No baseball player ever played in more postseason games, been covered so thoroughly or been seen by more people across more platforms than Derek Jeter, who grew up in front of us in New York, on five championship teams and in a digital age. What else is there to say about him as he prepares to play his last game in New York?
In honor of his 20 seasons in the majors, and in culling my own recollections in covering him for those 20 years, here are 20 facts you might not know about Derek Jeter.
1. A Year of Postseasons
Napoleon once said that the genius in leadership is the man who can do the average thing when everybody else is going crazy. That's Jeter in the postseason. His genius is that, when the pressure is greatest, he doesn't "elevate" his game; he is able to play the same game. He is a .310 career hitter who hit .308 in the postseason.
Jeter played 158 career postseason games, the equivalent of one full season. In that virtual season, Jeter had 200 hits, 20 home runs, 18 stolen bases and 111 runs scored. Since 1901, only five other shortstops put up those numbers in any regular season — and one of them was Jeter in 1999.
Translation: Playing against the best competition under the most pressure, Jeter put up numbers rarely seen at the position in the regular season.
|Alex Rodriguez||1998, 2001|
|Derek Jeter||1999, Postseason career|
2. That's a Lot of Fist Pumps
Only three players in the past 100 years played in more wins than Jeter.
3. Lord of The Rings
There have been 26 players who won six or more World Series championships, with Yogi Berra winning the most (10). All 26 of those players earned their rings before 1969, before the postseason expanded.
Since 1969, Jeter is one of 11 players to win five World Series titles, the most in the era of the expanded postseason. He is also the only full-time shortstop to do so. (The ring count below includes those won when a player appeared for a championship team at any point in that season.)
|Player||World Series Rings|
He is a natural born leader. Teammates and coaches will tell you that people want to be around Jeter, and that was true even when he was signed out of high school at 18. I knew it was true in 1995, when he was a 21-year-old non-roster rookie who the Yankees allowed to suit up and sit on the bench for the American League Division Series.
In the deciding Game 5 of that series, David Cone threw 147 pitches before manager Buck Showalter finally removed him, doing so only after Cone, who had thrown 135 pitches in Game 1, walked in the tying run. Cone was a beaten man trudging off the mound. He was so physically spent that for the next week he could not raise his arm to comb his hair, and he kept the shades drawn to his New York apartment and did not leave. The next spring, doctors discovered an aneurysm in his arm. Cone to this day wonders if there had been a connection between pitching to exhaustion that night in Seattle and the aneurysm that nearly ended his career.
As Cone neared the Yankees' dugout on the third-base side of the Kingdome that night, I noticed the one person who got up from the bench to be the first to console and congratulate Cone even before he reached the dugout. It wasn't the pitching coach. It wasn't a veteran. It wasn't even anybody on the active roster.
It was the 21-year-old Jeter.
Jeter has a gift for putting people at ease, and he remains cool no matter the circumstances. Teammate Brendan Ryan told me a great story, the kind you could hear from scores of other players over the years. Ryan was playing for Seattle at the time, and really struggling at the plate. Somehow he managed to get on base and reached second, where Jeter walked over to him.
"Hey, all you have to is relax a bit," Jeter told Ryan. "Let the ball travel a little deeper and take it the other way. You're too anxious right now. Just let the ball get to you and think about going the other way."
Ryan doubled his next time up.
"It made a big difference for me," Ryan said. "I actually got hot for a while after that, and it was because of Derek. I'll never forget that."
I recall the photo shoot we did at Yankee Stadium when Jeter was named SI's 2009 Sportsman of the Year. Such photo shoots are elaborate productions that require hours of work and a small army of people: photo assistants, make-up artists, publicity agents, security detail, friends, friends of friends, etc. An hour or two into shoot, as we changed venues at Yankee Stadium, Jeter stopped a woman — just another face in a crowd of faces working on the shoot — and extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Derek," he said. "I've met just about everybody here but I don't think I've met you yet."
It was a simple touch. It was nothing more than a common courtesy, but I was struck that a superstar athlete would be so aware about the many people around him and introduce himself.
You see him constantly talking to fans and players during a game, seemingly without regard to pressure.
"I think part of that is focus," he said of his cool under pressure. "Focus is a big part of it. I think work ethic … if you do things over and over again, when you get in a situation you like to think it comes natural.
"I have emotions. There have been frustrations. I have been angry, times when your confidence level wavers a little bit. But I try not to show it."
5. The One and Only Bat
Upon reporting to the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa and the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 1992 — he was the sixth pick of the draft — Jeter had to find a wood bat, having used a metal one at Central High in Kalamazoo, Mich. He picked through a bin of wood bats at the complex and decided on one that he thought most resembled his metal bat in size, shape and weight: a Louisville Slugger P72.
Since that day, Jeter had taken more than 14,000 plate appearances as a professional. In every single one of them, he brought a P72 to the plate. (34 inches, 32 ounces).
The P72 model was crafted by Louisville Slugger back in 1954 for Les Pinkham, a catcher who was in his fifth and final minor league season. Pinkham never played a day in the big leagues. The P in the model number, according to Louisville Slugger's ID system, refers to the first letter of the player's last name. The 72 means it was the 72nd model crafted for a player whose last name began with P.
It's the ultimate example of how Jeter craves the comfort of routine.
6. The Missing Parts of the Jeter Portfolio
Jeter is one of the most decorated players in history, but he never:
• Won a regular-season MVP award.
• Started a game batting fifth or sixth (he hit in all other spots).
• Hit an extra-inning triple.
• Collected a hit in 14 at-bats off Jorge Julio, a pitcher with a 4.59 ERA. (It is the most hitless at-bats he ever had against one pitcher.)
• Hit for the cycle.
And here's a look at the players with the most MVP shares who never won the award:
7. Big Flies and Little Ball
The current sacrifice hit scoring rule has been in place since 1940 (bunting to move up a runner counts as one, but sac flies or fly balls that advance a runner do not.) Since 1940, there have been 196 players to hit 250 home runs. Among those 196 players with 250 homers, Jeter has the fourth-most sac bunts:
|Player||home runs||sacrifice hits|
8. Stoking Baseball's Greatest Bull Market
Jeter has been the most important player and the most popular player in the post-strike years that saw unprecedented growth in revenues in baseball. His jersey has been the best selling jersey in baseball six of the past seven years — all the more amazing when you consider he played in those years between the ages of 36 and 40. Here's a look at the changes in the game over the past 20 seasons in two key indicators: per-game attendance and MLB revenues.
9. The Triumph and Tragedy of the 1992 Draft
Jeter was one of 38 first-round picks in the 1992 draft. Fifteen of those 38 first-rounders never played a day in the big leagues, a failure rate of nearly 40 percent. No failure was bigger than that of a player picked three spots ahead of Jeter: Mississippi State lefthanded pitcher B.J. Wallace, drafted third overall by Montreal.
The general manager of the 1992 Expos was current Orioles GM Dan Duquette, who had been promoted from being the team's player development director after Montreal GM Dave Dombrowski left for the same position with the expansion Florida Marlins. Wallace would be the first pick ever made by Duquette and his scouting director, Kevin Malone.
The Expos drafted Wallace on June 1, 1992, in part to save $250,000. Wallace signed for $550,000. Jeter signed for $800,000.
Wallace broke the strikeout record at Mississippi State and set an Olympic record with 14 strikeouts against Italy in 1992. Two years later, his shoulder began to trouble him. He was placed on the disabled list in April 1994 with tendinitis, and then again two months later. On Aug. 2, 1994, Wallace underwent shoulder surgery, and his career and his life slowly began to spiral into darkness.
The Phillies selected Wallace in the Rule 5 draft that offseason, though he did not pitch at all in 1995. In 1996, he posted a 5.83 ERA pitching in Class-A ball at age 26. Philadelphia let him go. The Red Sox invited him to minor league spring training camp in 1997, but released him. The third pick of the draft was out of baseball before his 27th birthday with a career minor league record of 15-15 with a 4.21 ERA. His coach at Mississippi State, Ron Polk, would later tell the New York Times that Wallace's release "was a blow to him."
In 2003, Wallace served as an assistant high school baseball coach in his home state of Alabama. On June 19 that year, Wallace was charged with drunken driving in a fatal car accident in which the car of the deceased, Joseph Richard Pearson, was struck from behind while sitting at a traffic light in Summerdale, Ala. Pearson, 59, left behind a wife, a daughter and three sons. Wallace was indicted on a charge of criminally negligent homicide. He was released from jail in January 2004 on $10,000 bond.
Records from the Baldwin County, Ala., Sheriff's Department show Wallace was arrested four more times between 2009 and '12, beginning with his arrest in 2009 for jumping bail and one in 2010 for a probation violation.
Then, on Aug. 30, 2011, Wallace and his wife were arrested for running a "shake and bake" meth lab out of their home, where they lived across the street from an elementary school with their three young children.
Records show he was released Nov. 28, 2011. Five months later, on April 20, 2012, Wallace was arrested again, this time for failing to appear in court on a traffic matter. Bail for his drug-related charges, including two felonies, was raised to a total of $15,000.
On the same night Wallace was in jail after being arrested for the fifth time, Jeter, playing at Fenway Park, collected career hit number 3,111 to pass his childhood idol, Dave Winfield, for 18th on the all-time hit list.
Wallace was released eight months later, on Dec. 14, 2012.
10. Jeter Hit Here
Jeter has a hit in 42 ballparks. (There are 47 national parks in the continental United States.) Since Jeter made his MLB debut, 18 ballparks have been built in an unprecedented building boom. Jeter has the most hits as a visiting player in three of them, is in the top-three in another three and is second in hits by a Yankee at the new Yankee Stadium — this after posting the most hits in the old Yankee Stadium.
Most Hits at Old Yankee Stadium
1. Derek Jeter: 1,274
2. Lou Gehrig: 1,269
Most Hits At New Yankee Stadium
1. Robinson Cano: 478
2. Derek Jeter: 446
And here's where Jeter ranks in most hits by a visitor in current AL parks:
|Globe Life Park||105||3|
|Minute Maid Park||6||483|
11. The Number
The 1929 Yankees popularized the use of numbers on the back of uniforms. Eighty-five years later, Thursday night's Yankees game will mark the last time a Yankee will ever wear a single digit on the back of the famed pinstriped jersey. (Jeter's No. 2 will be retired next season, and all the other single digits have already been retired.)
Jeter wore No. 74 in his first spring training in 1994. In 1995, Yankees equipment manager Nick Priore gave him No. 2. Urban legend holds that Showalter said at the time, "Give him 2; he's going to be special." But there was nothing special associated with that number 2 at the time.
Just look at the 10 players who preceded Jeter by wearing No. 2 in pinstripes, and you can see the Yankees gave it out often and without much discretion:
|Sandy Alomar Jr.||1975-76|
12. The No. 1 Number 2
Jeter may not have the greatest career WAR for players who wore No. 2:
|Player||WAR||YeArs Wearing No. 2|
Foxx, though, wore No. 2 for only one year, and Gehringer (and the Tigers) had no number for his first seven years. He then wore No. 3 in 1931 and switched to 2 for his final 11 years. So Jeter actually has the greatest career WAR while wearing number 2.
Jeter also has played the longest with No. 2:
13. The Jeter Divide
Jeter keeps baseball and his private life separate. He does not have a batting cage in his huge Florida home, and the only baseball games he watches are the games in which he plays. He does not follow baseball as a fan does, which created one of the many differences between him and teammate Alex Rodriguez. In my book The Yankee Years, I wrote the most telling anecdote that illustrated this disconnect.
One night, Rodriguez and Yankees bullpen catcher Mike Borzello returned with Jeter to Jeter's New York apartment, where a hair stylist was visiting to provide trims. Rodriguez took a seat on a chair, turned on a television and starting flipping through channels, looking to catch a live West Coast game. He found none.
"Where's the baseball package?" he asked Jeter.
"I don't have that stuff," Jeter said.
"How come you don't have the baseball package?" Rodriguez asked. "What else do you do?"
Recalled Borzello, "It was just so funny because Derek will never watch a baseball game other than the one he's playing in. They're just complete opposites. I remember Alex's reaction to it was like, ‘How is that possible?'"
14. The Hits Kept on Coming
Not only does Jeter have the most hits by a Yankee, he also has been hit the most:
|Player||HIt By Pitches|
15. Famous Events on June 26, 1974
• The Universal Product Code is scanned for the first time (on a pack of gum in Troy, Ohio).
• Elizabeth Taylor divorces for the fifth time (from Richard Burton).
• The New York Daily News celebrates its 55th anniversary.
• Derek Jeter is born.
16. Jason Kendall & Derek Jeter
• They were born on the same day (June 26, 1974).
• They were drafted on the same day in the same round (June 1, 1992, first round).
• They hit the same number of minor league home runs (16).
• They hit the same percentage of line drives in the majors (21 percent).
• They hit the same number of grand slams (1).
• They rank in the top-15 all-time in HBP (Kendall fifth, Jeter 15th).
17. Straight from Kalamazooo
Jeter was born in Pequannock, N.J., but raised in Kalamazoo, Mich. There have been 12 MLB players listed as having been born in Kalamazoo. Here are the top three hitters as ranked by most hits, and the only two pitchers:
And here are the most wins by pitchers born in Kalamazoo:
18. Mickey & Derek
Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter will have played their final home game on the same date (Sept. 25) and the final game of their careers on the same date (Sept. 28) in the same ballpark (Fenway Park), 46 years apart.
Unlike Jeter, Mantle did not announce his retirement before or during the season, but it was widely assumed that 1968 would be his last. For instance, on Sept. 19, 1968 in Detroit, after the Tigers already had clinched the pennant, Denny McLain grooved a fastball to Mantle as a going-away present on the advice of catcher Jim Price. (Detroit was up 6-1 in the eighth inning of a meaningless game.) Mantle hit a home run, the penultimate one of his career.
On Sept. 25, in his last home game, Mantle's single was New York's only hit in a shutout by Cleveland's Luis Tiant. Mantle walked his last time up at Yankee Stadium. The attendance? Get this: 5,723!
After an off day, Mantle played the next game in Boston, a Friday night, and then was in the lineup for the Yankees' next-to-last game of the season, a Saturday afternoon. Mantle and manager Ralph Houk came up with a plan for this game, a plan that would allow Mantle to catch a flight home to Dallas even before the game ended.
Mantle was in the lineup, playing first base as usual that year. In the top of the first, Mantle was jammed by a fastball from Jim Lonborg and broke his bat, popping up to shortstop Rico Petrocelli.
In the bottom of the first, Mantle took his place at first base and warmed up the infielders. Fenway public address announcer Sherm Feller announced the Boston leadoff hitter, Mike Andrews. Feller then announced a defensive substitution for the Yankees: Andy Kosco replacing Mickey Mantle at first base. Kosco shook hands with Mantle, thanked him for the opportunity to play with him, and Mantle limped off the field.
The Fenway Park fans, 25,534 of them, gave Mantle a standing ovation as he left the field for the final time, upon which he headed straight for the airport.
How much has the coverage of baseball changed? Just imagine the coverage if, on Saturday, Jeter comes out of the game after one inning to fly home for good — bolting his teammates with that game and another the next day still to play.
19. A Full Finale
Babe Ruth, Mike Schmidt and Ken Griffey Jr. retired in the middle of seasons. Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were part-time players in their last year. Joe DiMaggio was slowed by injuries in his final season. Jeter, though, has been historically durable.
Jeter has 145 hits and 621 plate appearances this season. Only a handful of future Hall of Famers ever were that prolific in their final season.
Here are the Hall of Famers with the most plate appearances in their final season:
20. Finished at 40
Jeter's career will be over at 40. These people also turn 40 this year, though they hardly are looking at the end of their professional careers: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jimmy Fallon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Adams, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Seacrest.
Jeter's long-term goal for the next phase of his life is to own a major league team. In the near term, he has begun his own content company, Jeter Publishing — and he told what he most looks forward to doing is sitting in his backyard with no schedule and nothing to do.