Derek Jeter's MLB Debut, First Stint With the Yankees, Didn't Go As Planned

Max Goodman

Midway through the National Baseball Hall of Fame introductory press conference this winter, Derek Jeter was asked to recall his Major League debut, what he remembers from his first stint in the big leagues and his demotion the following month.

Before Jeter could begin to answer the three-part question, fellow newly elected Hall of Famer Larry Walker chimed in from the seat to his right.

"You got demoted?" he asked, genuinely stunned to hear a player of Jeter's caliber could be sent down to the Minors at any point in his career. A packed auditorium of local and national media, as well as the families of the Cooperstown-bound icons, erupted in laughter. 

"I'll get to that in a second," Jeter responded.

When looking back on the illustrious 20-year career of New York's all-time shortstop, often times you flip right past one of the first chapters of his well-known story. Surely you've heard about Jeter's origins, his ascension through the Yankees' farm system and the struggles he faced along the way. 

Before he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1996, however, Jeter played in 15 big-league games.

Rather than skipping ahead to Opening Day in '96, take a moment to revisit Jeter's first cup of coffee in the Majors: a two-week stretch that began 25 years ago on Friday.

"May 29, 1995," Jeter recalled. "My first game in Seattle." 

Jeter had been called up from Triple-A Columbus to replace an injured Tony Fernandez at shortstop. At just 20 years old, his entire big-league career was ahead of him. This was his first shot to prove he could hold his own in the show. 

His first game, however, didn't go as planned. 

In a 12-inning loss to the Mariners, the future captain went 0-for-5 in the ninth spot in the Bombers order. After putting the ball in play his first four at-bats, Jeter struck out swinging – the first of 1,840 punch outs over the next two decades.

Looking back, all Jeter could remember was his donut in the box score and what happened after the game. Everything else was "a blur."

"I was 0-for-5," he explained, as the clicking of cameras coated his pregnant pauses. "I remember that and after the game walking with my dad we went to McDonald’s because there were no restaurants open." 

READ: Derek Jeter's Greatest Hits From the Sports Illustrated Vault

The young shortstop didn't take long, however, to get off the schneid. His first big-league base hit came the following day – a sharp grounder through the left side to lead off the fifth inning. 

At first base, Seattle's Tino Martinez appeared to say "congratulations" as Jeter began to take his lead and read his signs from across the diamond. The phenom allowed a smile to creep across his face for a moment. Those two certainly couldn't have foreseen four World Series titles together in pinstripes across the next five years starting the following spring.

After three games in Seattle, the Yankees returned home where Jeter made his Yankee Stadium debut. As was the case with his first appearance, Jeter can't remember much.

"Somebody was asking about the first game I played at Yankee Stadium," he disclosed at his Hall of Fame presser. "I can’t tell you who we played, I can’t even tell you what we did or what I did, because it was all a blur."

Jeter wasn't a part of a Yankees win until his sixth game, an 11-3 rout over the California Angels. Out of the eighth spot in the Yankees lineup, Jeter posted his first multi-RBI game of his career, driving in three runs. A two-run double in the bottom of the first frame – coming around to score after switching places with New York's second baseman Robert Eenhoorn – proved to be the decisive blow in knocking Angels' starter Mark Langston out of the game after he recorded just one out.

From there, No. 2 sprinkled five hits across the next seven games he played. Through his first 13 contests, the shortstop was hitting .234 with 11 hits and 11 strikeouts in 46 at-bats. New York went 3-10 in that span.

On June 11 – the final game of a 10-game home stand, Jeter went 1-for-4 and scored a run in New York's 10-7 win over Seattle. 

After the game, he received the news that he had been demoted back to Triple-A. By his side, also being sent down, was another rookie who had given up five runs in two-plus innings to start that game. 

"Getting sent down was all Mariano [Rivera's] fault," Jeter exclaimed in January, garnering even more laughs from the presser's crowd. "It’s true! Mariano was a starter at the time and he wasn’t a very good starter. He had a bad game and they sent us both down on the same day. 

"I thank Mariano for the only time being demoted in my professional baseball career."

He's not wrong. Rivera was a 25-year-old at the time, working chiefly as a starting pitcher for the Yankees throughout his rookie season. After getting roughed up on that fateful day in June of '95, his ERA ballooned to 10.20. 

Beyond one quality start against Oakland in mid-May, Rivera had surrendered five-or-more runs in his first four appearances. 

"You guys laugh now, but we were crying," Jeter confessed. 

READ: Celebrate 25th Anniversary of Derek Jeter's Debut With 64 Consecutive Hours of Jeter Programming on MLB Network

The conversation of Jeter's introductory press conference transitioned back to his bid for unanimity on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2020 and other defining moments of his career. That's because Jeter wouldn't get another extended taste of big-league action until the following season.

Rivera was called up again in July, sticking around with the big-league club through New York's loss to the Mariners in the American League Division Series. Jeter returned in September, where he played a total of four innings across two games. He wasn't on the Yankees' postseason roster but was able to stay with the team, courtesy of skipper Buck Showalter, to get a taste of October baseball.

The following spring, Jeter took over as New York's starting shortstop and, well, you know the rest of this story.

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