2003-02-22 / Sports

‘Party Boy’ Jeter Isn’t Yankees’ Problem

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch


It’s too bad that the Yankees were holding their spring workouts in Tampa and not in the Bronx this week, because all of those simmering hot heads might have helped to ward off Monday’s lethal blizzard.

The Yankees steamed into the Sunshine State this month and quickly befouled all of that fresh citrus-tinged air with their ongoing parade of swirling, smoking controversy. Apparently, it’s no longer acceptable for a successful, good-looking, filthy-rich celebrity to enjoy all of the wonders of New York’s nightlife – not if your boss is George Steinbrenner.

Back in December, The Boss – more than just a little ticked off that his team hasn’t won a championship since all the way back in the Clinton administration – made a slew of disparaging comments to the Daily News regarding manager Joe Torre and roster icon Derek Jeter, questioning the latter’s prominence in gossip pages and in Gotham’s club scene.

``How much better would he be if he didn’t have all his other activities?" Steinbrenner asked then. "I tell him this all the time. I say, ‘Jetes, you can’t be everything to everybody. You’ve got to focus on what’s important.’ ... When I read in the paper that he’s out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won’t lie. That doesn’t sit well with me."

Derek JeterDerek Jeter

Hogwash. There’s only a handful of shortstops in the major leagues today that you might select over Jeter if you were drafting a team – Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada come to mind – but even then, you might not, because Jeter has one thing (or more accurately, four things) that those three don’t: a World Series ring.

The reason that the Yankees were home watching on their DirecTV dishes as the Anaheim Angels sprayed each other with champagne wasn’t because Jeter batted "just" .297 in the regular season, nor was it because the 28-year-old might have sampled a bit too much of the Manhattan nightlife.

Yes, Jeter’s thrown some huge parties in New York: his June 2001 birthday party in Times Square, hosted by hip-hop artist Nelly, drew over 2,000 people. He’s been romantically linked to loopy diva Mariah Carey, Miss Universe Lara Dutta and ‘Fast and the Furious’ star Jordana Brewster, who headline a cast of other ultra-desirable starlets and models.

So what? Envy him if you want, but don’t pick him out as the reason for the Yankees’ failure last year. For that, you can go ahead and finger their pitching staff, which was lit up like a pinball machine in the Division Series against the Angels – David Wells (0-1, 15.43 ERA), Andy Pettitte (12.00 ERA), Mike Stanton (0-1, 10.12 ERA) and Ramiro Mendoza (13.50 ERA) all dropped the ball big time.

Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada may have better statistics but none have the World Series Championships that Derek Jeter has won with the Yankees.Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada may have better statistics but none have the World Series Championships that Derek Jeter has won with the Yankees.

Jeter, for his part, batted .500 with two homers and three RBI in the four games against Anaheim.

Even with the evidence strongly stacked in his favor, the media-savvy Jeter was wise enough to not come out and openly bash back at Steinbrenner when he held a dugout press conference in Tampa on Monday. "I’m in no way here to say anything bad about Mr. Steinbrenner," Jeter said, paving the way for a thirty-minute dialogue with reporters. "He’s the perfect owner to work for."

His cautious prelude wasn’t so much because Jeter wasn’t peeved at King George – sources indicated he was - but because there’s just no winning a public fight with The Boss. Ask Dave Winfield, ask Reggie Jackson, ask Don Mattingly. When the Boss comes out firing at you, you’d better take your lumps and move on.

This stupid little fiasco aside, nothing short of an O.J. Simpson-sized scandal is going to change the fact that the Yankees promotions department would be well-served to have somebody begin planning Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium, when they’ll permanently enshrine Jeter’s No. 2 between Billy Martin’s No. 1 and Babe Ruth’s No. 3 in Monument Park.

That’s actually rather ironic in a way. Martin and Ruth have both been posthumously infamous for their love of bars, babes and all of the other luxuries that celebrities in the Big Apple are afforded on call. Jeter loves being a part of Yankees lore and their illustrious history, but he definitely doesn’t want any part of that scene.

"It’s important, because that’s who I am," Jeter said. "It’s not like I have this false image. I handle myself how I always have. No one wants to have the image that they don’t care about the team. If I was a fan looking at that situation, that’s what I would think: all he wants to do is party."

Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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