Commentary

Money drives Yanks-Rays rainout drama

Front office really responsible for giving Jeter one less chance to hit No. 3,000 at home

Updated: July 9, 2011, 10:23 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Yankees would love you to believe that the fault for Derek Jeter getting only two more chances to get his 3,000th hit at home lies squarely with the Tampa Bay Rays.

But you could just as easily blame Jeter himself. And Alex Rodriguez. And CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens and even Kei Igawa.

In reality, you should blame Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, Lonn Trost, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman.

Yankee Stadium
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesThe Yankees could have rescheduled Friday night's rainout for a Saturday day-night doubleheader but needed the Rays' approval for a split.

Levine, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi barely made an effort to conceal their aggravation with the Rays, who, after Friday night's game was canceled at about 5:30 p.m. ET, voted down the opportunity to play a day-night doubleheader Saturday in favor of coming all the way back to play a single game in September.

"We made every effort to do it [Saturday]," said Levine, the team president. "But we only do what we can do. I just feel bad for all of our fans."

"People have made a lot of arrangements to try to see this happen on the day that they picked," Girardi said. "It's unfortunate that we lose a game here and it takes a day away from it could have happening. That was important to us because of what our fans have meant to our organization."

"I'm annoyed it rained tonight, but I can't control it," Cashman said when asked whether he was annoyed at the Rays. "The same way I can't control a decision that another organization has. We did our votel; they did their vote. Their position is their position, for whatever reason. That's their right."

But it was clear all three thought Tampa Bay's decision was very wrong.

What made it all funny was the reality of the situation. Tampa Bay had the right to veto the Yankees' desire -- one game at 1:05 p.m. Saturday, another at 7:05 p.m., separate admissions for each, please -- only because it was that scourge of the modern baseball fan, the dreaded day-night doubleheader.

Had the Yankees chosen to play what used to be called, simply, a "doubleheader," two games for the price of one, they could have unilaterally imposed that decision on the Rays. But language in the collective bargaining agreement governing the division of revenues between the home and visiting teams dictates that if the doubleheader is a split, both teams must agree.

The Rays' players, given the choice, voted to play one game Saturday and another Sept. 22, a mutual off day.

The Yankees would not say so, but the implication was that this vote was an act of villainy against Jeter, against the Yankees and, most of all, against Yankee Nation, a country the Yankees profess to hold every bit as dear as the United States of America herself.

In truth, if the Yankees were really concerned about their fans, they would have forced the Rays to play an old-fashioned, pay-one-price twin bill.

And if they were so concerned about Jeter reaching his ever-more-elusive milestone at home before the All-Star break, they would have done the same.

But when it came down to it, the Yankees were concerned with neither Derek Jeter nor John Q. Fan. As always, they were obsessed with Benjamin Franklin.

"We're a baseball team and a business," Cashman said. "You can't separate it."

Asked what the deciding factor in the Yankees' decision was, the GM said simply, "Gate. We weren't interested in going from 81 home dates to 80."

If you can calculate how much revenue the average sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium generates for ownership, you now know how much Jeter getting that 3,000th hit at home is worth to them, or more accurately, not worth to them.

Obviously, when it came down to a choice of either throwing their fans a "freebie" and doing their "Captain" a huge favor or stuffing their pockets with cash, the Yankees, not surprisingly, chose the latter.

"Our decision to do a split had nothing to do with Derek Jeter," Cashman said. "It had to do with business reasons. From all the baseball operations standpoints, it's fan-friendly, it's Jeter-friendly, it's team friendly."

Of course, it is none of those things. It is, however, bottom-line friendly, and that is something the Yankees, working on their fourth straight season of $200 million-plus payrolls, are perpetually concerned with, especially since, despite frequent announcements of "sellouts," their $1.6 billion ballpark has had more empty seats than ever this season.

Cashman virtually admitted as much when he said, "We wanted to play a split tomorrow because it's the summer. You have a chance to sell out. It's harder to sell out a date in September."

And with the kind of money the Yankees have spent on ballplayers over the past decade -- more than $2 billion since 2001 -- sellouts are not so much a nicety as a necessity.

You could just imagine the discussion when the Yankees broke the news to Jeter that his chances to get 3,000 at home just decreased not only by a game, but exponentially -- he now will have to face the Rays' studs, David Price and James Shields, in his final two games before the break -- because they held out for another $6 million or so.

Cashman to Jeter: If I didn't have to pay you $51 million for the next three years, we could have afforded a one-ticket doubleheader.

Jeter to Cashman: Don't blame me. You're the one who wasted $46 million on Kei Igawa.

Cashman: Hey, we shouldn't fight over this. It's really all Hank's fault for giving the third baseman $275 million.

They could have gone on and on like that all night, and both would have been right.

And not once would the Tampa Bay Rays have come up in the conversation.

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.
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