For 12 years, the stories about Derek Jeter and Joe Torre told a tale of deference. Jeter, a rookie during Torre’s first year in the Bronx, had a special bond with his manager. He would call him Mr. Torre and rarely, if ever, questioned his decisions in public.
While Torre was managing the Yanks, Jeter played with a back-up catcher named Joe Girardi. Jeter and Girardi captured three rings together, but for Derek, Girardi’s presence on the team and his amount of playing time must have raised an eyebrow or two. After all, the Yankees had Derek’s very good friend Jorge Posada, a far superior offensive catcher to Joe Girardi. In the end, of course, it mattered little, as the Yanks plowed through the opposition during the latter half of the 1990s.
Today, Joe Girardi is Derek’s manager, and for the first time in a while, Jeter is publicly questioning the man who holds the Yanks’ reins. When asked about Girardi’s decision to start Jose Molina in A.J. Burnett’s starts, Jeter had a diplomatically loaded answer. As Jim Baumbach first reported yesterday, Jeter called the situation strange. “It will be kind of awkward not having Jorge in the lineup,” he said.
For Derek, the Yanks’ loyal solider and all around good guy at handling the media, that statement amounts to sheer mutiny. As Baumbach and others have pointed out, Jeter’s statement is also a bit hyperbolic. Posada wasn’t the only catcher during the Yanks’ World Series years, and as recently as 2005, Joe Torre used John Flaherty to catch the ornery Randy Johnson. The Unit lasted just three innings in a disastrous Game 3 start, and Jorge quickly entered the game in the 4th.
I have to wonder then if Joe Girardi is risking his respect by making an unpopular and questionable decision. Does Derek Jeter think Girardi is off his rocker? What about the other younger players who look to Jeter for leadership? Ken Davidoff claims all was calm at Yankee camp yesterday and offers us some translations of the players’ sound bites. Derek, he claims, is just trying to keep Jorge happy while not offending his manager, and Jorge has accepted it.
In a way, then, this move is certainly an experiment. If Burnett comes out and dominates the Twins and the Yanks handily win as they did on Wednesday, Joe Girardi will look good — or at least he won’t be subject to rampant first- and second-guessing. But if Burnett struggles through a start, those around the club — those whose respect Girardi needs — may wonder about the decision. Ken Davidoff doesn’t expect Molina-gate to “blow up these Yankees.” Here’s to hoping.