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Jeter bothered by questions about his work ethic


Credit: ESPN.com


For Derek Jeter, the issue is his integrity.

That's what's so galling to him about George Steinbrenner's jabs. Jeter can't just shrug them off as an emotional rant or a motivational ploy by The Boss. It's more personal than that.

Until now, Jeter had avoided directly responding to Steinbrenner's charges that he partied too heartily last season, wasn't focused on the field, and wasn't ready to be the New York Yankees' captain.

Jeter, at 28 a four-time All-Star shortstop with four World Series rings, isn't campaigning for the Yankees' captaincy. He certainly doesn't want anyone -- particularly Steinbrenner -- questioning his commitment to his job and his team.

"He's the boss and he's entitled to his opinion, right or wrong, but what he said has been turned into me being this big party animal," Jeter told AP national columnist Steve Wilstein in a phone interview from the Yankees' spring training camp in Tampa, Fla. "He even made a reference to one birthday party. That's been turned into that I'm like Dennis Rodman now.

"I don't think that's fair. I have no problems with people criticizing how I play. But it bothers me when people question my work ethic. That's when you're talking about my integrity. I take a lot of pride in how hard I work. I work extremely hard in the offseason. I work extremely hard during the season to win. My priorities are straight."

Steinbrenner took aim at Jeter, manager Joe Torre and the coaches in an interview with the New York Daily News in December. Among his ramblings:

"When I read in the paper that he's out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won't lie. That doesn't sit well with me. That was in violation of Joe's curfew. That's the focus I'm talking about."

"I just want his coaches to understand that just being a friend of Joe Torre's is not enough. They've got to produce for him. Joe Torre and his staff have heard the bugle."

"Joe is the greatest friend I've ever had as a manager. ... I don't want to destroy that, but I will tell you this: I want his whole staff to understand that they have got to do better this year."

Jeter became an easy target because he hit only .297 instead of the .311 he had the previous year or the .339, .349 and .324 the years before that.

Steinbrenner implied that Jeter's 14 errors stemmed from his lifestyle off the field. But Jeter had 15 errors the year before, and 24 in 2000, when he was MVP of the All-Star game and the World Series.

"I think last year was my best defensive year," said Jeter, whose offense likely suffered because of a lingering right shoulder injury that prevented him from doing upper body workouts. This year, he said, he's coming in as healthy as he's ever been.

When they met recently in Tampa, Jeter said he told The Boss how he felt and how he handles his time and commitments off the field.

"He said, 'OK, if that's what you say, then that's it,' " Jeter said.

Steinbrenner offered no apologies.

"No way am I trying to get into a verbal match with the boss," Jeter said. "I'm just trying to make it known that I care about one thing and that's winning."

Jeter's image as a playboy on the town surely has been promoted by New York's gossip columns, where he's been romantically linked to models, singers and actresses.

"I'm not a hermit," Jeter said. "It's not like I'm locked up in my house. But it's amazing the things that are in the gossip pages that aren't true. They've got me dating everyone imaginable. A lot of it I wish I would have."

The real downside of that, he said, is that some fans will say, "there he is again, out partying. He doesn't care."

That's the kind of false image that Jeter worries Steinbrenner is fostering with his complaints and that tabloids are spreading. Last week Jeter was asked if he was going to change his approach to this season after losing in the playoffs.

"My response was, no, not at all," Jeter said. "Next thing you know, the back page of the Daily News had a picture of me saying, 'Party On.' Like I was saying, that I refused to change my ways for the boss or to be the captain of the Yankees.

"If you're a fan looking at that, you'd think I don't care whether they win or lose. That couldn't be farther from the truth."

Torre said Jeter was doing nothing to hurt the team.

"I know one thing about Derek Jeter," Torre said. "When he comes to this ballpark, he's ready to play, and he does every single day. And his performance is very consistent. We would not be sitting here with the four rings without him, no question."

Asked whether he had a problem with the hours Jeter keeps, Torre quipped:

"No, I envy them. I can't do that."

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