If you happen to play baseball in the major leagues, you know life is good. The hours sometimes can be irregular, but you travel as comfortably as can be, you have several months a year off and the pay -- well, the pay is almost incomprehensibly bountiful. Most people could retire and live comfortably on what a top-paid player makes in the first month of a single season. Derek Jeter, for one, receives $79,697 a game, according to one report.
Speaking of Jeter, if you play for the Yankees, life is even better. There is more of everything and, all things considered in this instance, more is better. Playing for the Yankees makes the Bronx feel like heaven. Otherwise, players would want to leave. The last time I looked, no one wearing pinstripes was at the Pearly Gates of Yankee Stadium trying to get out.
What Jeter seems only lately to have learned is that paychecks -- which have to be deposited directly into players' bank accounts because they're too heavy to lift -- contain a George Steinbrenner premium. You're paid more, a lot more, if you play for the Yankees but, now and then, you have to deal with the Steinbrenner volcano eruption. So far this cold winter, Steinbrenner's ample mouth has been the source of a lot of hot air.
In December, the Yankees' owner criticized Jeter in the New York Daily News for staying out late sometimes, and suggested that Jeter's occasional 3 a.m.'s had something to do with what he perceived as a below-par season from the shortstop. Steinbrenner also said that Jeter's outside pursuits were getting to be too much, that "he's got to make sure his undivided, unfettered attention is given to baseball."
Steinbrenner conveniently ignored facts. He slammed Jeter for committing 14 errors last season, not mentioning he made 24 in 2000 when he was most valuable player of both the All-Star Game and the World Series. Jeter's .297 average may have been down a few points, but a lifetime average of .297 could land one in Cooperstown, even on the first ballot. Oh, yes, Jeter hit .500 in the playoffs.
Steinbrenner also made it known to Manager Joe Torre that his coaching staff needed to work harder. After all, the team missed the World Series last season. Of course, left unsaid was the Yankees' eight straight years of postseason play and four titles in five years. Steinbrenner adds up the victories he cares to.
How has Torre taken Steinbrenner's remarks?
Have you seen a TV close-up of Torre watching a game from the dugout? That's how he's taking it. He may be feeling some emotion, we're sure he is, but he's not revealing it.
How is Jeter reacting to Steinbrenner?
Oh my, Jeter's feelings have been hurt. He said Steinbrenner was "talking about my integrity," and: "I take a lot of pride in how hard I work. . . . My priorities are straight."
One look at Jeter would tell you he must be working hard. What great shape he's in! Mariah Carey and others have taken note, and from all reports have been happily escorted on occasion by this eligible bachelor. Steinbrenner has never expected a monk to play shortstop for him. Steinbrenner knows well that Jeter someday will reside with Ruth and Mantle in baseball's hallowed hall, but he is just as confident that Jeter will not rank with them in the annals of beer halls.
Jeter is a winner. He is 28 years old and has four World Series rings. At least 25 major league teams, maybe more, would love to have him as their shortstop (if, of course, they could afford him). Nothing Steinbrenner could say could possibly change popular opinion about him.
Yet Jeter has arrived at spring training in a pout. Instead of taking the sun and a few leisurely cuts in the batting cage, he has lashed out at Steinbrenner, saying that he made him seem like "this big party animal" and, egad, "like Dennis Rodman."
Jeter helped Steinbrenner along, reviving the image of Rodman when he needn't have worried about his image in the least. In fact, most of us had forgotten what Steinbrenner said about him. But he decided to reveal his feelings exclusively to the Associated Press, calling Steinbrenner's remarks a "national story," which, presumably, called for a "national" response. He has even made the New York media wait until Monday, as if their words and voices would not carry west of the Hudson.
Reggie Jackson, who is in camp with the Yankees, trying to pass on something of his October magic, happens to know from personal experience the Steinbrenner motivational method, and took time with Jeter to elaborate on it. "The Boss is paying big iron," Jackson told reporters.
Steinbrenner may just know what he's doing. He wants the highest possible return on his investment, and has made his feelings known to precisely the right people: the manager of the team and its de facto captain. And you know, he's got their attention, and the attention of everyone else on the Yankees.