NEW YORK — It isn’t unfathomable — but maybe a little ironic.
For the first time in his eventual Hall of Fame career, Derek Jeter is a free agent and formally not a member of the New York Yankees.
Because he is the most iconic player in the most successful franchise’s history since Mickey Mantle adorned No. 7, the Yankees are offering him more money than he would ever get in the open market. And because said amount is apparently not good enough, Jeter (pictured right by The Associated Press) may be something else for the first time: despised.
OK, maybe “despised” is a bit too strong a word. But there appears to be a segment of the Yankees’ vast fan base — a rather large one, it seems — that is actually at odds with the demands of “The Captain” at this very moment.
The Yankees have reportedly made Jeter a three-year, $45 million offer. (In my opinion, that’s more than enough for a 36-year-old shortstop who is bad defensively and coming off the worst offensive season of his career — even one with his “intangibles,” history and popularity.) Jeter, meanwhile, reportedly seeks a contract of five or six years with an annual salary in the $20-million range.
A lot of that may have to do with the competitive fire that has made Jeter so great.
Jeter and Alex Rodriguez haven’t been particularly close since they shared the right side of the Yankee infield. That’s no secret. There haven’t really been any problems, but it’s hard to deny the uncomfortable tension that exists between the two. Now, Jeter sees a 35-year-old A-Rod making no less than $20 million over the next seven years in what is the most ridiculous contract in sports history and can’t help but think he deserves something similar.
That’s a big reason why these negotiations have played out as expected: Complicated and ugly.
Somehow, Jeter has boasted a spotless record despite being the face of the most vaunted franchise and a good-looking bachelor in America’s most vibrant city. But as these complex negotiations between the Yankees and Jeter creep into the start of December, through the Winter Meetings and possibly into the New Year, sides are going to be taken.
It’s historically difficult for fans to sympathize with an athlete upset over $15 million a year, but it’s also difficult to sympathize with such a lucrative franchise — which has given away so much money to undeserving players in the past — not forking over a few extra million to keep one of the all-time greats in pinstripes.
And that’s just another reason why this offseason staring contest is so darn interesting.
As a Miami guy, I witnessed how quickly an athlete can go from hero to villain very recently with LeBron James, who staged his own show to declare his basketball future and was instantly hated everywhere except in that little pocket of South Florida — even though he wound up taking less money.
Jeter’s is a vastly different situation, sure, but it just goes to show you that fans’ perceptions of athletes can change instantly — no matter who’s involved. Will Jeter eventually be hated in the Yankee community? Of course not. But it’s interesting — and pretty surprising — to see the tide turn against him a bit for the first time.
What if the unimaginable happens and Jeter winds up finishing his career elsewhere?
Which side would you blame then?
— Alden Gonzalez
* In case you were too hung up on turkey, I recently wrote about whether this could be it
or one Manny Ramirez