jeter's favorite person right now.

To hear Jeter tell it, he came to the Yankees and essentially put himself at their mercy by admitting he didn't want to play anywhere else. Cashman, representing the team, betrayed that honesty by telling Jeter — through the press — to shop his offer if it wasn't good enough.

This could be described in some circles as a "dick move."

"I was pretty angry about it, but I let that be known," Jeter said as Cashman had a kevlar vest affixed to his chest by a bodyguard. "I was angry about it because I was the one that said I didn’t want to do it, that I wasn’t going to do it. To hear the organization tell me to go shop it when I just told you I wasn’t going to; if I’m going to be honest with you, I was angry about it."

Before we start a vigil in honor of Jeter's tragic life, let's remember that a) it was really his agent who turned the negotiations into an outright public matter, b) he remains the best paid middle infielder in baseball, c) Minka Kelly and d) Minka Kelly.

Jeter's going to be just fine. But for a remarkably public person, he has always been very much the private type. This is the same guy who fought and won (of course) a dispute with his Tampa neighbors to erect a 6-foot-wall around his 31,000-square-foot mansion.

In case the aforementioned 31,000-square-foot mansion didn't tip you off, Jeter has made a ton of money in his career. He acknowledged as much on Tuesday, but he made it clear that he was stung by the portrayal that he was just another selfish, money-grubbing athlete.

"They said I had an ego, that I’m greedy … the perception was greed when it was a negotiation. ... It all started with my salary demands, which still cracks me up. What position am I in to demand a salary? Give me this, or what? Where am I going?"

The answer is nowhere. And I think every Yankee fan is thankful for that.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

No comments: