Even the great Michael Jordan, who delivered six championships to his bosses, elevating the Chicago Bulls to a global brand, changed teams. So, too, did iconic athletes Wayne Gretzky and Brett Favre, who was as much a part of Green Bay as any Friday night fish fry.
There are so few one-team, rookie-to-retirement wonders these days.
But what about New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who is more closely associated with his uniform than any other athlete in sports? Is there any chance that Jeter, whose 10-year, $189 million contract expires at season’s end, could part with his pinstripes?
Not on your Louisville Slugger. And, interestingly enough, the principal reasons have more to do with business than baseball.
We’ve all heard that something, in this case a shortstop on the decline, is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. The Yankees, never shy about spending their cable television loot, will offer Jeter by far the most money because, statistics aside, he’s worth more to them than any other team.
Jeter is the face of a franchise that sells not only winning but excellence, pride and, here’s where the Yankees really set themselves apart, tradition. From Murderer’s Row to the M&M Boys; from Martin to Mattingly, who went by Donnie Baseball in the Bronx. It’s about the lineage, not just that day’s lineup. An Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium is a tangible link to stories passed down through generations. Look, there’s Yogi and Whitey.
Jeter is vital to all that being more than corny marketing slogans and lip service. He’s the favorite son.
Among the Greats
Check out almost any list of Yankees career leaders. There’s Jeter, alongside mythic surnames like Mantle, Gehrig and DiMaggio, who thanked the good Lord for making him a Yankee. A sign with DiMaggio’s quote is all Jeter wanted from the old stadium.
Speaking of which, who else but Jeter could grab the microphone and address the crowd before the wrecking ball was summoned. Because it was Jeter telling the world that the ghosts would travel across the street, it was believable.
To any other general manager, an evaluation of Jeter’s worth would be reduced to statistics. That’s bad news for Jeter, who, at the age of 36, around the time baseball players begin to fade, is coming off one of his worst years.
Jeter hit .270 in the regular season just concluded, the lowest average since he broke into the big leagues in 1995. He also had 10 home runs and 67 runs batted in while making a league-leading 515 outs.
Here’s another, more important, number: 2,926, Jeter’s career hits total.
There are only 26 members of the 3,000-hit club. Jeter, absent injury, will join them next season. The Yankees, you can bet, have already come up with a Jeter-inspired marketing campaign.
Because Jeter, unlike teammate Alex Rodriguez, isn’t tainted by steroids, it’ll be a baseball-wide, make that worldwide celebration. You just know all of those Yankee stores will have T-Shirts and trinkets to commemorate the moment.
There’s value in that. Count on the team-owned YES Network to have bigger audiences and special programming as Jeter approaches the record. There’s value in that.
The New York Jets signed Brett Favre, first and foremost, because the buzz surrounding his arrival would, theoretically, anyway, help to sell personal-seat licenses in their new stadium. It was about finance as much as football.
Well, keeping Jeter, who has five World Series rings, is about bobblehead dolls, commemorative videos and keepsakes.
Jeter was paid $22 million this season.
It’s unlikely that another team would offer, say, $7 million now. Not even for Jeter’s intangibles. According to ESPN, since the 1990-91 offseason the only shortstops 34 or older to get contracts in excess of $5 million were Marco Scutaro, who received $12.5 million over two seasons, and Miguel Tejada, who got $5 million for one year.
The market has been set. For everyone, that is, except the Yankees, who, when it comes to Jeter, have so much more to consider than batting average and fielding range.
I asked Jeter during the 2008 season whether he could envision the day when he’d wear another uniform.
“You don’t always have the final say so,” said Jeter, whose Yankees opened their best-of-five, American League Division Series last night in Minnesota. “It’s a business.”
Yes, it is. And that, folks, is precisely why Jeter isn’t going anywhere.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)