Thursday, October 12, 2006

O Captain, My Captain

Derek Jeter is the captain of the yankees. That means that he is supposed to put the team first, on the field and in the clubhouse. It shouldn't mean that you allow personal issues to influence your role as the leader of the team. However, that is exactly what Jeter did this year when he allowed Arod to twist in the wind amid a chorus of boos and press criticism. A word or two from Jeter would certainly have gone a long way, at least with the fans. Jeter instead made some non committal statement saying that he couldn't control what the fans do and that every player has to deal with that kind of stuff on their own.

I'm certainly not blaming Arod's struggles on the fact that Jeter didn't stand up for him. Arod had a mediocre year. It would amount to a great year for 99% of the hitters in the majors, but it was not what the fans have come to expect from him and certainly not what he has come to expect from himself. It became clear at some point that he was allowing the criticism to hurt his play on the field. The fielding issues and the prolonged slumps were evidence of that. He should have been able to deal with the expectations that are placed upon him. He knows that he has long been considered the best player in the game. He understands that people are going to be more critical of him because he is the highest paid player in team sports. He knows this and yet he seemed unprepared to handle the negative feedback that he got this year. Instead of facing issue, he continued to insist that there was no problem. His seeming lack of emotion, regarding his less than stellar play, only fueled the negative response from the fans and the media.

Jeter has spoken up for teammates in the past. He defended Jason Giambi from the wrath of fans after his horrendous, steroid clouded start to the '05 season. He has even gone on record defending Barry Bonds, but when one of his teammates and former friends was facing an onslaught from the fans and media, Jeter had nothing to say. Jeter and Arod used to be good friends. They broke into the majors at the same time. They both experienced immediate success. They played the same position. They were single and enjoying their lives. It was almost natural for them to become friends. They used to stay with each other when their respective teams came into town. The rift in their relationship came from a quote in an article in which Arod said that Jeter was only successful because he had a great team around him. Jeter took that personally and their relationship has never been the same since.

Jeter is the face of the New York Yankees. He may very well be the most famous player in the game today. His pre-eminent position on the yankees has never been questioned. Remember it was Arod who moved positions to come to New York, even though he is undoubtedly a better shortstop than Jeter is. Arod moved for the good of the team and because he probably makes a better 3rd baseman than Jeter would have. It's an act of seflessness that has never been appreciated by the fans of NY. He gets booed for making errors while playing out of position to help his team. I'm not sure why Jeter thinks it's okay to defend admitted steroid users, but not a teammate who has never been anything but a positive role model as a player. I'm not sure if Derek feels threatened by Arod or if he is still holding a grudge over the perceived insult from Arod. His lack of support this year was not the mark of a captain. He did not have to accept that designation from the yankees, but he did. I can remember David Cone telling reporters to quit bugging Kenny Rogers after poor outings. That is what a clubhouse leader does. He does not play out some silly personal issue in order to prove a point. He does not hurt his team because he is trying to "get back" at someone. That's petty and it's beneath someone who is supposed to lead by words and example. If this is the example that he's setting then it would come as no surprise if the yankee clubhouse begins to resemble the set of Desperate Hosewives.

Derek Jeter is a great player and will end up in Cooperstown one day. He is praised by the media and loved by the fans. He has a mountain of endorsements. His face is on TV constantly. He is also the captain of the Yankees. Hopefully going forward he will perform that duty as well as he performs the role of player/spokesman/man about town. He is supposed to be the captain of 25 men and that should also include the ones that he decides that he doesn't like.



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