You'd have thought that someone encased the Empire State Building with a hammer and sickle. Or, Greenwich Village became awash in red-state ideals. Or New York Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter's image had suddenly turned sour, and sports' version of Mr. Clean had tarnished his reputation by looking like any other money-grubbing slob out there in the marketplace.
Wait a minute — Jeter's image is turning sour, and fast. Yes, this discord will get settled. The two sides will kiss and make up. But the bruises won't be forgotten by anyone involved — ownership, player, agent, media and, most important, the fans.
Jeter, the modern-day pride of the Yankees, is waging a risky and costly public relations battle with the Yankees over his bitter contract negotiations. The squabble took an unexpectedly ugly turn shortly before Thanksgiving when the Yankees told Jeter that if he could do better than their $45 million/three year offer, then he was free to explore the free-agent market, just like any schmo in Pittsburgh or Kansas City.
New York City is in a tizzy over this stunning development. The Yankees belong to the world, but Jeter belongs to the city that never sleeps. True, you'd figure that New York would be wiser to devote its time and attention to the intriguing battles within the city government and whether Mayor Michael Bloomberg will mount a presidential campaign as an independent candidate in 2012.
But clearly, the White House can wait.
Jeter holds no cards here other than the court of public opinion. The Yankees don't have to re-sign him. The team can find another shortstop, perhaps someone who has more range and long-term potential than the 36-year-old Jeter, who is succumbing to age after a brilliant, scandal-free career spent solely with the Yankees.
Jeter has been the linchpin in the team's last five world championships, and he looks like a sure bet eventually to be inducted into baseball's most exclusive club of all, the hall of fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The Yankees, owner of the highest payroll in sports at about $205 million, are playing hardball with Jeter. The team is paying some grotesque salaries already to players who couldn't hold Jeter's glove and will fade from the fans' memories as soon as they depart the Bronx.
Suddenly, though, the Yankees' management is holding the line against the franchise's most popular player since Mickey Mantle patrolled centerfield more than 40 years ago.
The two sides are reaching an edgy pint of no return. It's getting to the level of a battle in which loser takes all.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.
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