A-Rod discusses friendship with Jeter
Fellow teammates say issue over relationship is overblown
TAMPA, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez's fourth season with the Yankees opened with a confession, as the All-Star admitted his relationship with shortstop Derek Jeter is not as strong as it once was.
"Let's be honest," Rodriguez said on Monday. "Derek and I were best of friends about 10 or 12 years ago, OK? Best of friends. We're still good friends. We get along well; we cheer hard for each other, he cheers for me. We both more importantly want to win a world championship.
"Do we go to dinner every night like we used to? No. But we're good friends, we have a lot of respect for each other, and we want to win."
Rodriguez said he felt it was important to clear up the issue of his friendship with Jeter, which had become a frequent topic of speculation in recent years.
It is widely believed that the relationship was significantly affected by a 2001 magazine article in which Rodriguez referred to Jeter as a "number two hitter," meaning he was not the impact player in his club's lineup.
Jeter was not available for comment on Monday, having left Legends Field early following a session with assistant trainer Steve Donohue.
General manager Brian Cashman said that the interaction between the two players is not an issue that concerns him going forward, nor does it require his attention.
"Only those two can speak to it," Cashman said. "I suspect it's nowhere near as bad as the general perception is."
Jeter and Rodriguez have clearly been on speaking terms in recent years, acknowledging each other in the clubhouse and having been spotted together in numerous cities at dinners and other public events.
"They're not as tight as they used to be, but it's not a situation where they don't look at each other or something like that," Jason Giambi said.
Rodriguez said the two have both a working relationship and a friendship, and the tone is not nearly as strained as has been represented in some circles.
"It is what it is," Rodriguez said. "I think when you get into the other [stuff], people start assuming things are a lot worse than what they are, which they're not. They're obviously not as great as they used to be, when we were like 'blood brothers.'"
A major point of criticism came last season when Rodriguez struggled through what he has referred to as his most challenging season. Though Rodriguez finished the season batting .290 with 35 home runs and 121 RBIs, he endured lengthy batting slumps and was periodically booed at Yankee Stadium.
He said his postseason performance in the American League Division Series, when he went 1-for-14 against the Detroit Tigers and found himself dropped to eighth in the Yankees' lineup, was especially "lousy."
"It was tough, it was a struggle -- the boos, playing poorly," Rodriguez said. "A lot of people on this team depend on me, and I felt in many ways I let my fans down and my teammates down."
Some have suggested that Jeter, in his role as team captain, could have made a public statement in order to quell the negativity.
But as Rodriguez noted, even he isn't sure if he'll ever be able to win that battle. Catcher Jorge Posada pointed out that there may be no magic words to silence Rodriguez's most vocal critics, even if Jeter made a public appeal.
"Derek can't stop the fans from booing," Posada said. "If they're going to boo, they boo. They've booed all of us. What does [Jeter] have to say to make the fans stop booing? The fans are going to boo no matter what. If you don't do your job, they're going to boo you."
Posada said that, in his view, the relationship between Jeter and Rodriguez is more of a non-issue than many would acknowledge.
The other 23 players in the Yankees' clubhouse do not appear significantly impacted by whatever friction there may be. Posada intimated that interaction between Jeter and Rodriguez is warmer than that of some previous tenants of the clubhouse.
"There were guys, going back a few years, that you didn't get along with," Posada said. "But you went out there and you played the game, and you got along while you were playing. That was it. Not everybody can be friends."
Rodriguez is entering the seventh year of a 10-year, $252 million contract signed with the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season. Rodriguez can contractually opt out of that deal after 2007, forfeiting the remaining $72 million on the back end of the contract and making him a free agent.
Though Rodriguez said repeatedly on Monday that he wants to be a Yankee -- even saying that he hopes to be at the opening of the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, alongside Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera -- Rodriguez stopped short of definitively stating that he would not opt out.
"I understand my contract," Rodriguez said. "I understand my options, I understand the interest. I want to be a New York Yankee."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.