Friday, November 12, 2010

Pinstripes Forever

Perhaps it was the graininess of the black and white photo in Friday’s NY Times (sorry, it wasn’t posted on the Web site so I can’t provide a link). Or maybe it was his straight-on-to-the-camera pose. Or the close-cropped hair that seemed to show a receding hairline more pronounced than Joe Torre’s. But in that newspaper photo with his former skipper at a benefit dinner Thursday night in support of Torre’s charitable work, Derek Jeter looked old. And very corporate.

He was wearing a pinstriped suit. Jeter may have been sending a subtle message to Yankeedom in his first experience as a free agent that pinstripes year-round are his most comfortable attire.

Torre wore pinstriped suits on and off the field, as well, but it’s now three years since he gave them up on the field. Of course, managers are more expendable than the faces of franchises. The Yankees have had four iconic managers—Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Torre. Huggins died in office in 1929. The other three, despite each winning multiple American League pennants and World Series, wore out their welcome in the Bronx, at least in the minds of team executives.

During the same time, the Yanks have had six players whose identities were forever linked to their franchise—Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter (you can argue about some others, such as Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, and Mariano Rivera, but none of them would be the cover boy for an era of Yankee baseball). All but the Babe came up through the Yankee system and played all their games for New York.

It seems everyone has an opinion on Jeter’s future value to the Yankees, in terms of how many years his next contract should cover, how much he should be paid and what position he should play.

I’m already on record as biased toward Jeter, so here’s my suggestion: He should get a three year contract. One year option clause. $18 million a year (he made $22.6 million in 2010) with annual incentives if he bats better than .300, scores more than 100 runs, knocks in at least 70 runs and makes fewer than a dozen errors. He should play shortstop. Pencil him in to play the field 130 games. He should not move to third base as Alex Rodriguez plays superbly there and A-Rod’s range is also diminishing, so putting him at shortstop would not solve any defensive gaps in the infield. Possibly in year two or three of the contract, Jeter might share designated hitter chores with Jorge Posada, but only if the Yanks have a competent shortstop who can hit at least .260.

This arrangement might not make anyone happy, but it’s in the best interests of all who want to see Derek Jeter in pinstripes for all his playing days.

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