This is going to sound a little silly but I like to tell people that Derek Jeter and I grew up together. Sure, he was in Michigan while I was growing up in a suburb of New York but we are the same age – exactly two months apart – and we did, in a sense, grow up together. It just happened later on in life.
And I proudly watched as the “kid” who was the same age as me became a Yankee legend.
On Opening Day 1996, a young shortstop was inserted into the starting lineup for the New York Yankees. The Yankees hadn’t had a lot of luck with the shortstop position in recent years and this rookie was only in the lineup because Tony Fernandez, who was supposed to be the Opening Day shortstop, was injured.
After a home run and a jump throw to nail a runner at first helped lead the Yankees to victory, on a blustery day in Cleveland, a legend was born.
Not bad for someone who regarded as the fourth best young shortstop in the mid-1990s. Alex Rodriguez of Seattle, Nomar Garciaparra of Boston and Rey Ordonez of the Mets were the other players in a crop of young shortstops that were expected to outlast and outperform Jeter. A couple of them may have outhit Jeter in some categories – power numbers especially – but no one, not even the biggest Yankee haters, can deny that Jeter has remained consistent throughout this career.
Jeter went on to have a stand out rookie season in 1996, finishing with .314 batting average, 10 home runs, 104 runs scored, and 78 RBI. But he wasn’t done. He batted .361 in the 1996 postseason and helped lead the Yankees to their first World Championship since 1978.
Now, I won’t go year by year and recall every detail of Derek Jeter’s career because, well, that would take me all day and most blog readers don’t have that attention span. I know I don’t. So we’ll just revisit the highlights.
His biggest individual accomplishment, so far, is to reach – and surpass – the 3,000 hit plateau. Jeter is the only Yankee player to ever reach 3,000. Think about that for a second. This is the team of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle. In fact, Jeter became the Yankees all time hit leader, passing Gehrig’s mark of 2,721 hits on September 11, 2009. The hit that broke the Yankees record was a single. His 3,000th hit was something better.
On July 9, 2011, the Yankees played their AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays. It was a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon which was nice to see considering the game the night before was rained out.
This was to be the Yankees last home series before the All-Star Break and would be Jeter’s last chance to get hit #3000 in front of the home crowd. They would not be disappointed.
In his second at bat of the day, Jeter deposited a 3-2 offering from Tampa’s David Price into the left field bleachers for the milestone hit. He became only the second player in history to hit a home run for his 3000th hit. His former teammate Wade Boggs is the other one.
He also became the second player to finish the game in which he hit his 3000th hit perfect at the plate. Jeter was 5-5 and he wound up getting what ended up being the game winning hit in the bottom of the eighth inning.
As they say, “You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Derek Jeter has appeared in the playoffs nearly every year he’s been in the Majors. The only exception was 2008. Because of this, he holds a lot of playoff records and has a .351 BA in the World Series. In 2000, he won the World Series MVP and batted .409 against the New York Mets. He hit two home runs – one led off Game Four at Shea Stadium – hit two doubles and a triple later in that same Game Four. His performance helped the Yankees earn their fourth World Series title in five years and third in a row.
In 2001, he made a play that’s regarded as one of the top plays in playoff history. The Yankees were in the Division Series for the seventh time in seven years but found themselves in a pretty precarious position, down 0-2 heading to Oakland to take on the A’s and avoid being ousted from the playoffs.
It was Game Three and the Yankees were hanging on to a slim 1-0 lead. Terrance Long hit a double off Mike Mussina with Jeremy Giambi on first base. What happened next is now known as “The Flip Play.” After the ball was hit to right field, Shane Spencer threw it in, missing the cutoff man Tino Martinez and as the ball made its way down the line, Jeter seemingly came out of nowhere, flipped the ball to Jorge Posada and he tagged Giambi on his leg.
The play ended the inning, preserved the Yankees’ lead and seemed to turn the series around. The Yankees won that series in five games.
Later on, in the 2001 World Series, Jeter earned a new moniker. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, baseball was delayed a week and because of that, the playoffs started later in the Fall. And barring a sweep by either team appearing in the World Series that year, there would, for the first time ever, be November baseball.
On the night of October 31, 2001, Game Four was played at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were down two games to one heading into the game and going into the ninth inning, it looked like the series would be 3-1 in favor of their opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In a piece I wrote last year commemorating that fateful night in Yankees history, this is how I described the final two innings of that game:
When Derek Jeter made the first out of the inning I shook my head and I said, “They have to win this game. They HAVE TO!” to no one in particular or maybe I was talking to God.
Paul O’Neill followed with a squibber to left. Is that the term? Look, it was barely a hit. Kind of a bloop and kind of an oops! Anyway, having him on first made things a little better, until Bernie Williams struck out on a ball down around his damn feet. Kim had a funky delivery and the Yankee hitters were not getting good wood on the ball or in Williams’s case, any wood on the ball.
Next up, Tino Martinez who up to that point had an 0fer in the World Series and who was only 7-47 for the whole postseason. I remember actually saying, “Do something damn it!!” Then I got nervous and was afraid to look again so I put my sweater coat collar up to my eyes. My brother said, “Don’t be a wuss! The game isn’t over.” And as soon as he finished saying it Kim threw the pitch.
As the ball traveled toward the right field bleachers it was like slow motion. It took until Martinez got to second base for me to comprehend what I had seen. Tino Martinez just tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I started screaming and jumping up and down like a maniac. I joined in with the other nearly 56,0000 people. My best friend was especially excited because Tino Martinez was her favorite player. And my brother in the midst of the chaos yelled, “I told you it wasn’t over!!!”
The Yankees had new life.
And it almost seemed like they could actually win it in the bottom of the ninth when Jorge Posada walked and David Justice singled but Shane Spencer struck out to end the inning.
Mariano Rivera came in to pitch the top of the tenth and induced three ground outs. (Sigh. Sorry I’m thinking what transpired a few days later…)
When the Yankees came up in the bottom of the tenth, Kim got Scott Brosius and Alfonso Soriano to fly out. As Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate I also yelled at him to do something. He hadn’t been the same since he dove into the stands during Game 5 of the Division Series and whatever he did to himself seemed to adversely affect his hitting.
I remember my brother pointing at the clock and we all remarked on how it was after midnight, that there was a full moon and that it was offcially November. Baseball in November? Full moon? Yeah, holy cow. That’s a recipe for something, dare I say, magical?
Jeter worked the count full and then the improbable happened. He hit a fly ball toward right field and it carried and carried until it left the park. Mr. November was born.
“Whoomp, There It Is!” started blaring on the loud speakers and the whole Stadium went nuts.
And just like that the Yankees went from being on the brink of a 3-1 deficit to a 2-2 series tie.
Okay, so I lied, this has turned into a long post. Forgive me. But how can you write about Derek Jeter and keep it brief? The man has been the face of the Yankees for nearly 20 years now.
He’s the Captain. He’s the man. He’s 38-years-old and he’s still going strong. I think that says a lot about his character.
Right now, he is leading the league in hits. And, thanks to Jack Curry of the YES Network for this stat, he batted .317 as 37-yr old – from 6/26/11 through last night. You know, for someone people were writing a career obituary for in April of last year, I think that’s pretty amazing.
Jeter’s career accomplishments:
- All-Star (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
- World Series champion (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009)
- Gold Glove Award (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010)
- Silver Slugger Award (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009)
- AL Hank Aaron Award (2006, 2009)
- AL Rookie of the Year Award (1996)
- All-Star Game MVP Award (2000)
- World Series MVP Award (2000)
- Roberto Clemente Award (2000)