New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter announced last month that 2014 will be his last season, setting off a wave of tributes, mostly from people who have respected him from afar. But there are 19 years’ worth of Yankees who were up close with one of the greatest stars of his generation, many of them icons in their own right.
On Wednesday, SI.com caught up with Dwight Gooden and Tino Martinez, who played with Jeter at various times for the first 10 years of his career and were at the MLB FanCave to announce MLB’s new partnership with Arm & Hammer and OxiClean. The two former Yankees talked about their former teammate and what they expect his farewell season will look like.
STRIKE ZONE: How did Jeter behave as a rookie? What was his hazing like?
GOODEN: I’m trying to think what we made him wear. It was him, Jorge Posada, a couple more. We made 'em dress up coming from Toronto. That’s the best, because you have to go through customs like that. He didn’t do anything. He respected the game, respected the veterans. The most he did was crack a couple of jokes with the guys, What was it like to play with Babe Ruth, stuff like that.
MARTINEZ: Whatever you did, he took it all with a grain of salt. He never got upset, he just laughed and smiled.
SZ: When you first saw him play, what sort of career did you envision for him?
TM: I knew he was a good player, just not how good he was going to be. Could you predict a Hall of Famer in his first week in spring training? He really stabilized our infield and became a clutch hitter—he was the ninth hitter, but he did it in that spot. He had a great World Series. It came easy to him. He worked hard, but he expected nothing but great season after great season, World Series championship after World Series championship.
DG: If anybody tells you they predicted his career, they’re lying. The first time I met Derek was in 1995. We did a minicamp before spring training and they brought over some prospects, and George wanted me to pitch against some of them. So I knew that he was a good fielder, but I think I struck him out; I didn’t see much at the plate. I thought he’d be an average player, probably play for a long time if he stayed healthy. I didn’t see him becoming the Yankees' career hit leader, so many clutch hits. I didn’t see that coming.
SZ: Should we anticipate another Mariano Rivera-style farewell tour?
DG: He don’t want it, I’m sure, but he’s going to get it. He deserves it. He’s a true warrior.
TM: I don’t think that was Derek’s intention [when he announced his retirement early]. He’s not like that. He didn’t want that whole hoopla surrounding him. I think his goal was to stop the media from asking questions after every game. If he went 0-5, are you going to retire next year? Or if he has a great month of April, hits .400, are you playing next year, are you playing next year? He wanted to avoid all that and cut to the chase and enjoy the year and answer questions on a daily basis about that game that just happened. But he deserves everything that comes along with it.
SZ: What will you tell your grandkids about when they ask you about playing with Derek Jeter?
DG: For me, I don’t think I realized how good he was until he hit the home run in the playoffs in '96 that Jeff Maier reached over and grabbed, against the Orioles. Once he did that, I said, there’s something special about this guy. A lot of guys talk about the big moment, but deep down, they don’t want it. He knows how to slow the game down in those big moments. That impressed me. TM: I’ve watched him go from a teenager to a 40-year-old man. The thing people don’t realize about this guy, because he’s so cool, is he has a burning desire to win every single day. We used to drive back from the Stadium after ballgames, and let me tell you, you don’t wanna be in a car with that guy after a loss. Two losses in a row, forget it. May or June, his desire to win is like that every game of the season. A lot of guys get their hits and they’re happy, but his main goal is winning. He could go 0-5 with three strikeouts, but if we win the ballgame, he’s all, where are we gonna eat tonight? He goes 5-5 and we lose the game, there’s no music. You just have to stare out the window.