Commentary

Angry? Derek Jeter should be ecstatic

If The Captain can't take these negotiations, wait for the bigger ones yet to come

Updated: December 8, 2010, 2:05 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

In January 1957, Mickey Mantle went to Yankees GM George Weiss seeking to more than double his salary from the previous season, when he achieved the Triple Crown, leading the American League in home runs (52), RBIs (130) and batting average (.353). He also led the league in runs scored with 132.

By any measure, it was the season of a lifetime, and in return, Mantle, who was paid $33,000 in 1956, was looking for a bump up to $75,000 for 1957.

The GM's response was to slap a manila folder on the desk in front of Mantle, smile malevolently and remark, "I wouldn't want this to get into Merlyn's hands."

Merlyn was Mrs. Mantle. And that was the end of the negotiation.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter & Brian Cashman
Tim Boyles/Getty ImagesIt may have been bumpier than he'd have liked, but Derek Jeter got even more than he deserved from Brian Cashman and the Yankees.

The incident originally came to light in Mantle's autobiography, "The Mick," and is retold in Jane Leavy's absorbing new Mantle bio, "The Last Boy."

It is recounted here a third time to make the point that if Derek Jeter thinks he just came through a tough negotiation, he really doesn't know all that much about negotiations or Yankees history.

The Captain is angry, he says, although what he has to be angry about only he knows.

Jeter is coming off the antithesis of Mantle's transcendent 1956 season -- he posted career lows in batting average and on-base percentage, struck out more than he had in five years, kept the opposing shortstop way too busy with his penchant for the groundout and hit into an distressing number of double plays. Yet The Captain still walked off with a deal that keeps him the highest-paid middle infielder in the game with the potential to earn as much as $65 million over the next four years.

No reason for anger there.

And if he is put out by some of the statements, both on the record and off the record, that came out of the Yankees' front office, he should consider what Weiss told a magazine writer, most definitely on the record, about Mantle after the Yankees' shocking World Series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 home run in 1960.

"Our entire organization has tried to discover why Mantle hasn't capitalized on his enormous potential, and we obviously haven't found the answer," Weiss said. "We've done everything possible to help him."

Mantle was coming off a season in which he had batted just .275 but led the league in homers again with 40 and, after nine full seasons in the big leagues, had hit 320 home runs on his way to 536.

Talk about a harsh judgment.

So when Jeter says he is angry that some of the details of his negotiation with the Yankees went public -- a negotiation, by the way, that he won even bigger than the Patriots beat the Jets on Monday night -- all you can do is scratch your head.

[+] EnlargeMantle Family
AP PhotosJeter had to deal with some minor scuffles played out in the media. Mickey Mantle? His family got dragged into his contract talks.

Yes, his GM, Brian Cashman, encouraged him to "test the market" if he didn't think the Yankees' initial three-year, $45 million offer was quite good enough. And yeah, there was some mention about Jeter needing to drink something called Reality Potion, which was actually a gentle way of pointing out that $15 million a year for guy coming off a .270 season was hardly the equivalent of being flogged like a galley slave.

Obviously, we are talking about two very different eras here as well as two very different ballplayers.

Thankfully, the robber barons who owned and ran baseball teams until Marvin Miller -- and tell me again why he isn't in the Hall of Fame? -- tore down the reserve clause the way liberated Germans tore down the Berlin Wall can no longer treat ballplayers like chattel. The balance of power has shifted, thankfully, from the old, rich guys in the office to the young guys in the uniforms, the ones we all pay to see.

And Mantle the person was the antithesis of Jeter, a walking scandal waiting to explode, a functioning but never abstaining alcoholic, a player who would have been an endless source of embarrassment to his team if set loose in today's media jungle with its 24-hour news cycle and insatiable hunger for scandal.

Aside from being a great Yankee, Jeter has been an exemplary individual. And nobody says a ballplayer has to like his bosses any more or less than the rest of us like or dislike our own.

But for a sophisticated guy who has been around the block a time or two, my, does Jeter have a lot to learn.

If he thinks it was a tough conversation the day Cashman advised him to test the market -- and by the way, he said that to me in a phone conversation, and I can assure you it was not said at all as a threat, merely as a suggestion for Jeter to gauge the fairness of the Yankees' offer -- just wait until he, Cashman and Joe Girardi have the conversations all three have managed to avoid so far.

There's the one that begins, "Derek, we don't think you should be our leadoff hitter anymore."

And the one that goes, "Derek, we don't think you can be our everyday shortstop anymore."

Which eventually leads to, "Derek, we think our best chances to win lie with you not playing as much as you have been," and finally, "Derek, perhaps it's time to start thinking about your life after baseball."

Every one of those will be a much tougher conversation than anything that was said during the contract negotiations, and every one of those conversations will take place, probably before this contract runs out.

The facts are the facts: Jeter is 36 going on 37. He has lost a step on the base paths and a step in the field. Although his bat showed signs of life late in the 2010 season after some tinkering by hitting coach Kevin Long, for most of the year he was cheating on the fastball, unsure of his reflexes or bat speed anymore, and it resulted in an inordinate number of pitches he used to drive into the right-center field gap now rolling harmlessly to the shortstop.

And then there's this fact: The Yankees' fan base, besieged by astronomical ticket prices, accustomed to high-caliber play and notoriously short of patience with even its "favorites," is probably not going to be kind if the Jeter of 2010 turns out to be the Jeter of 2011 and beyond.

Whether Jeter likes the way they went about it or not, the Yankees came through for him with a terrific new contract. Now, it is his turn to come through for them. And based on his age and recent performance as well as decades of baseball history as precedent, it is not at all certain that he will be able to keep up his end of the bargain.

These are not criticisms of Jeter or insults aimed at his ability. They are merely cold-eyed observations of the natural progression of the human body attempting to perform incredibly difficult athletic feats at an advanced age.

What happened between Jeter and the Yankees' front office during the past couple of weeks may have come as a shock to him, although it is no different from what is happening at workplaces all over the country to employees, even those as loyal and valuable to their employers as Jeter has been to his, as they inevitably begin to age and their productivity starts to erode.

The only difference, of course, is that Jeter's situation ended happily, with continued employment at a salary that just about anyone short of a bank CEO would consider fabulous. But we can't be surprised when a superstar celebrity, even one we feel we know so well, reveals himself or herself to be hopelessly out of touch with the ways of what we who are in it like to call the "real world."

Jeter has little to be angry about in terms of the way his negotiation was conducted and certainly none about the manner in which it concluded.

But more disturbingly, if he thinks those were disturbing conversations with the Yankees, how will he feel about the ones that are still to come?

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE