Seems to Move in Perpetual Sunshine.1
“Baseball is a lot about attitude — not getting too up or down, enjoy each game, then forget it and go on. Review the game, learn from your mistakes, but don’t let it burden you. A lot of things matter more than talent: work, education, never being satisfied. These intangibles have made Derek what he is.”2 — S. Charles Jeter, 2002
The young boy went with his parents and sister to Tiger Stadium in Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in 1985, three days before his 11th birthday. He was a Yankees fan at the time. Although he had grown up in Michigan, he spent summers with his maternal grandparents in New Jersey and had been going to games at Yankee Stadium from an early age. His favorite player was Dave Winfield, and he was able to obtain Winfield’s autograph after the game. That evening he told his parents, “One day, you’re gonna go to Tiger Stadium and see me play.” Two decades later, Jeter recalled, “I went to sleep that night knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I had great dreams about it. And I’m not sure if I’ve woken up since.”3
On June 7, 1996, Derek Jeter, in his 68th big-league game, made his first appearance at Tiger Stadium. His parents were there, as they would be for many great moments over his career, culminating in his Baseball Hall of Fame election in 2020.
In 1996 Jeter was unanimously selected the American League Rookie of the Year and was on a world championship team as the Yankees won the World Series for the first time since 1978. In the decisive Game Six, Jeter was in the middle of a three-run third-inning rally that put the Yankees ahead of the Atlanta Braves. His single to left field scored Joe Girardi with the Yankees’ second run. Jeter stole second base and scored on a single by Bernie Williams. The Yankees won, 3-2, and it was time for the players to parade through New York’s Canyon of Heroes. After the parade Jeter said, “I’ve never in my life seen that many people. It was unbelievable. It was overwhelming. I’d never seen anything like it before. I didn’t realize there were that many Yankee fans. I didn’t realize that there were that many people in New York, period. It was absolutely packed. Unless you’re there, you really can’t describe it.”4
Derek Sanderson Jeter was born in Pequannock Township, New Jersey, on June 26, 1974, to a mixed-race couple, Dorothy Connors Jeter, an accountant, and Sanderson Charles Jeter, a substance-abuse counselor.His parents met while serving in Germany with the US Army. His father had played shortstop atFisk University in Tennessee.When Derek was a child, his parents made him sign a contract each year that defined acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior.Charles Jeter outlined the terms of the contract: “First of all, we want (Derek and sister Sharlee, five years younger) to do well academically. And we want them to be involved in things (outside of the classroom). The contract outlines study hours, and participation in school activities.”5 Sharlee, like Derek, took an interest in athletics and was a star softball player in high school.
The Jeters moved from New Jersey to Kalamazoo, Michigan, when Derek was 4 years old. There, Derek’s father completed his graduate studies at Western Michigan University.Derek and Sharlee lived in Kalamazoo with their parents during the school year and spent their summers with their maternal grandparents in New Jersey. It was during these summers that Jeter became a fan of the Yankees. He also had more values instilled in him by his grandparents, Sonny and Dot Connors.
Derek starred at Kalamazoo Central High School and in his junior season batted .557 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs. When not on the diamond, he participated in cross-country and basketball. He was named honorable mention to the all-conference basketball team in his junior year. Before his senior year, he won a full scholarship to the University of Michigan to play for coach Bill Freehan, who, in his 15 years as a catcher with the Detroit Tigers, had been named to 11 All-Star teams and been awarded five Gold Gloves. As he began his final year of high-school play, Jeter, who had been named a “Super-25 Player” by USA Today, was attracting scouts from most major-league teams. As April turned into May, he was batting .643 and was the top prospect in the country. Playing on an icy, muddy infield, he suffered a severe ankle sprain rounding first base in an early-season game and played in pain for the bulk of the season.6 Nevertheless, he finished the season with a .508 average and four home runs in his team’s 24 games. (Three of the four homers came before the ankle injury.) Playing for coach Don Zomer, Jeter was named the top high-school player in the country by Baseball America. Zomer said, “He’s got a gun for an arm. He was timed at 91 miles per hour from shortstop to first. One of the problems was getting a first baseman who could handle his throws. He’s got it all, and I still say he’s a better person than a baseball player.”7
On the eve of the June 1, 1992, draft, it was clear that Jeter would be selected early in the first round. The only question was where. Each team had its own needs, and Jeter’s name was not called by the first five selecting teams, each of which selected a college player. The Yankees, after their third consecutive losing season (71-91) in 1991, had the sixth pick. It was a no-brainer. On the recommendation of scout Dick Groch, the Yankees offered Jeter $800,000 to sign and take a road that would see him playing at Yankee Stadium during the 1995 season.
Jeter, after signing on June 28, 1992, did not get off to the best of starts in the minor leagues. He began with the Yankees’ entry in the Gulf Coast League. Errors in the field and frustrations at the plate led him to question whether he had made the right decision in forgoing the scholarship at Michigan. The Rookie League season was two weeks old when he first saw action, on July 2.8 He was hitless in his first 14 at-bats. As the summer wore on, Jeter, under the tutelage of manager Gary Denbo, began to find his stroke at the plate and finished with a .202 batting average. Playing in 47 games, he led his team in doubles (10), homers (3), and RBIs (25). The Yankees were encouraged and sent him to Greensboro in the Class-A Sally League, where he played in 11 games and began his long association with Greensboro teammates Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
After the season, Jeter attended the University of Michigan for the fall semester. It was his goal to get a college education but he would not return to school after that first semester.
Jeter played the full season at Greensboro in 1993 and it appeared that the Yankees’ investment would harvest the anticipated dividend. He batted a team-leading .295 and his 30 extra-base hits were punctuated by a team-best 11 triples. Mariano Rivera was a teammate for the first time. Jeter got a taste of postseason play as the Greensboro Hornets advanced to the best-of-five league championship round, losing to Savannah in five games. During the season, Jeter’s fielding was not on a par with his hitting. He made 56 errors, and there were those in the organization who felt his future was not at the shortstop position. In The Life You Imagine, Jeter said, “I was the king of robbing a player of a potential hit and whipping it past first so the hitter wound up on second.”9 Despite his fielding lapses, he was named to the All-League team at shortstop.
The 1994 season was all the dreams of youth wrapped up in a miracle ride that took Jeter from Single-A Tampa to Double-A Albany-Colonie to Triple-A Columbus on a whirlwind tour. With each team, he batted well over .300 — his combined average was .344 with 43 extra-base hits and 50 stolen bases. By the time the dust had settled, Jeter was named minor-league player of the year.
Jeter’s road to the big leagues appeared to be without impediment, However, the Yankees acquired shortstop Tony Fernandez from Toronto before the 1995 season and after being out of post-season play since 1981 were on a path to return to the playoffs. In 1995, the postseason had been expanded to include a wild-card team in each league. How would all this affect Jeter’s dream?
Injuries to middle infielders Fernandez and Pat Kelly forced the Yankees to make a move and they called up Jeter from Triple-A Columbus. He played in his first game on May 29, 1995, at Seattle. Batting ninth, he went 0-for-5, but he found the range a day later, going 2-for-3. In the fifth inning, with the Yankees trailing 2-0, he led off with a single against Tim Belcher and scored on a double by Jim Leyritz double. Leading off the seventh inning, Jeter singled again and scored on a single by Paul O’Neill. Seattle won, 7-3, but Jeter had his first taste of contributing to the team. On June 2, 1995, for the first time, he stepped to the plate at Yankee Stadium and received the ever-familiar introduction, “Batting for the Yankees, Number 2, Derek Jeter, Number 2.” The sound was that of the legendary Bob Sheppard, but on that day, in that first at-bat, Jerry Seinfeld, doing an impression of Shepard, did the honors. Henceforth, it would be Shepard at the microphone. Once the injured players returned, Jeter and his .234 batting average (11-for-47 with 11 strikeouts) returned to Columbus. With the Clippers, he posted a .317 batting average with 38 extra-base hits in 123 games. He rejoined the Yankees for the stretch run but played in only two games, getting a double in his only at-bat. He was not named to the postseason roster.
Just before the start of the 1996 season, despite his being a top prospect, Jeter’s status with the Yankees was uncertain. That is until Gene Michael, one of owner George Steinbrenner’s most trusted aides, came out in support of Jeter. Jeter was the Opening Day shortstop in 1996 and would be the Opening Day and everyday shortstop for the next 17 seasons.
On April 2, 1996, the Yankees not only had a new shortstop, they had a new manager as well. Joe Torre had taken over from Buck Showalter. Yankee Stadium had seen great players over the three-quarters of a century before Jeter took to the field and many uniform numbers had been retired. The only single-digit uniform numbers left were Jeter’s number 2 and Torre’s 6. A little more than two decades later, those numbers were also affixed to the wall in New York’s Monument Park.
Opening Day at Cleveland proved to be a harbinger of things to come. Batting against Dennis Martinez, Jeter led off the fifth inning with a home run to left field to extend the Yankees’ lead to 2-0. The score was still 2-0 when Cleveland batted in the bottom of the seventh inning. With a runner on second and two outs, Omar Vizquel lifted a short fly ball over the infield and Jeter chased after it into short center field, making the grab to keep Cleveland off the scoreboard. With his bat and his glove and his flair for the dramatic Derek Jeter was well on his way to becoming the Yankees’ marquee player.
Teammate Paul O’Neill said, “I remember saying — actually a lot of us saying — Derek was the best all-around player we ever played with. From day one, that day in Cleveland, you knew that Derek was to become this great player. The confidence he had. There’s just so many ways he helps you win a game.”10
Although the Yankees won their division in 1996, there were some tense moments. With George Steinbrenner as the owner, there seemed to always be anxious moments. The Yankees went into first place to stay on April 28 and three months later had a commanding 12-game lead in the American League East. As August came to a close, the lead had shrunk to four games. Jeter took a batting average of .306 into September and fashioned a 17-game hitting streak from September 7 through 25 during which he batted .412 with 22 runs scored and 13 RBIs. Jeter sat out the second game of a doubleheader on September 25 after the Yankees clinched the division crown in the opener with Jeter’s second-inning double plating two runners in the midst of a 10-run uprising that led to a 19-2 win over Milwaukee. Four days earlier, in one of the iconic moments that would dot his career, Jeter had, with the bases loaded, delivered a 10th-inning game-winning single, his third hit of the game, against the Red Sox, prompting him to say, “When the games mean more, it’s a lot easier to play.”11
That month the Yankees swept a three-game series in Detroit, with Jeter going 6-for-13 with a triple and three RBIs. Before the series, he shared a pizza with his dad and talked about life. Derek told his father that he wanted to start a foundation to give something back to the community, much as his hero, Dave Winfield, had done. On February 7, 1997, the Turn-2 Foundation was born and was dedicated to fighting drug abuse through working with at-risk teens. It has flourished in the years since, raising upwards of $11 million.12
In the Division Series against Texas, Jeter, after going hitless in Game One, posted a .412 average for the series (7-for-17) with key hits in each of the Yankees’ three wins. It was then on to the League Championship Series against Baltimore where Jeter and a young boy, with one out in the eighth inning of the first game, would become part of baseball lore. The Yankees were trailing 4-3 and Jeter came to the plate against Armando Benitez. Facing the hard-throwing Benitez, Jeter used the inside-out swing that he had perfected and hit a fly ball to the opposite field and the familiar short porch. Baltimore right fielder Tony Tarasco went back to the wall and reached up to corral Jeter’s fly ball, but the flight of the ball was interrupted by a young spectator. Reaching over the wall with his gloved hand was 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier. The ball bounded off Maier’s glove and went into the seats. First-base umpire Rich Garcia ruled that Jeter had his first postseason home run, and was besieged by protesting Orioles. The game was tied and went into extra innings. Bernie Williams’s 11th-inning homer gave the Yankees a one-game lead in the series. Maier was an instant celebrity.
Jeter batted .417 in the LCS and fielded Cal Ripken Jr.’s grounder for the final out of the five-game series as the Yankees advanced to the World Series against the National League champion Atlanta Braves, who were looking to win their second straight World Series. Jeter would play most of the Series in pain after he was hit in Game Two by a Greg Maddux pitch as the Braves took a 2-0 lead. In Game Three, won by the Yankees, Jeter didn’t get the ball out of the infield safely, but made his presence felt nonetheless. A first-inning sacrifice set up the Yankees’ first run and a seventh-inning infield single ignited a three-run rally that gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead. In Game Four, after the Braves had taken a 6-0 lead, the Yankees fought back. Jeter’s leadoff single to short right field in the seventh inning ignited a rally that cut the lead to 6-3. The game went into extra innings and, in the 10th inning a walk, an infield hit by Jeter, and another walk filled the bases with two out. The Yanks scored twice in the inning, won the game and evened the Series. New York won Game Five in Atlanta and returned to the Bronx to wrap up the Series. In Game Six, Jeter’s single plated Joe Girardi with the first of three third-inning runs and the Yankees went on to clinch the Series with a 3-2 win.
After his rookie season, there were questions as to whether Jeter could repeat his 1996 performance and go on to the great career that some thought was a guarantee. Jeter kept things in perspective when he was presented with the Rookie of the Year Award: “Baseball is a real humbling sport. You are on top one day and the bottom the next. I’ll enjoy this (rookie award) now, but you don’t have to worry about me getting a big head.”13
Over the next 18 seasons, Jeter’s career would be marked by iconic performances on iconic teams on the biggest of stages. Five times his team won the World Series. His face would become as recognizable as that of any Yankee legend, any United States president, any Oscar-winning movie star, any other star athlete in any sport. His off-the-field endorsements and appearances on television (his first Seinfeld appearance came shortly after the 1996 season) and in movies made him wealthy beyond the dreams that marked his youth in Michigan. A unique accolade for Jeter came shortly after the World Series when he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and was called “Dr. Hardball” by the host.
In 1997, the Yankees returned to postseason play for the third consecutive year, this time as a wild card, but were eliminated by Cleveland in the Division Series. The season was filled with frustration as Jeter’s average dropped to .291, its lowest in any season between 1996 and 2009.
Second place was never good enough for either Derek Jeter or owner George Steinbrenner and there was a new determination in 1998. There were also new faces as second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and third baseman Scott Brosius flanked Jeter in the Yankee infield. And after the team lost four of its first five games, the ever-volatile Steinbrenner was ready to pounce. However, the team quickly turned things around and surged to a 114-48 record, the best in the history of the franchise. Jeter rebounded to bat .324 with 19 home runs and 84 RBIs. He was named to his first All-Star team and finished third in the MVP balloting.
And the young Jeter, only 24 years old, became the acknowledged team leader. Pitcher David Cone said, “He was more of a leader than anyone knew. We had a relentless nature where nobody gave away an at-bat no matter what the score was, and that’s who Derek was.”14 Jeter’s life off the field was guarded, but when he began dating superstar singer Mariah Carey, four years his senior, on whom he had had a crush since high school, it was hard for Jeter to avoid the 24-hour-a-day limelight. Their relationship ended during the course of the 1998 season.
The Yankees raced through the postseason in 1998, sweeping the Texas Rangers and eliminating the Cleveland Indians in six games before sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series, in which Jeter batted .353.
The Yankees continued their winning ways in 1999 and 2000. In 1999 they faced several challenges, not the least of which was an early-season bout with cancer by manager Joe Torre. But they prevailed, winning the AL East by four games. Jeter had 219 hits to lead the American League and posted a career-high .349 batting average. He also had career highs in homers (24) and RBIs (102). Once again. the postseason went by in a blur. The Yankees swept the Rangers for the second consecutive season and went on to face the Red Sox in the LCS. They thwarted Boston’s hopes of returning to the World Series for the first time since 1986 by eliminating the Red Sox in five games. Jeter was the picture of consistency, batting .455 against the Rangers and .350 against Boston. Against the Braves in the World Series, the Yankees had their second sweep in as many years as Jeter batted .353 in the four games.
The 2000 season saw the Yankees win their fourth World Series in five seasons. Jeter was elected to start the All-Star Game at shortstop for the first time in a league that seemed to have more premier shortstops than Santa had reindeer. He was named the game’s MVP, going 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs. He eclipsed the 200-hit mark (with 201) for the third time in as many seasons. The Yankees won their third of nine consecutive division titles. In the postseason, they bested Oakland in five games and Seattle in six games to advance to the World Series against their crosstown rivals. The New York Mets were in the World Series for the first time since 1986. Jeter batted .409 in the Series. The Yankees won the first two games, marking 14 consecutive World Series games won by manager Torre. After the Mets won Game Three, Jeter took care of matters in Game Four. His leadoff homer gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead and he tripled and scored in his second at-bat to make it 3-0. The Yankees won the game, 3-2. In the fifth and final game, Jeter tied the contest with his second homer of the Series as the Yankees went on to win 4-2 and clinch the championship. Jeter was selected the MVP of the Series, becoming the first player to be named All-Star Game and World Series MVP in the same season.
In 2001 Jeter was once again named to the All-Star team and, after entering the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the sixth inning, led off the home half of the inning with a homer that gave the American League a 3-1 lead in a game they went on to win 4-1. The Yankees once again won the AL East with Jeter batting .311. He also joined the 20/20 club for the first time, stealing 27 bases and hitting 21 home runs. But the early 2001 season was one of challenge for the Jeter family as his sister Sharlee was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. She had been diagnosed in late 2000 and underwent six months of chemotherapy. In May 2001, she was free of the cancer.
The postseason iconic moments for Jeter resumed in 2001. He batted .444 in the LCS against Oakland, but it is not for his bat that he will be remembered. The A’s had won the first two games at Yankee Stadium and the third game was a nail-biter. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning on a Jorge Posada home run, and the score had not changed when the A’s came up in the seventh inning. With Jeremy Giambi on first base with two out, Terrence Long hit a ball down the right-field line for a double. Yankees right fielder Shane Spencer’s throw-in was way off-line. Jeter, backing up on the play, raced across the infield, grabbed the errant throw and backhanded the ball to catcher Posada, who tagged Giambi as he tried to score from first base standing up. The Yankees held on to win the game and stay alive.
Game Four went to the Yankees, 9-2, and, in the decisive Game Five, the Yankees took a 5-3 lead into the eighth inning. Long came up with a runner on base and hit a foul fly ball in the direction of the third-base stands. Jeter grabbed the ball and went over the short wall into the stands. Four outs later, the Yankees were on their way to the World Series.
Still another iconic moment came in 2001. The Yankees were looking for their fourth consecutive World Series win. They were playing the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks and the mound staff of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and little else. Arizona won the first two games easily and Jeter went 0-for-7 over the course of the two games. The Yankees came back to win Game Three by the barest of margins, 2-1, and Jeter contributed a single.
Schilling was back on the mound for Game Four, on Halloween night, October 31. Arizona scored two eighth-inning runs to take a 3-1 lead and Byung-Hyun Kim took over on the mound for Schilling. He struck out the side and the game went to the ninth inning. The Yankees were down to their last out when a two-run homer off the bat of Tino Martinez tied the score. Extra innings dawned, as did the beginning of a new day and month. After Mariano Rivera retired Arizona in order in the top of the 10th inning, Kim recorded two quick outs in the bottom half. Jeter came to the plate. He was 0-for-4 in the game and 1-for-15 in the Series.
After falling behind 0-and-2, Jeter worked the count to 3-and-2 and found a pitch he liked. Early in the at-bat, the scoreboard flashed “Welcome to November Baseball,” and eight pitches into the at-bat, a fan stood up and showed a homemade “Mr. November” sign. As if by design, the ninth pitch was intercepted by Jeter’s inside-out swing and sailed into the right-field seats. The homer, the first walk-off of Jeter’s career, came after midnight and earned him the title Mr. November. The Yankees lost the World Series in seven games, and Jeter batted only .148. Nevertheless, he had carved another notch on the baseball memory tree.
On December 1, he hosted Saturday Night Live. At the beginning of the show, Jeter was interrupted by applause on several occasions, and completed the opening monologue by apparently hitting balls into the audience, injuring the spectators. Of course, it was a staged gag, and the home audience was in on the joke. In a sketch, involving “Yankee Wives,” Jeter, dressed in drag, became a Yankee wife. He made quite a good-looking lady.
In 2002 Jeter and the Yankees once again won their division, this time with a 103-58 record. Jeter’s batting average slipped to .297. In the Division Series against the Angels, although Jeter went 8-for-16 with a pair of homers, the Yankees lost in four games.
The next season, on June 3, 2003, Jeter was officially named the team captain. But his season almost didn’t happen. On Opening Day, he dislocated his shoulder sliding headfirst into third base in the third inning, and missed the next 36 games, returning to the lineup on May 13. Jeter’s batting average was once again above .300 and the shortstop’s career hit total went above 1,500. The Yankees were in their familiar postseason spot, having once again won the AL East. In the playoffs, they ousted the Twins and Red Sox. The Twins had won the opener of the Division Series, but the Yankees came back to win three straight, with Jeter’s ninth-inning homer completing the scoring in the final game.
In the LCS, the teams went to extra innings in the seventh game. Although Jeter did not have a productive series, his bat came alive at the right moment. With one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Red Sox in front, 5-2, Jeter stroked a double that ignited a three-run rally and tied the game. Aaron Boone’s leadoff homer in the 11th inning propelled the Yankees to the World Series. The Yankees lost to the Marlins in the World Series, as Jeter’s .346 batting average went for naught. During the season, he appeared on the big screen, playing himself in a brief scene in the film Anger Management.
After the 2003 season, a series of circumstances took place that changed the face of the Yankees. An offseason injury to Aaron Boone created a void at third base and by the time the dust settled, Alex Rodriguez, who had been coveted by the Red Sox to replace Nomar Garciaparra (who was not expected to re-sign with Boston), was with the Yankees. Rodriguez was, along with Jeter, one of the premier shortstops in the league. They had been friendly rivals over the years, as Rodriguez put up power numbers that put him on a collision course with the all-time greats. Over the prior three seasons with the Texas Rangers, he had hit 156 homers and batted .305. He had also won a Gold Glove in 2002 and 2003, an honor that had eluded Jeter. But Jeter was the Yankees shortstop, and Rodriguez moved to third base after joining the Yankees.
If there was a defect in Jeter’s approach to the game, it was in his tendency to swing at pitches early in each at-bat. By not being selective, he was chasing bad pitches and the pitchers were cognizant of this weakness. Cognizant or not, it had not been a big problem for Jeter, who through 2003 had a career batting average of .317 with 1,546 hits. However, in 2004 Jeter got off to a terrible start. At one point, from April 20 through April 28, he went 0-for-32 before homering on April 29. At the end of April, his batting average stood at .168. But he turned things around. He put together a 17-game hitting streak that extended from July 30 through August 17, batted .379 during the stretch drive, and by the end of his season had brought his average to .292.
Once again, it was the Yankees and Red Sox competing for the AL East Championship and, during the season, it was time again for a Jeter iconic moment in perhaps the most thrilling game of the season. The date was July 1, and the Red Sox were visiting Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had won four in a row and were seeking to extend their lead on the second-place Red Sox. Matchups between the teams seldom ended in less than four hours. Before a packed house of 55,265, the Yankees took a 3-0 lead, but the Red Sox came back to tie things up in the seventh. The game went into extra innings and, in the 12th inning, the Red Sox mounted a rally. They had runners on second and third with two out and pinch-hitter Trot Nixon at the plate. The left-hander hit a Tanyon Sturtze pitch in the air down the left-field line. Jeter made a mad dash for the ball which, had it landed safely, would have given the Red Sox a two-run lead. He grabbed the ball crossing the line into foul territory, plunged into the stands and emerged with a bloody nose and the third out of the inning. In the next inning, the Red Sox took the lead on a Manny Ramirez homer, but the Yankees scored two runs in their half of the inning to win the game and extend their first-place lead to 8½ games.
The Yankees finished first in the AL East and advanced to the postseason for Jeter’s ninth consecutive appearance in the playoffs. Jeter led the Yankees past the Twins in the Divisional Series with a .316 batting average. In the League Championship Series, the Yankees won the first three games against the Red Sox, but their leadoff hitter was slumping with only two hits and a stolen base to show for his first 11 at-bats. The Red Sox came off the floor to win the final four games (two in their last at-bat) and Jeter could not muster more than one hit in any of those games. For the series, he batted .200 (6-for-30). At season’s end, there was some consolation for Jeter. His fielding, which had never been perceived by critics as a strong point, was rewarded with the first of five Gold Gloves.
New York’s media put Jeter under a searing spotlight but he held up to the pressure of not only the media but playing for owner George Steinbrenner. The euphoria of four world championships in his first five years with the team had evaporated into frustration in succeeding years. Most of the cast from those early years was gone, and the new players were unable to blend as a cohesive unit. The frustration continued from 2005 through 2008. Although the Yankees reached the playoffs in each year from 2005 through 2007, they were unable to advance to the World Series.
In 2008, for the first time in his career, Jeter did not play in the postseason. In a city impatient with defeat, the headlines were negative. The New York tabloids were quick to stir the pot by focusing on an uneasy peace between Jeter and Rodriguez stemming from negative remarks attributed to A-Rod. In 2009 things turned around. By then, Joe Girardi was in his second season as Yankees manager and Derek Jeter came into the season sitting on 2,535 hits and a career batting average of .316. Not known as a slugger, he had managed to go over the 200 mark in home runs for his career. For most mortals, these were borderline Hall of Fame numbers but that was all secondary. With the Yankees and Jeter, it was all about winning the World Series, and the failure to win since 2000 was gnawing at the Yankee captain.
The unfinished business of one more championship was resolved in 2009. Jeter batted .334, and was selected to start at shortstop in the All-Star Game. He batted .407 (including 3-for-5 with a double in Game Six) in the World Series, as the Yankees defeated Philadelphia in six games for their 27th championship. He was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. He also appeared in the forgettable action adventure film A Trivial Exclusion.
In 2010 Jeter set the all-time Yankees hit mark, passing Lou Gehrig with hit number 2,722. He returned to the silver screen, appearing as himself in the police comedy The Other Guys, where he was inadvertently shot in an early scene by actor Mark Wahlberg, who co-starred in the film with Will Ferrell. A scene toward the end of the film with Jeter appearing destitute after his shooting was deleted from the theatrical release. However, the picture of Jeter appearing as a bum made its way to the New York tabloids. Baseball fans were quick to observe that the Police Captain in the film, portrayed by Michael Keaton, was named Gene Mauch. Baseball’s Gene Mauch had managed the Angels and Ferrell was an Angels fan.
July 9, 2011, was a very special day for Jeter. He had been chasing the 3,000-hit mark and suffered an injury in mid-June, missing 18 games stuck on hit number 2,994. He returned to action on July 4 at Cleveland. Going into the game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9 at Yankee Stadium, he still needed two hits to become the first Yankee to get 3,000 hits. He went 5-for-5 and his 3,000th hit was a homer on a 3-and-2 count to tie the game. Later in the game, hit number 3,003 was an RBI single that gave the Yanks a 5-4 win. During the weeks leading up to this milestone, HBO cameras followed Jeter from injury to rehab to his glorious day in a documentary, Jeter — 3K. Cameras were rolling as he returned to Tampa to train at the Yankee facility and they followed him through a two-game rehab stint with the Double-A Trenton Thunder. He revealed more of himself in the documentary than he had in thousands of newspaper and magazine interviews over the years.
There was one more great season left for Jeter. In 2012, he batted a team-leading .316 with a league-leading 216 hits as the Yankees advanced to the postseason for the 17th time in Jeter’s 18 years with the team. But this time the iconic moment would not be accompanied by cheers, but with an eerie silence. In the Division Series against Baltimore, Jeter batted .364 and had a team-leading eight hits as the Yankees eliminated the Orioles in five games. The first game of the League Championship Series against Detroit saw its share of thrills. The Yankees, down 4-0, had tied the game in the bottom of the ninth thanks to homers by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. In the top of the 12th inning, Detroit had pushed a run across and had a runner on second base. Jhonny Peralta sent a groundball to the left side. A diving Jeter gloved the ball but could do nothing with it. That Detroit now had runners at the corners was irrelevant as Jeter lay motionless on the ground.15 He had suffered a broken ankle that would effectively end his productive career.
The Yankees failed to make the playoffs in each of Jeter’s last two seasons. He missed much of the 2013 season, playing in only 17 games and batting .190. Before the 2014 campaign he announced that he would retire at the end of the season, and he filled seats around the major leagues in his final trip into each city. The accolades were well beyond Jeter’s productivity; he batted only .256. But Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium was something special. On September 25, it came down to the ninth inning. Against the Orioles, the score was tied 5-5 and there was a runner on second base. Before Bob Sheppard had passed away in 2010, he had recorded the introduction which was used at each of Jeter’s at-bats through 2014. So, one last time, the crowd heard the intonation of Sheppard, the Voice of God since 1951, saying, “Now Batting for the Yankees, Number Two: Derek Jeter, Number Two.” And one last time, Jeter brought the crowd to its feet, singling home the winning run in his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium.
Two games later, it was all over. Twenty seasons, 3,465 hits, 260 home runs, 1,311 RBIs, five world championships, and 14 All-Star Games. Although he never was named league MVP, he finished in the top 10 eight times, and every part of his early-childhood dream was fulfilled.
Although often seen in the company of starlets, Jeter managed to keep his life away from baseball quite private. Fewer than 100 people were in attendance when he married model Hannah Davis, a native of the US Virgin Islands, on July 9, 2016 (the fifth anniversary of his 3,000th hit) in California’s Napa Valley. Their courtship had begun in 2012.
In early 2016 Jeter appeared in the baseball documentary Fastball, in which he discussed what it was like to go up against the hardest throwers in the game. Many hard throwers were featured in the film, including Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan. In September 2016 Jeter was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. The Yankees retired his number 2 on May 14, 2017. It was Mother’s Day, a fitting time for Derek to be with the four most important women in his life — his grandmother, his mom, hi sister, and his wife. The tributes were many, from contemporaries to former teammates. Perhaps the most fitting came from Bryce Harper who saw Jeter as not only the captain of the Yankees, but a captain for all baseball. Four months later, on August 17, Derek and Jeter welcomed their first child, Bella Raine Jeter.
On October 2, 2017, a group including Jeter and principal owner Bruce Sherman purchased the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria. Jeter was named to oversee baseball operations as CEO.
On January 21, 2020, it was announced that Jeter had been elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. His name was checked on all but one ballot submitted by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Jeter’s 99.7 percent of the vote was the second highest in history.
Last revised: January 21, 2020
This biography originally appeared in “From Spring Training to Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors“ (SABR, 2018), edited by Rob Edelman and Bill Nowlin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Derek Jeter file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Baseball-Reference.com, and the following:
Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012).
Thornley, Stew. Derek Jeter; Daring to Dream (Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 2004).
1 Ira Berkow, Summers in the Bronx (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2009), 23.
2 Curt Smith, What Baseball Means to Me: A Celebration of Our National Pastime (New York: Warner Books, 2002), 123-124.
3 Alan Schwartz, Once Upon a Game: Baseball’s Greatest Memories (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 77.
4 Bob McCullough, My Greatest Days in Baseball: 1946-1997 (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1998), 116.
5 Mike McCabe, “Kalamazoo’s Jeter a Lock for Round 1,” Detroit Free Press, May 27, 1992: 6D.
6 Kimberley Gatto, Derek Jeter: A Baseball Star Who Cares (Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 2014), 17.
8 Ian O’Connor. The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2011), 45. Baseball-Reference.com reports that Jeter signed on June 27.
9 Derek Jeter with Jack Curry, The Life You Imagine (New York: Crown Publishers, 2000), 35.
10 Bill Madden, Pride of October: What It Was to Be Young and a Yankee (New York: Warner Books, 2003), 415-416.
11 O’Connor, 96.
12 Jeter with Curry, 198, 203.
13 Joel Sherman, New York Post, November 5, 1996.
14 O’Connor, 136.
15 David Waldstein, “For Yankees, Thrilling Rally Ends Badly,” New York Times, October 14, 2012.