Should Derek Jeter’s Biographer Be Defending Him in the Press?
ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor has written a lot about Derek Jeter as of late, which is understandable for an NYC sportswriter who covers the New York Yankees. But what is less understandable is why O’Connor hasn’t disclosed in those columns that he’s writing a biography of the Yankee captain that promises “unique access to Jeter.” Has this “unique access” influenced O’Connor’s columns?
In his latest article, “At current rate, Joe won’t outlast Jeter: Think The Captain’s in decline? Barring change, his skipper could be first out the door,” O’Connor seems to be issuing a not-so-veiled threat to Joe Girardi. He starts his column by writing that “at this pace, Joe Girardi is not going to make it. He is not going to be the manager of the New York Yankees long enough to do to a declining Derek Jeter what Casey Stengel did to a declining Joe DiMaggio.” O’Connor ends it by writing, “the terms of [Girardi's] next contract with the Yankees should involve two more years and one more warning: Change, or we’ll hire someone else to bench The Captain.”
This is the first time I’ve seen Girardi’s job status specifically tied to Jeter. So whether this is the columnist’s opinion, or whether he’s voicing what Jeter thinks behind the scenes, is relevant, especially when he talks about players not liking the Yankee manager.
According its product description at Amazon.com, The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter, out next April, features more than 200 interviews with Jeter and others close to him and “takes us behind the scenes of a legendary baseball life and career, from Jeter’s early struggles in the minor leagues, when homesickness and errors threatened a stillborn career, to the heady days of Yankee superiority and nightlife, to the battles with former best friend A-Rod.” Another product description from the publisher talks about how in the book, “we also witness Jeter lose his mentor, Joe Torre and have to grapple with his declining skills and the declining favor of the clubhouse he has always called home.” What does O’Connor mean by “declining favor of the clubhouse”? Is he implying something about what Girardi thinks of Jeter — or vice versa?
The connection makes you wonder, because in this latest column, O’Connor not only has written one of the most searing indictments of the Yankee manager in the press to date, but he describes players’ opinions of the captain. First, he says that Girardi came across in 2008 as “a Captain Queeg act that turned off the players and the press”:
In front of his stunned players in Detroit, Girardi ran around a clubhouse table at Road Runner speed to show them how to hustle, and half the room thought he was losing it.
While O’Connor acknowledges that the manager lightened up the following season, following the example of New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, he now writes (emphasis added):
But with the World Series ring granting him some job security, with the wolves no longer at his door, Girardi traded his outer Jekyll for his inner Hyde. The pressure of defending his title inspired the reappearance of a terse and irritable man.
This isn’t a media issue, not when the players constantly measure their manager’s body language and study his every news conference word. And not after they didn’t play hard for him when it mattered most.
A few points here:
* You can’t argue both that winning the World Series granted Girardi “job security,” and that the “pressure of defending his title” got to him. Those are mutually exclusive concepts.
* There’s been reams of ink spilled about the Yankees’ failure in the ALCS, with Girardi, the team’s hitters, and the team’s pitchers getting a fair amount of criticism. I’ve written that Girardi’s management in the ALCS was brutal, and cost the team dearly. But O’Connor’s article is the first piece I’ve seen that suggests that the players “didn’t play hard” for Girardi. If this is indeed the case, then this is a devastating indictment — not just of Girardi, but of the players themselves.
Is O’Connor making an observation that the players on a team that is supposed to consider winning second to breathing, and the season a failure without a World Series title, tanked it in the postseason? Or does he he have some insider information from Jeter on this? And if that is the case, what does that say about both Jeter’s leadership skills, and his will to win, two essential parts of the Jeter mystique?
* It’s true that Girardi looked gaunt and unhappy as the year went on, but the main issue most have with his managing this year was not that he “treated every May game against Baltimore as Game 7 of the World Series,” as O’Connor writes elsewhere in the piece, but that he didn’t take the games down the stretch seriously enough, spending too much time resting players for the postseason before nailing down the division title. And that he continued this lethargy into the ALCS.
The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro says that the skipper sent a bad message in an August 1 Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays matchup, where “amid a playoff atmosphere at the Trop, Joe Girardi opted for a JV lineup.” Vaccaro said “it was the nonchalance Girardi expressed at the lineup he had posted — which sounded awfully close to hubris, if not full-blown arrogance — that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.” That’s the polar opposite to O’Connor’s beef with Girardi.
In another recent piece on Jeter, O’Connor suggests that “the Yankees should commit to four seasons in this next contract, take Jeter to his 40th birthday, then go year to year after that,” as Jeter ” has indicated he wants to play until he’s about 43.” Since Jeter made $22.6 million last year, O’Connor writes that the Yankees should give him a raise, even though he had his worst statistical season last year. “There’s no need to diminish him by demanding that he take a pay cut,” O’Connor writes. “If one athlete of this generation deserves to be overpaid, it’s Jeter. A token, thanks-for-the-memories bump to $23 million would suffice.” Again, is this salary O’Connor’s opinion, or what he’s heard from the Jeter camp on how much he will be expecting in the new deal?
O’Connor, one of the most-read and most-respected columnists in New York, certainly has the right to share his insights about the Yankees, including on Derek Jeter, the subject of his upcoming book. But he ought to disclose that book connection every time he writes a column about the captain.
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com
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