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02/21/07 10:46 AM ET

Zimmer defends Jeter

Former Yankees bench coach doesn't understand criticism

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- While the A-Rod-Jeter saga continued to play out in Tampa, Don Zimmer weighed in on the subject on the other side of Tampa Bay.

Make no mistake about it, Zim is a Derek Jeter man, and he sounded off Wednesday morning at the Raymond A. Naimoli Complex, where the Devil Rays conduct Spring Training.

Zimmer, who served as a bench coach for the Yankees for eight years and is now a special advisor with the Devil Rays, said he can't understand how Jeter can be criticized because of his relationship with Alex Rodriguez.

"They're making [Jeter] out to be the bad guy," Zimmer said. "What has he done wrong? Like I say, if A-Rod hits a home run tomorrow, Jeter will be on the top step, the first guy shaking his hand. What do you want [Jeter] to do, put his arm around him and kiss him?"

Zimmer said the Yankees had a "pretty good club" before Rodriguez arrived.

"Now it's his job to fit in," Zimmer said. "Is it Jeter's fault because some newscaster says [Rodriguez] hasn't done this under pressure? I'm not saying this, but I read it. We've all read it. Is that Jeter's fault? What do you want Jeter to do? Jeter goes out and gets 200 hits a year, plays like hell, plays hurt, nobody knows about it. That's the kind of person he is. If that's not leading, I don't know what leading is."

Zimmer noted the Yankees experienced a lot of changes while he was with the team.

"Fill-in here, fill-in there, everybody that came in fit right in," Zimmer said. "I would say a lot of that goes with [Manager Joe] Torre.

"We got Strawberry one day, two days later we got the first baseman, Big Daddy [Cecil Fielder]. We had a lot of guys that fit in -- [Chuck] Knoblauch. They fit in. We had a team.

"Now, here's a guy. What's [Rodriguez] make, $25 million a year? What is it that Jeter's done any different with him than what anybody else has done? How in the hell can Jeter be criticized over A-Rod? I'm trying to figure it out. I don't even understand it, but it makes me sick because I'm a Jeter man -- me and millions others."

Zimmer was asked why he thought people would side with Rodriguez

"All I know is I know what Jeter is," Zimmer said. "And for Jeter, they're making him out the villain. How in the hell could you ever make Jeter the villain, of all people, in this game?"

Zimmer expressed his opinion on how the perceived friction between Jeter and Rodriguez began.

"When it all happened, and A-Rod got the big contract, he made a comment, and you guys have to go back and look it up, he said Jeter can never get a contract like that because he doesn't hit home runs like I do," Zimmer said. "Is it Jeter's fault he's playing in New York with the Yankees and they win four World Series? You're going to hold that against him towards A-Rod, who has never won nothing?"

Zimmer recounted that three years ago he said Rodriguez was the best player in the game.

"That was my opinion," Zimmer said. "So I'm not trying to bury A-Rod, but people are trying to bury Jeter, I don't understand it.

"You take a guy [such as Jeter], who probably in 13 years that I've known him, is probably the best man I've known in those 13 years. He's never changed from '96 to today -- the way he acts. The way he acts on the field. The way he plays. The way he performs, and now, this criticism? It doesn't make sense. It's tough for me to figure it out. I'm just not smart enough to figure that one out. Jeter getting criticized, not being the captain, not being this, not being that."

Zimmer said Jeter wouldn't even care if Rodriguez was named captain of the Yankees.

"Knowing Jeter like I know him, if he thought that would help the team, making A-Rod the captain, he'd be willing to do that," Zimmer said. "That would be my guess knowing him like I do. I don't know how he could be any better [of a team guy]."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.