Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote yesterday about how the Yankees are treating Alex Rodriguez very differently than they treated Derek Jeter heading into last season.
He notes that both of them are showing a serious decline in skills, neither of them can really field a position and both of them are coming off a missed season. Yet, he observes, the Yankees started Jeter at shortstop 129 times and didn’t have any contingency plan for him not playing everyday, while they are doing everything they can to minimize A-Rod’s playing time. This year, the Yankees are acting like winning is the only thing that matters. Last year, if they were truly wanting to win ballgames more than anything else, they would’ve severely limited Jeter’s playing time.
Which, yeah. So what?
Look, I’m about the biggest A-Rod apologist/Derek Jeter eye-roller around, but even I see no problem whatsoever with the Yankees taking different approaches to their situations. Sherman acknowledges that they’re different players and that one has earned special treatment while the other clearly has not, but his premise is clearly that the Yankees’ mission is, unwaveringly, to win at all costs, and that the way they treated Jeter showed that they somehow failed to carry out that mission in 2014.
I’d take issue that “winning at all costs” either should be or actually is the Yankees’ mission. If they were being honest the Yankees would also acknowledge that “winning at all costs” is not their mission either. Sure, the marketing arm of the Yankees and George Steinbrenner’s outsized persona has sold that line over the past 20 years or so, probably better than any other team has. But the Yankees aren’t idiots. They’re run by savvy business people who realize that, sometimes, you don’t make a move that may be the winning move if it alienates fans.
Perhaps there are only a small number of moves that they would forego, but they exist. Moves like, say, benching a Mt. Rushmore figure in Yankees history when — if they’re being honest and, internally, I’m sure they were — they realized that the team is not extraordinarily well-positioned to win the World Series anyway. In light of that, playing Jeter everyday wasn’t the winning baseball move, but not too much was sacrificed. And the amount of goodwill that fostered with fans, all of whom can say that they saw Jeter’s final season, final game, final hit and so on — and when they can count the ticket and merch sales that resulted from all of that — more than makes up for the extra handful of wins they might’ve had if they had, I dunno, signed Jhonny Peralta. They were four back of a wild card. Maybe a better shortstop gets them to a crapshoot play-in game, but is it really worth all of the sturm und drang benching Jeter would’ve caused for that meager reward?
Sometimes sports aren’t just about winning. Even when the Yankees are involved. Anyone who has a problem with that needs to gain a bit of perspective.