some thoughts on Jeter

or, Why Old(er) Players Are Sometimes Worth More Money

early Jeter baseball cards: He has changed; the uniform hasn't.

It came to my attention today that there are people out there speculating that Derek Jeter might go some crazy free agent / LeBron James / rogue route and entertain options from non-Yankee teams after midnight tonight. People like this and this. There are also people out there who imply that the Yankees might even want to scrimp on Jeter in order to splurge on Lee. Whatever.

Before anyone reads more, I should clarify something. I am not the world's hugest Jeter fan. Within my collection of Yankee stuff, I have nothing with his name on it. Honestly, he's just a little too clean-cut for my taste. That being said, I'm not stupid. I know how good he is and what he means to the Yankee organization.

Then I read this piece of snarky sanity. Yes, Fournier's tone is a little much (and I know I'm guilty of it too), but the text is true. I will wait here while you read or skim that article.

...

Fournier's piece touches quickly on the "intangibles," those things that baseball's infinitely creative statisticians have not yet figured out how to quantify. Derek1 has these intangibles by the boat load...I mean, like rows of foot-lockers stuffed with crap you can't touch or see stacked eight high hiding in an attic in Clearwater, Florida, for him to collect each off-season and use to refortify.  The crazy thing is that while his career numbers are incredible, it's the intangibles that make him the Yankee captain. His leadership, sportsmanship, intelligence, level head, experience, and character on the field are worth more than his numbers. The occasionally unnecessary acrobatic embellishments aside, it would be extremely difficult for someone to convince me that his presence does not make everyone else better. 

The intangibles can't be quantified, but they can be monetized, and they make Derek extremely valuable.

The intangibles make Derek a better player than what even his numbers reflect, but that's not all they do. In some cases, they also turn great baseball players into baseball legends. And I'll posit that team consistency turns baseball legends into cultural icons. This means that an investment in Derek Jeter is a lot smarter than even Fournier points out. 

If the image of Derek as a cultural icon is cultivated and protected, then the image of Derek in pinstripes carries incredible monetary value. The intangibles represented in that image, or even the mention of his name, will constitute free advertising for the Yankees not for the rest of Jeter's career or even for the rest of Jeter's life, but literally for the rest of Yankee existence. Seriously speaking, whether Derek's contract is an investment in winning right now doesn't matter. He is a money-making, brand-building investment that will last the life of the company. More than any other American sport, baseball cultivates cultural icons that persist in our collective memory. And after the House that Ruth Built was closed and demolished, the new stadium is Jeter's cathedral to sanctify.

And, really, why wouldn't the Yankees cultivate and protect that image? Yes, baseball is a sport. Yes, Major League Baseball is a business. But the thing that empowers the MLB to rake in the serious cash it does is its importance to our cultural identity. And the thing that makes the Yankee organization much richer than the others is the place it holds in that identity. The long list of championships and the long list of legends are the things that keep the fans loyal and make little boys dream of wearing pinstripes one day.

Derek consistently performed through the dark days of steroids, and no one feels the need to ever put an asterisk by his name. He is the guy that went to Bob Shepard's house to get this recorded. He is almost universally liked, just as a nice guy...which, let's be serious, is a big deal for a professional athlete and a bigger deal for the Yankees, a team so focused on remaining "classy" that players are told how to cut their hair and restrictions are placed on facial hair options.

What I'm getting at is this: Every year for the rest of his ambulatory life (and maybe even after that), Derek Jeter will be at Yankee Stadium on Old Timers' Day. Because he will be there, so will the fans. That alone is worth the money to keep him in pinstripes, but that's just a fraction of what his face adds to their brand. We all know that he'll retire a Yankee.  I'm just hoping that the Steinbrenners know that Derek Jeter has done everything right for them and that the result is a player who is actually worth a lot more money now than at any earlier point in his career.

1Apparently, I've decided that Jeter and I are on a first-name basis.
Derek, if this is news to you, I'll make it even: Please...Call me Leah.