The nicknames (The Captain, Mr. November), the iconic plays (the jump throw, the flip, the dive) and the accolades (five World Series rings, 14 All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves) have thrust New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in the brightest of spotlights. And he knows his time being front and center of the game's most successful franchise will come to an end this week as the Yankees struggle to try to get into the postseason.
Jeter, who graces this week's Sports Illustrated cover, closes the book on a 20-year major league career and reflects on the many highs, the very few lows and how the game has changed in the last two decades. He is revered for his playing style, his easy smile and his leadership skills: Fortune Magazine even named him the 11th-greatest world leader, just behind the Dalai Lama and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
As SI's Tom Verducci puts it: Here he stands, through two decades in Gotham, with integrity intact and hardly a scratch on him. But make no mistake: Jeter has been concerned with winning and winning only.
"Winning was the most important thing. ... It was stressed — preached to us — on every level of the minor league system that winning was the most important," Jeter says, noting that former boss George Steinbrenner hated losing more than anything.
Perhaps Jeter's most impressive skill is how he has mostly avoided the tabloid fodder that has become the norm in New York. Just to hear New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey's take on Jeter's high-profile relationships tells you all you need to know about that. "Obviously, he goes out — he's meeting these girls somewhere — but you never hear about it. That's where I want to be," Harvey told Men's Journal in 2013.
Jeter remains mum on that part of his life and admits things have changed in the 20 years he has donned the pinstripes. "You have to assume that everything you do is public knowledge. Everything. Because now everyone is a reporter. Everyone is a photographer. ... It's all I've known. I've been here since I was 20."
When the Yankees' regular season ends Sunday in Boston, Jeter will ride into the sunset as one of the most accomplished players in MLB history. He'll even miss some things, like competing with his teammates and being glad to get rid of others.
"The schedule. I won't miss that. I mean, eight o'clock game tonight, we get into Tampa at four in the morning and have to play another game. No, I won't miss that," Jeter says.
Jeter even insists he's fine with being a little unsure of what to do with his life after baseball.
"That's the beauty of it. I don't know," he says. "You know what I want to do? Wake up one weekend and not have to go anywhere and do nothing. There are things I want to do in the future. But I think for me I need to get away for a while first. Come see me in eight months and they maybe I can answer that question."
For more on Jeter, check out Verducci's piece in this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).
Also featured in this week's issue, SI's Lee Jenkins profiles Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, who has the task of trying to lead Miami to a fifth straight NBA Finals appearance without LeBron James; Tim Layden looks at the state of the National Football League; and Pete Thamel writes about University of Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, who is at his fourth school in the last three years.
2014 Sports Illustrated Covers