How A-Rod and Jeter buried the hatchet
Winning isn't the only thing that's changed the dynamic between the city's biggest stars
Derek Jeter escorted his girlfriend to a dry corner of a wet and wild clubhouse, made sure Minka Kelly was tucked safely under her Yankees cap and then walked into a blowout party celebrating his one for the thumb.
The captain had a bottle of Moet & Chandon in his hands, and soon enough he drifted away from teammates and reporters and grabbed one unsuspecting star around the neck. It looked like a pro wrestling hold, and in more troubled times one easily could imagine Jeter wanting to choke the life out of Alex Rodriguez.
Only Jeter wore a look of wonderment as he poured his bottle of Moet & Chandon over A-Rod's head, nearly dragging him to the clubhouse floor in the process. The delirious shortstop and third baseman laughed in unison, and if they had exchanged the champagne for water or Gatorade, this would've been a scene stolen straight from a Williamsport field.
Rodriguez had won his first title and, of greater consequence, had helped Jeter win his fifth. It took an unspoken and unsigned peace treaty to make it happen, and if the Boston Red Sox are sweating the possibility of another New York Yankees dynasty in the making when they open the season against the defending champs on Sunday night in Fenway, the A-Rod-Jeter partnership is at the heart of their fears.
To understand the most important Yankees truce since Reggie broke bread with Thurman or maybe since Ruth and Gehrig figured out how to win without speaking to each other, it's important to know the state of the relationship just a few years back.
In fact, one member of the Yankees family said he was afraid of approaching Jeter to discuss Rodriguez and the tension between them "because I would've been dead to Derek. It would've been like approaching Joe DiMaggio to talk about Marilyn Monroe."
Why? They were best baseball buds until Jeter's big-city stardom and staggering October success inspired A-Rod to fire jealous jabs into his friend's nose, knocking Jeter's skills on ESPN Radio and again in Esquire. Jeter was annoyed the first time and downright furious the second.
After Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did what Boston couldn't, completing a 2004 deal to acquire Rodriguez, Jeter spent A-Rod's introductory news conference looking like a guy who had emerged from a five-hour visit with his proctologist.
Soon enough his boss, The Boss, sent a public plea Jeter's way. George Steinbrenner referenced a newspaper column about Gehrig and how the Iron Horse had been overshadowed by two A-Rods (Ruth and Joe DiMaggio) and learned to deal with it.
"He should show that kind of leadership," Steinbrenner said of Jeter. "I would bank on it."
Jeter has never been the forgive-and-forget type, yet the Rodriguez rips weren't the sole makers of the divide between them. A pro's pro, Jeter had no use for the diva dramas that A-Rod carted into the clubhouse. The shortstop came to see the third baseman as a hurdle to clear -- rather than an otherworldly talent to ride -- on the way to the World Series.
The details have been memorized by all A-Rod-Jeter historians. A popup fell between them during a 12-2 loss to Baltimore in 2006, and their body language -- especially Jeter's -- screamed disgust so loudly that Cashman had to address it. On other days, Jeter declined to tell the jeering fans to lay off A-Rod, said it wasn't his place, even though he'd already told the jeering fans to lay off Jason Giambi.
Jeter was Joe Torre's guy, and Rodriguez wasn't. A-Rod was obsessed with securing the captain's approval, and Jeter was angered when columnists publicly called for him to be a captain to 24 teammates, not 23, and when any team official dared to suggest the same in private.
Finally, Rodriguez called a spring training news conference to say he was done lying about his relationship with Jeter. A-Rod made the obvious official: They were soul mates no more.
"Why doesn't he just shut up?" Jeter asked one official before facing the follow-ups the next day.
Jeter and A-Rod never had a clubhouse fight, never engaged in a heated argument witnessed by teammates. Yes, they even occasionally lunched together on the road.
But theirs was a cold war that defined the title-free Yanks from 2004 on. If the topic remains Jeter's least favorite, for A-Rod it's only slightly more appealing than a discussion on performance-enhancing drugs.
"All I know is there were perceived problems between them in the past," Cashman said, "and perception is reality, whether it's true or not."
When Cashman recruited CC Sabathia after the 2008 season, he found that Sabathia's main concern wasn't the adjustment to the New York marketplace.
"It was how people got along in our clubhouse," Cashman said. "We had a reputation for not being together. We had a reputation that we were fighting each other and I told him, 'That's the truth. Yeah, we are broken. That's one reason we're committing all this money to you, a team-builder. We need somebody to bring us all together.'"
The ultralikable Sabathia was an agent of positive change last year, but the coming together of A-Rod and Jeter had far more to do with the emasculation of Rodriguez as a slugger via his admissions of steroid use.
A-Rod was a broken man and likened to a shattered Humpty Dumpty by his own GM. When he returned from hip surgery, Rodriguez was confronted in a Tampa diner by two friends -- longtime ally Gui Socarras and Yankees PR man Jason Zillo -- who got personal and told him he had to change.
"They showed me tough love," Rodriguez said of the intervention, "and I thought from that breakfast on I've stayed with the plan, and it's been a good plan."
A-Rod decided to focus on playing baseball and not on battling Lindsay Lohan for space on the gossip page. Jeter noticed. He decided to give Rodriguez points for trying.
They didn't have a formal sitdown like the one Thurman Munson had with Reggie Jackson, a lunch date negotiated by a teammate, Fran Healy, and a bat boy, Ray Negron. But suddenly the dynamic between Jeter and Rodriguez changed, their separation no longer approximating church and state.
Together they moved easily about the locker room and batting cages. After the Yankees swept the Twins in the AL division series, Jeter and Kelly and the shortstop's parents sat with A-Rod and Kate Hudson at a team party in a hotel ballroom, all of them chatting like dear friends.
And why not? Jeter spent most of October and part of November pouring champagne over A-Rod's head.
"They've got a great relationship now," Cashman said. "It's seamless. It's all good now."
So good, in fact, that something strange will happen when the Yankees begin defending their title against the Red Sox.
For the first time, the chemistry between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will be a major concern for a team other than the Yanks.
NEW YORK YANKEES: 2010 SEASON PREVIEW
- Victories Over Vengeance
- The A-Rod grudge isn't more important than winning.