Should Jeter want to be modern Babe?

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
2:30
PM ET
Yankees fans who argue that Derek Jeter should get whatever he (and his agent) want haven't yet come to grips with the paradox they've created. More on that in a moment.

First, Jeter's agent:
    "There's a reason the Yankees themselves have stated Derek Jeter is their modern-day Babe Ruth," said Jeter's agent, Casey Close, according to the New York Daily News."Derek's significance to the team is much more than just stats. And yet, the Yankees' negotiating strategy remains baffling."

    Jeter became a free agent for the first time in his career when his 10-year, $189 million contract expired at the end of the 2010 season.

    "They continue to argue their points in the press and refuse to acknowledge Derek's total contribution to their franchise," Close added, according to the report.

    The Yankees have reportedly made Jeter an offer for three years and $45 million. But Jeter is seeking a deal lasting at least four years and preferably longer, a source told ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews last week.

OK, just a few things about the actual Babe Ruth.

As you know, the old Yankee Stadium was nicknamed "The House That Ruth Built." In the mind of the public, I suppose the perception is that Ruth's presence made it financially possible for ownership to build a new ballpark. But there's more to it than that. Ruth's presence essentially forced the Yankees to build a new ballpark.

When Ruth joined the Yankees, they were tenants in the Polo Grounds, the New York Giants' home in upper Manhattan. To that point the Giants had won eight league championships; the Yankees, none. But as Craig Wright recently wrote in A Page from Baseball's Past:
    Ruth’s impact on attendance at Yankee games was remarkable. The Yankees became the first team to draw over a million fans and saw their average attendance (16,746) nearly double their average from the year before (8,482). The New York Giants also had a good team, but even though they played in the same ballpark and most of the surrounding neighborhoods were filled with fans of the Giants, they averaged about a third fewer fans than the Yankees. Afraid that their fan base would turn into Yankee fans, the Giants would eventually tell the Yankees to find another place to play, leading to the building of Yankee Stadium.

It's a metaphor -- Ruth didn't literally build Yankee Stadium -- but without him it probably would have been built much later, and smaller. That, along with all the pennants and World Championships and all the rest, is what Ruth meant to the Yankees.

And would you care to guess what the Yankees did when Ruth reached the point where Jeter is now? They kicked him to the curb.

But first they cut his salary.

Jeter turns 37 next summer. When Ruth turned 37, the Yankees cut his salary, slightly. When he turned 38, they cut his salary by 30 percent. When he turned 39 -- by the way, the Babe was still a highly productive hitter, one of the best in the majors -- the Yankees cut his salary by another 30 percent. And when Ruth turned 40 and was making noise about being bigger than the franchise, the Yankees simply cut him loose.

One season later, the Yankees began perhaps the most dominant four-year run of any team in major league history, averaging 102 wins per season and taking four straight World Series (and losing only three games in the process).

I don't know if Jeter's agent knows that bit of history. I am 120 percent sure that Jeter's employers know it very, very well. And if the agent insists that the Yankees treat his client like a modern-day Babe Ruth ... Well, Jeter can't play for the Boston Braves like the Babe did. I'm sure someone will give him a job, though.

Jeter's agent is just doing his job. In a few weeks, everyone will be looking back at this and laughing. Jeter's agent knows that Jeter is merely a very talented man, and not some sort of god. Let alone Babe Ruth.

Some of Jeter's fans don't seem to understand that Jeter's human, though. And herein lies the paradox ... Jeter's fans believe he deserves as many dollars and years as he wants, because he's all about team, ever the selfless warrior ... but if he's selfless, why should he need more than three years and $45 million on his next contract? Why would he want more?

Because he's human, after all (a point that Ken Davidoff recently made, and made very well thanks in part to a nifty little Paul O'Neill story).

But how many years and dollars do you give a human 37-year-old shortstop coming off a so-so season? This human, maybe even more than three years and $45 million. But not much more. Not much more, at all.

(If you just can't enough of this stuff -- and granted, it's been a slow news week unless you live in Korea or Minnesota -- IIATMS's Jason has much more in the same vein.)

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