Forever in pinstripes
Lame duck Derek Jeter will eventually work out a contract extension with the Yankees
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's time now to review just a few of the things that are way more likely to happen than Derek Jeter not being a Yankee next year:
• Tiger Woods wins Husband of the Year Award.
• Marlins authorize $700 million payroll.
• Kardashian sisters named permanent hosts of Masterpiece Theatre.
But friends, this is a tough, tough business -- this sports-media gig. There are times when it's our role in life to take stuff you already knew and make it sound as if it's the kind of story that you probably should take the rest of the week off to absorb properly.
And, well, that brings us to Yankees camp.
Frankly, all of us media geniuses are well aware that Jeter isn't a real good bet to sign with, say, the Pirates, when his contract runs out after this season. Yet, we found ourselves traipsing to the Yankees' media big top anyway Wednesday to barrage Jeter with questions about his contract and his future for 18 minutes. Go figure.
“Why? Because it was the first day of full-squad workouts, for one. And because Jeter alerted us all that he wasn't going to talk about his contract for the rest of the season, for two. And, for three, because it seemed a lot more interesting than speculating about the future of Jonathan Albaladejo.
This is where I want to be. I've never envisioned myself playing anywhere else. And hopefully I won't have to.” -- Derek Jeter
So we're going to do our best to make this sound big, revealing, possibly even life-altering. But if we pull that off, we'd appreciate it if you'd send a link to the Pulitzer committee immediately, because that won't be easy.
Anyway, let's start with this: Is it even possible to comprehend the thought of Jeter wearing another uniform? Any other uniform? Red Sox? Royals? Hanshin Tigers?
We ran that question past three of his Yankees teammates Wednesday. We're pretty sure, from their answers, it was the most amusing question they've been asked all spring.
"Some things in life are impossible," Javier Vazquez said. "And that's got to be impossible."
"That would be weird," Joba Chamberlain said. "Really weird. You see guys like Johnny Damon who weren't with this team anywhere near as long, and it looks weird with them. So if it happened to [Jeter], it would be really, really weird."
Yeah, no kidding. Try, we told Chamberlain, to even envision the sight of Jeter running around a field wearing a Royals uniform. Just try.
"I can't," Chamberlain said. "He'd look so out of place. If you ever saw him in anything other than pinstripes or the grays, everybody'd be looking at him, going: 'Who is that guy?'"
And it's true. Jeter has been wearing that Yankees jersey for 2,276 games now, counting October. And although we know he won't be wearing it for another 2,276, we also have a strong, strong feeling that the number of games he'll spend wearing any other team's jersey would be exactly, well
We know this because we asked one Yankees official what he thought the odds were of Jeter ever playing for any other team. Let's just say you wouldn't exactly describe his reply as wishy-washy:
"Zero," he said.
Later, he did amend that, though -- to "none and none."
So either way, we definitely got his drift.
Later, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was slightly more noncommittal, if only because he's pledged not to discuss this negotiation publicly. And to be honest, he didn't sound real sure about why he was being asked about it at all.
And neither, as far as anyone can tell, is Jeter himself.
One of the first questions he was asked Wednesday was about how important it is to him to finish his career as a Yankee.
"It's always been important," he said forcefully. "I've said that since day one. This is the only organization I've ever wanted to play for. And that's still true today. I was a Yankee fan growing up. This is where I want to be. I've never envisioned myself playing anywhere else. And hopefully I won't have to."
And once those words were out of his mouth, he never, ever deviated from that stance for any of those 18 minutes at the podium.
He never hedged or backtracked to create negotiating leverage. He wasn't interested in reflecting on how it might change his legacy if he ever wore another uniform. He never even sounded as if there was a dollar sign on the keyboard anywhere inside his brain.
At one point, in fact, he was asked whether it meant anything to him to be the highest-paid Yankee of all time. And that was a very, very interesting question, because there's no doubt he's noticed he's playing with a guy named Alex Rodriguez who will rake in $32 million this year.
It's also no secret that he and A-Rod have had their issues. So if Jeter ever wanted to go there, this was a question that easily could have pushed that button. But nope. Not happening.
"My desire is to stay here," he said. "I never thought about saying, 'How much money do you want?' because we haven't sat down and tried to negotiate anything. So that's never crossed my mind. That's not what I play for. I play to try to help this team win. That's what I've always done. And my feeling is that if I do that, everything else will take care of itself."
And why wouldn't he have that feeling? That's exactly how his whole life has worked out so far. He's spent 14 seasons being consumed by winning. He has five World Series rings to show for it. And ohbytheway, he's made more than 182 million bucks along the way.
So the only reason he isn't signed right now is that it's Yankees policy not to talk contract -- with anybody -- until that guy's previous contract has run out. Jeter still has one more year on his. So he'll have to wait his turn, just as the great Mariano has to wait his turn.
Oh, somewhere along the way, the Yankees are going to have to make a tough decision about how much longer he can play shortstop at a championship level. He'll turn 36 in June. And he made clear Wednesday that he wants to play shortstop "as long as I can." Well, that can't be much longer, to be frank.
The time has come, said one scout we surveyed, for the Yankees to go "year to year" on how long they can commit to that. Jeter might be able to get by on smarts, the way Cal Ripken Jr. did, "for a couple more years," the scout said. But that would be about it. Then, from what we've heard, the Yankees have their eye on having Jeter finish his career as their left fielder.
The only other intrigue when they get to the negotiating table is how long a contract they feel comfortable giving a player of Jeter's age. And the only barometer we have to go by is this: A-Rod is signed through age 42, if that means anything.
But once the negotiating begins, you don't need to be a Steinbrenner brother to know how this will turn out. This story won't have a Johnny Damon kind of ending or a Hideki Matsui kind of ending or a Bobby Abreu kind of ending.
You are never, ever going to have to worry about turning on your TV next winter and seeing Jeter tell you he always has wanted to be a Brewer or an Astro.
This man doesn't just play for the Yankees. He's the heart of the Yankees.
And we're guessing you probably don't need a swarm of hard-hitting, investigative journalists like us to assure you that this is one team that isn't contemplating heart-transplant surgery -- not for as long as Derek Jeter has a baseball pulse.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
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