Derek Jeter's Greatest Hits From the SI Vault

Max Goodman

Over Derek Jeter's two decades in New York City's spotlight, the Yankees iconic shortstop has been the subject of countless Sports Illustrated features. 

From his storybook departure in his final game in pinstripes, to his expedited ascension to stardom as a four-time World Series champion at the age of 26, The Captain has been a constant presence in SI's coverage of Major League Baseball for the last quarter century.

That's why, on the 25th anniversary of Jeter's MLB debut, Sports Illustrated's Inside The Pinstripes took a trip down memory lane to single out a few of the best pieces on Jeter and his historic career with the Bombers. 

It wasn't easy, with a myriad of cover stories and deep dives to choose from, but we narrowed it down to five (with a brief excerpt from each piece).

Prince Of The City

Michael Silver – June 21, 1999

While some of the game's biggest stars claim they'd never want to play in a market like New York, Jeter relishes the opportunity to don pinstripes. 

In the summer of '99, the Yankees' shortstop was just 24 years old and as Michael Silver put it, "by virtue of his performance, personality, looks and location, [was] positioned for megastardom."

Silver addressed Jeter's relationships off the field – from his family to Mariah Carey – and his future in Gotham. Little did he know, the kid from Kalamazoo would go on to win three more championships and blossom in fame bigger than anyone ever imagine.

"If you're looking for complaints, I don't have any," he says. "O.K., the traffic here is a pain, but other than that, I'm living a dream. I think I'm the luckiest person in the world."

If he sounds suspiciously like Lou Gehrig, it's appropriate. While most of New York's sports superstars have modeled themselves on fun-loving, cocksure Babe Ruth—from Mickey Mantle and Joe Namath to [Reggie] Jackson and Lawrence Taylor—Jeter springs from the Gehrig branch of the family tree, emulating the Yankee slugger's graceful, understated dignity. Shy and protective of his image, Jeter is accessible to fans and the press but keeps a small circle of close friends. He has been embraced by celebrity more than he has embraced it.

Gotham's love for this bat man is reciprocated. "This is the greatest city in the world," Jeter says as he peers out toward the East River from the living room of his Upper East Side apartment. "You always hear players say, 'I'd never play in New York.' I don't understand why you'd say that—unless you're afraid to fail."

READ: Prince Of The City

Hitting Bottom

Tom Verducci – June 7, 2004

Even Jeter, who finished his career with the sixth-most hits in baseball history, wasn't immune to horrific slumps. 

While the entire city was pulling for The Captain to get back on track in '04 – going 0-for-32 at one point in the month of April – Jeter's maturity and fortitude was more than enough to get the shortstop back on track.

As Tom Verducci notes in this piece, words of encouragement from the doorman of his Manhattan apartment helped as well.

For young hitters, a slump can infect an entire year, which is what happened last season to the Philadelphia Phillies' Pat Burrell (.209), the Cincinnati Reds' Adam Dunn (.215) and the Chicago White Sox' Paul Konerko (.234). Jeter, however, showed last week how stars with long track records of success can get well soon. Entering the Yankees' May 26 game against the Baltimore Orioles, Jeter, who hit .324 in 2003, was batting .189 after 190 at bats. Suddenly, facing the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he pounded out 11 hits in his next 24 at bats, raising his average 31 points in five days, to .220. To hit .300 for the season--assuming he maintained his rate of at bats--Jeter would need to hit .335 the rest of the way, not an unreasonable task for a career .317 hitter entering the season.

"I didn't see how people could be writing my obituary after one month," Jeter said last Saturday before hitting safely in his sixth straight game. "I knew all along there was a lot of the season left to play, so I wasn't concerned. It's frustrating when you're not getting your hits. I'm not going to lie to you about that. But you don't spend time thinking about what's already happened. You can't change it. You just look forward to the next game, especially when you know there are about 120 left." 

READ: Hitting Bottom

Derek Jeter: 2009 Sportsman Of The Year

Tom Verducci – December 7, 2009

After winning his fifth championship in 2009, Jeter's father told Verducci he can "still see that same joy" he witnessed close to three decades earlier when No. 2 was marching to his local Little League field.

Jeter had already made history with his performance between the lines, but when you factor in his ability to serve as the ultimate team player and role model, his legacy was already beginning to take shape.

Jeter batted .334—among shortstops in the last 100 years, only Honus Wagner has hit higher after turning 35—and accumulated 200 hits and 30 stolen bases for the third time; no other shortstop of any age has reached those standards more than once. He hit .407 in the World Series, playing his best baseball at the end of a 10-month, 190-game odyssey that spanned the World Baseball Classic, spring training, the regular season and three rounds of the postseason. Jeter captained the U.S. team in the WBC, after which commissioner Bud Selig sent him a letter of thanks in which he called him "Major League Baseball's foremost champion and ambassador."

"You embody all the best of Major League Baseball," Selig wrote in the March 30 letter. "As I mentioned to you in our recent telephone conversation, you have represented the sport magnificently throughout your Hall of Fame career. On and off the field, you are a man of great integrity, and you have my admiration."

For those achievements, but most especially for the principled, selfless manner in which he earned them, Jeter is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's 2009 Sportsman of the Year. He is the first Yankee to win the award in its 56-year history and only the third baseball player in the past 34 years to win the award alone, joining Orel Hershiser (1988) and Cal Ripken Jr. (1995).

READ: Derek Jeter: 2009 Sportsman Of The Year

Derek Jeter Hall of Fame press conference
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

3,000 Reasons To Party

Joe Posnanski – July 18, 2011

Take a trip back to that unforgettable sunny afternoon at Yankee Stadium in July of 2011.

Joe Posnanski eloquently tells the tale of Jeter's 3,000th hit. The history leading up to the moment, the shortstop's improbable stroke of power and, of course, the "madness" that ensued after the ball cleared the left-field wall.

Jeter stepped in. He touched his helmet. He held up his right hand to the umpire. He dug his cleats into the dirt. He arched his back. How many times have we seen this routine? How familiar has it become to fans who love Jeter and fans who despise Jeter and ... well, those two options more or less cover everybody. This time Price decided to show his repertoire. He got a called strike with a changeup, and Jeter fouled off another change. Jeter fouled off a fastball into the stands on the first base side, at least 50 feet foul, but still people cheered with hope. It was, as Vin Scully likes to say, as if they were seeing the game with their hearts.

At exactly 2 p.m., with Jeter expecting fastball, with the crowd in high pitch, Price threw a 78-mph curveball that hung over home plate the way the sun hangs over Key West. And Jeter did the last thing anybody expected—including himself. He turned on it. He crushed it. As Jeter broke out of the box, he did not know if it would clear the fence. But he did know that nobody was going to catch it.

The ball went over the fence.

READ: 3,000 Reasons To Party

Exit Stage Center

Tom Verducci – September 29, 2014

As the final games remaining in Jeter's career drew closer to zero, Verducci took a step back to examine The Captain's career from every angle. 

This piece touches on Jeter's relationships, his family and upbringing, his confidence in the clubhouse in the most "nerve-jangling" moments, his unwavering understanding to have fun while still holding his teammates accountable, his professionalism off the field and aptitude to give back to his community and his all-time ability to play the game of baseball.

All of that and more under the brightest spotlight in the world. As Jeter called it, his career with the Yankees was "surreal."

Derek Jeter may not be as famous in the legendary sense as Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, but he is the most familiar player there ever was, because no other ballplayer spent more time in the public eye than Jeter. He is the most influential and popular player in the sport's greatest era of growth. It's not just that he has gotten the most hits and played the most games since the 1994--95 players' strike. It's also that he grew up as a champion New York Yankee, spending nearly every October on national television. With the help of an expanded postseason and the last foreseeable dynasty, Jeter played nearly an entire season's worth of playoff games—158, more than anybody in history. He played 71 times on Sunday Night Baseball, also more than any other player. He has hits in 42 different ballparks. His number 2 jersey has been the top-selling jersey in baseball in six of the past seven years, missing the mark only during his injury-shortened 2013 season.

No one has been covered more or played in front of more people—either live or on a screen of some kind. Hence the familiarity with all things Jeter. It's not just the Brim Tug. So much about him is famous enough to be recognizable by shorthand. The Maier Homer. The Flip. The Dive. Mr. November. The Jump Throw. The Jeterian Swing. The Homer for 3,000. The Five Rings. The Fist Pump. Captain Clutch. Number 2.

Many of those who would be Jeter fell hard around him. Five of the top 10 vote-getters for the 2002 All-Star Game (the last season before PED testing) would be tainted by connections to steroid use. Meanwhile, Jeter arrived in the nation's largest media market at the age of 20 and put in 20 seasons there. The only other baseball player to last 20 years in New York is Mel Ott, and he was finished with the Giants in 1947, before the World Series was broadcast on national television.

READ: Exit Stage Center

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees

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