Derek Jeter from A to Z: Looking back at the Captain's career
- In a 20-year career as the shortstop of the Yankees, Derek Jeter did everything he ever dreamed of, and then some.
Editor's Note: This story originally ran on SI.com on Sept. 26, 2014 as Derek Jeter prepared to play the final games of his legendary career. It has been revised and updated.
For almost two decades, Derek Jeter has been the alpha and omega of Major League Baseball. So, as his Hall of Fame career comes to a close, this is a perfect time to take a look at Derek Jeter from A to Z.
A – All-Star
Jeter has been selected for 14 All-Star Games, tying him with Cal Ripken for second among shortstops behind Ozzie Smith. In the 13 All-Star Games in which he appeared (he sat out the 2011 game because he had recently returned from an injury), he hit .481/.517/.667 in 29 plate appearances. He was the game’s MVP in 2000, the same year he won that award in the World Series, becoming the first and still only player to pull off that feat. In his ninth and final Midsummer Classic start in July 2014, he went 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored at Minnesota’s Target Field, a performance that could rank as high as second on the list of his most memorable All-Star appearances.
B – Boyhood dream
Jeter was born on June 26, 1974 in Pequannock, N.J., and grew up in suburban Kalamazoo, Mich. He returned to New Jersey often to visit his maternal grandmother and grew up a Yankees fan, idolizing outfielder Dave Winfield and wanting to be a shortstop like his father, who had played the position at Fisk University in Tennessee. In eighth grade, Jeter penned an essay about his dream of becoming the Yankees’ shortstop. In high school, he posted a 3.82 grade point average, joined the National Honor Society and starred on the Kalamazoo Central High baseball field, the outfield fence of which abutted the modest split-level house in which he grew up. His combination of academic and athletic success earned him a scholarship to the University of Michigan, but the Wolverines became little more than bargaining leverage when the Yankees made him the sixth pick in the 1992 draft.
C – Captain
On June 4, 2003, three weeks before his 29th birthday, Jeter was named the 14th captain in Yankees history. The honor in and of itself was a no-brainer, though many considered the timing suspicious, believing that owner George Steinbrenner used the captaincy to quiet concerns about his relationship with Jeter stemming from his criticisms of the shortstop’s social life the previous winter. Nonetheless, Jeter was a natural fit in the role, and he has since become the longest serving captain in franchise history.
D – Dive into the stands
July 1, 2004: The AL East-leading Yankees were attempting to complete a sweep of the second-place Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. With the game tied 3-3 in the top of the 12th inning, Boston had men on second and third with two outs, and Trot Nixon at the plate. Nixon hit a pop up into shallow leftfield that Jeter caught backhanded on a full-sprint. Unable to stop himself in time, he flew into the stands, where he hit the seats and cut up his face.
Jeter came out of the game after making that play, but New York won 4-3 in 13 innings, and he was back in the lineup the next day.
E – Exceptional but not evolutionary
The simultaneous rise to stardom in the late 1990s of Jeter and fellow AL shortstops Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra gave birth to the idea that those three would be the first wave of a new breed of shortstops forged in the image of two-time AL MVP Cal Ripken Jr. Miguel Tejada's emergence in Oakland soon after continued the trend, but it didn't last. Injuries derailed Garciaparra's career early in the new millennium; Tejada faded soon after amid allegations of doping; and Rodriguez moved to third base in deference to Jeter in his age-28 season and soon saw his career clouded by performance-enhancing drug allegations and admissions.
Only Jeter persisted, but whereas his power potential was unknown early in his career, his broad-based offensive profile ultimately bore greater resemblance to those of 1980s shortstops Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell than to Ripken. As run-scoring levels have tailed off in recent years, the concept of a league filled with 6'4" power-hitters at the position remains a fantasy, with the injury-prone Troy Tulowitzki the only veteran shortstop who could be said to fit that profile.
Tulowitzki grew up idolizing Jeter and wears No. 2 in his honor, but they are very different players. We can now see that Jeter is unique unto himself, an exceptional player rather than an early example of a new rule.
F – Flip Play
October 13, 2001: Down 2-0 in the best-of-five Division Series against the Athletics, the Yankees had a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning when Jeremy Giambi hit a two-out single off New York starter Mike Mussina. Terrence Long followed with a double into the rightfield corner. The relay throw from New York righfielder Shane Spencer sailed over the heads of both cutoff men so Jeter cut across the field, grabbed the ball 20 feet up the first base line and shoveled it to catcher Jorge Posada, whose sweep tag got Giambi on the back of his leg a split second before he touched the plate.
It was a play no one had ever seen before, but Jeter insisted he was just doing what he had been taught and practiced in spring training. The Yankees held on to win the game 1-0, then won the next two games as well, to take the series en route to their fourth straight American League pennant.
G – Gold Gloves
The quality of Derek Jeter’s defense was a concern from his very first day as a professional in 1992, when he went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts in a Gulf Coast League doubleheader and made a throwing error. Jeter went on to make 77 errors in 183 games in his first two minor league seasons, including a whopping 56 in '93 alone. Despite those teenaged struggles, Jeter was never moved off shortstop and quickly improved, making as few as nine errors in 1998, his third major league season. He won his first Gold Glove in 2004 and added four more in '05, '06, '09 and '10.
While he was widely praised by mainstream observers as an outstanding defender, advanced statistics suggested that Jeter was actually among the worst fielding shortstops of his time. The primary reason was his lack of range, particularly to his left, that prevented him from being able reach balls even an average shortstop would turn into outs.
Defensive statistics being what they are, however, the three leading measures are unable to agree on just how bad Jeter was in the field or when he did or didn't show improvement. According to Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Fielding Runs Above Average, Jeter was a net negative in the field during his career, but their associated Wins Above Replacement statistics also agree that the value he provided with his bat far outweighed his shortcomings with the glove.
H – Hits
Jeter's final total of 3,465 hits rank sixth all-time, behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker, all of whom played in at least 22 seasons compared to Jeter's 20. Among Modern Era players (1901-present), only Rose, Cobb and Eddie Collins connected for more singles than Jeter. Among righthanded batters, only Aaron had more hits, while Jeter holds the all-time record for hits by a shortstop and by a Yankee. He collected 200 or more hits in a season eight times, which is tied for the fourth-most with Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Paul Waner. Jeter led the major leagues in hits twice, first with a career-high 219 at age 25 in 1999 and again in 2012 with 212. He was 38 in the latter season, making him the oldest player to lead the majors in hits in a non-strike year.
I – Icon
Jeter was never the best player in baseball over a single season or stretch of seasons, but as the young, handsome star of the Yankees' latest dynasty and a legitimate superstar who was unfailingly respectful on and off the field, he quickly became the game's most marketable player and the face of Major League Baseball. The constant TV commercials and magazine covers engendered their share of backlash, but even those who disliked Jeter tended to do so not because of anything he did but because of the unrelenting and often embellished praise heaped upon him. Of course, that backlash only served to increase the attention paid to him, unintentionally validating his standing as the game’s central figure.
J – Jump throw
The jump throw from the shortstop hole was Jeter’s signature defensive play, executed countless times each season. The best may have come in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the 1998 American League Championship Series against Cleveland, when he pulled it off against Travis Fryman in what became a 7-2 New York win.
K – King of New York
Family is clearly very important to Jeter, as evidenced by the prominence of his parents, sister and now nephew over the course of his career, and Jeter has said that his retirement plans include starting a family of his own. In his 20s and 30s, however, Jeter was the most eligible bachelor in America's biggest city, with a string of high-profile girlfriends extending from Mariah Carey to his current partner, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hannah Davis. Remarkably, Jeter lived that lifestyle in the media circus that is New York City for 20 years without drawing an excess of tabloid attention.
The only time Jeter's off-field exploits caused any real controversy came in the winter after the 2002 season when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner questioned the impact of Jeter's extracurricular activities on the Yankees' early postseason exit. Jeter, who had hit .500 with a pair of home runs in the Yankees' four-game Division Series loss to the eventual world champion Angels, defused the situation with a pair of humorous Visa commercials co-starring the Boss the following season.
L – Leadoff homer
Though he spent most of his career batting second for the Yankees, Jeter batted first often enough to hit 29 leadoff home runs in the regular season. By far his most famous leadoff homer, though, came in the postseason, to start Game 4 of the 2000 World Series. The Yankees had won the first two games of the first Subway Series since 1956 at home, but the Mets won Game 3 at Shea Stadium and had a chance to tie the Series the next night. Jeter sent a message on the very first pitch of the game from Bobby Jones that that wasn’t going to happen.
The Yankees won that night, 3-2, and finished off the Mets in Game 5. Jeter was voted the Series MVP after going 9-for-22 (.409) with three walks and five extra-base hits—including a triple leading off the third inning of Game 4 and a game-tying home run in the sixth inning of Game 5—for a 1.344 OPS.
M – Mr. November
Nov. 1, 2001: The September 11 attacks pushed the entire season back a week, and so Game 4 of the 2001 World Series started on Oct. 31. Jeter was at the plate with two outs in a 3-3 game in the 10th inning when the clock struck midnight, extending the Fall Classic into November for the first time. Then this happened:
N – Newhouser and Nevin
Jeter entered the 1992 draft as arguably the top high school player in the country. In the opinion of the Astros' Michigan-area scout, Hal Newhouser, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Tigers, Jeter was the best prospect in the draft, period, one capable of joining him in Cooperstown one day.
As it happened, Newhouser's Astros had the first selection that year, and Newhouser was determined to have his team draft Jeter. However, in part due to their concerns over Jeter's bonus demands and his college scholarship to Michigan, Houston opted instead for Cal State Fullerton third baseman Phil Nevin, with whom they had already verbally agreed to a bonus amount. The 71-year-old Newhouser quit in response, ending a major league career that stretched back more than a half century.
Jeter eventually dropped to the Yankees at No. 6. He was the first high school player taken and signed for just $100,000 more than what the Astros paid Nevin.
O – Opposite field
If Jeter's signature defensive play was the jump throw, then his signature offensive play was a single or double to rightfield courtesy of his famous inside-out swing. Jeter was a master at letting the ball get deep into the zone and hitting it the other way, as well as bringing his hands in close to his body to fight off an inside pitch and send it to the opposite field.
Jeter had plenty of blasts to go with those bloops, though. Of his 260 career home runs, 114 (43.8%) were to rightfield or right-center, according to the location data on Baseball-Reference.com. Likewise, 260 of his 543 career doubles, 48%, went to the right side of the field, as did 1,382 of his 3,463 hits, a full 40%. Included in that latter category was his walk-off hit on Sept. 25, 2014, in his final game at Yankee Stadium.
P – Postseason
New York ended a 14-year postseason drought in 1995 with Jeter, who had debuted that May and been a September call-up, watching from the bench. Once he joined the starting lineup the next year, the team reached the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons and 16 of his first 17 years. As a result, Jeter didn't play a game with his team mathematically eliminated from postseason contention until Sept. 23, 2008, when he was 34 years old.
All those Octobers meant that Jeter played, effectively, an entire season's worth of postseason games, a record 158 games in all. He also set records with his 734 plate appearances and 650 at-bats, and posted a .308/.374/.465 line—almost a mirror for his regular-season rates of .310/.377/.440.
There were more postseason records for hits (200), runs scored (111), doubles (32), triples (five, tied with several others) and total bases (302). His 20 home runs, meanwhile, are third and his 18 stolen bases rank sixth. Those are All-Star numbers regardless of the quality of competition. Given the level of opposition in October, they are even more impressive.
Q – Quotidian
Throughout his career, Jeter always made himself available to the media after games, but he rarely said anything particularly revealing, especially about himself. Though he would occasionally let his sense of humor leak out, he more often gave brief but purposefully bland responses, often expressing surprise or exasperation at the question being asked.
No matter: Being reliably available and perpetually uninteresting proved to be an effective method of nipping nearly every potential controversy in the bud. It also left the job of creating the Jeter myth to others. Then-Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said in 2006, "We have a saying in Toronto: 'Turn out the light players.' If you turned out all the lights in the stadium, and no one came to the game, these guys would still play just as hard, and he's one of them."
Jeter's most memorable comments, if only because he repeated them so often, were those shrugging off an injury and pledging to play the next game and responding to a question about someone else’s mindset by saying, "You'd have to ask him." For those reasons, Jeter's public comments were more quotidian than quotable.
R – Rookie of the Year
Jeter was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 1994, then hit .317/.394/.422 for Triple A Columbus in '95. He played 15 games in the majors that year, but as the '96 campaign approached, New York still wasn’t sure if he was ready for an everyday job. However, when incumbent Tony Fernandez—the veteran Jeter was to replace—suffered a fractured elbow late in spring training, Steinbrenner attempted to trade for Seattle's Felix Fermin in a deal that would have sent a righthanded reliever named Mariano Rivera to the Mariners. Fortunately for all involved in the Yankees' organization, recently demoted general manager Gene Michael, who had drafted Jeter, talked the Boss out of the panic move, assuring Jeter of at least opening the season as New York's shortstop.
Jeter took it from there. On Opening Day in Cleveland, he hit a home run and made a pair of sparkling defensive plays. The next day, he had three hits and a walk in another Yankees win, and was on his way to a .314/.370/.430 season and unanimous AL Rookie of the Year honors.
S – Shortstop
Shortstop was the only position on the field that Jeter played in his professional career, though he did make 71 starts in the majors as the designated hitter. As a result, he ranks second all-time in games played at the position (2,674) behind only Omar Vizquel's 2,709, and he holds the record for most games started there with 2,660. He also holds the records for most plate appearances (12,259), at-bats (10,888), hits (3,371), runs (1,878) and doubles (532) as a shortstop.
T – Teammates
Jeter was one of seven players who made their major league debut for the Yankees in 1995. Four of them—Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera—would emerge as key figures in the team's late '90s dynasty. Jeter first played with each of the other three on the Sally League's Greensboro Hornets, teaming with Pettitte and Posada in 1992 and with Rivera in '93, and all four played for Triple A Columbus in 1994 and parts of '95.
Pettitte and Rivera starred alongside Jeter in 1996, playing key roles in the team's first world championship since '78. Posada, Jeter's closest friend in the game for most of his career, would join them as New York's starting catcher for their next title in '98. Together, those four would win three straight World Series championships and five American League pennants in six years before Pettitte left as a free agent after the 2003 season.
When Pettitte returned in 2007, the quartet became known as the Core Four, each contributing significantly to yet another World Series victory in 2009. By 2011, Jeter, Rivera and Posada had been teammates for parts of 17 consecutive seasons, becoming the first such trio in any of the four major American team sports to play together for so long. Pettitte retired for the 2011 season before returning for '12 and '13. Posada retired after the 2011 campaign. Jeter and Rivera, though, remained teammates uninterrupted from 1995 through 2013, tying the record of 19 years together by a pair of teammates set by the Tigers' double-play combination of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
U – Uniform
Derek Jeter might be the only player in major league history to play in parts of 20 seasons without a significant, lasting change to his home or road uniform. He was given the No. 2 on his first day in the major leagues, and both his number and the basic design of the Yankees' home and road uniforms (and absence of alternates) has not changed since his first day in the majors on May 29, 1995.
Echoing the custom when the team first handed out player numbers in 1929, Jeter's No. 2 more often than not corresponded to his place in the batting order: He made 6,749 of his 12,598 regular-season plate appearances and started 80 of his 158 postseason games while batting second in the lineup. When the Yankees retire his number sometime next year, he will officially have been the last player in franchise history to wear a single-digit number (barring a future number zero, which has never been used by the Yankees in their 112-year history). He will also fit neatly into New York's all-time lineup, batting second ahead of Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), and Joe DiMaggio (5).
V – Victory
Only three players in major league history have appeared in more winning games in the regular and postseasons combined than Jeter. His total of 1,724 (97 of which came in the postseason) is surpassed only by Pete Rose, Hank Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski, each of whom appeared in over 400 more games than Jeter did. Those 97 postseason wins are a record, besting the 76 by longtime teammate Bernie Williams.
W – World Series
Jeter played in seven World Series in his 20-year career, reaching the Fall Classic five times in his first six seasons and six times in his first eight years. Since the end of the previous Yankees dynasty in 1964, only fellow Core Four member Andy Pettitte, who added an appearance with the Astros in 2005, has been in more. Similarly, since 1964, no one has exceeded Jeter's total of playing in the World Series for five championship teams. Only Pettitte, Rivera, teammates David Cone and Paul O'Neill (both of whom won one championship before joining the Yankees) and former Yankees Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter have matched that number.
X – X-ray
Jeter was remarkably durable during his major league career, only twice appearing in fewer than 148 games during his first 17 full seasons. He played in 119 in 2003 after hurting his shoulder on an Opening Day slide, and he missed 31 games in 2011.
His most serious injury came in Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series, when he fractured the left ankle that had been bruised since he fouled a pitch off it in September of that year. The Yankees were swept by the Tigers in that ALCS and haven’t returned to the postseason since.
Jeter, meanwhile, fractured the ankle again the following spring and didn’t make his 2013 debut until July 11. He appeared in only 17 games that season due to a pair of muscle strains and further pain in his left ankle in September. That he has managed to stay healthy for his farewell tour has been remarkable, but he has been a shell of his former self, posting career lows in nearly every offensive category for a season in which he qualified for the batting title.
Y – Yankee
Having played his entire career for the New York Yankees, Jeter owns numerous team records, including most seasons (20), games (2,745), plate appearances (12,598), at-bats (11,191), hits (3,463), doubles (544), stolen bases (358), times hit by pitch (170) and strikeouts (1,839). For a franchise that was the primary employer of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Mariano Rivera, it’s difficult to argue that Jeter was the best Yankee ever, but he clearly belongs among those immortals.
Z – Zero
That's how many games remain in Derek Jeter's career after Sunday afternoon's season finale in Boston. It's also how many players have been elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame and the number of reasons voters will have to leave Jeter off their ballot when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2020. Alas, Jeter won't be a unanimous selection, largely because there are always a few voters who submit blank protest ballots. But if anyone deserves it, it's him.