Jeter cannot resist the challenge. "All right, Al," he says. The shortstop of the world champion New York Yankees grabs a ball and starts draining jump shots. Within a minute or two, Rodriguez and Jeter are battling each other in a slam-dunk version of H-O-R-S-E. The 6'3", 185-pound Jeter stands flat-footed about four feet from the basket, takes two short steps and easily power slams the basketball-- blue jeans be damned. Rodriguez, 6'3" and 205 pounds, matches that move, but he gets less height on his jump than Jeter does. Rodriguez then stands at the foul line, throws the ball down so that it bounces off the floor and then the backboard, before he catches it and jams it in one vicious swoop. On his first two attempts Jeter fails to get the proper bounce. His third try is only slightly better, and he is left too far from the rim to throw the ball down. "I've got to go," Jeter says, mindful of his flight home to Tampa.
Prince Of The City
He's the master of his metropolis, but sometimes the Big Apple bites back. One evening last month New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter went shopping for a videocassette recorder and encountered some serious static. When a salty salesman-- we'll call him Manuel-- at Circuit City on East 86th Street told Jeter, "You suck," it seemed like an appropriate time for extra batting practice. The beef began after Manuel struck out trying to locate a VCR that Jeter wanted to purchase, the store computer indicating that each of the player's first three selections were out of stock. After Jeter settled for his fourth choice, he was told by Manuel to follow him to another register because Manuel's had malfunctioned.
Every time Derek plays a baseball game attended by his parents, Charles and Dorothy of Kalamazoo, Mich., he must know where they are seated. Before the first ball is put into play, he catches their gaze and gives them a wave of his hand. He must know where they are after the game, too. On this night, before the Yankees' 4-2 Game 5 victory that clinched the World Series, Jeter found them in their distant seats high above third base. Afterward, in the madness, he cannot locate them. Then the radio answers, "Right by me. On the field."
The locker next to Derek Jeter's in the New York Yankees' home clubhouse throbs with his unopened mail. It piles up in feet. Spills onto the carpet. Gives off odd smells. Aches to be opened. So I asked him if I could open it all. He said yes. Here's what I found in 261 pieces of mail. Despite pleas of URGENT! and IMPORTANT! and TAPE THIS ASAP TO DEREK JETER'S LOCKER! on the envelopes, most of the letter writers wanted only his autograph-- 141 to be exact, including 52 on Jeter photos they sent, 13 on baseballs they sent, the rest on all kinds of stuff, like a book report and a baby photo. To aid their cause, eight people even sent pens. One, seeking an autograph for her sailor husband, wrote, "Think of the publicity you'll get!" Tonight on the 11 o'clock news: Derek Jeter signs autograph for sailor!
How, for instance, will Rodriguez, 28, and Jeter, 29, coexist? Both are signed through 2009 with no-trade clauses; the superior defender of the two, Rodriguez, will play out of position; and their friendship has been strained since A-Rod's critical comments about Jeter in an '01 magazine interview. "Everybody knows their best lineup would be A-Rod at short and Jeter at second," one American League manager says, "but it won't happen because it's Jeter's team."
A Batting Slump is baseball's version of the common cold. Sooner or later every hitter gets one, it can keep him up at night, and there is no known cure, though that does not prevent everyone and his doorman from passing on homemade remedies and get-well wishes. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees came down with a whopper of a case in April -- he was 0 for 32 at its head-throbbing worst -- that was so bad that he couldn't leave his Manhattan apartment without being reminded of it. ýÿ "The doorman would tell me, 'Tonight's the night! I've got a feeling this is it!' " Jeter says. "You're trying not to think about it, yet everywhere you go, you're constantly reminded of it. It wasn't so much people giving me advice as it was people saying, 'We're pulling for you.' It's everywhere you turn--people on the street, the questions from the media every day."
Yet despite not being the most helpful guy when it comes to a tantalizing sound bite or front-page quote, Jeter is genuinely one of the good guys in sports. Before talking to each reporter he shakes their hand, introduces himself and thanks them for coming out to talk to him. After one young reporter from a local television affiliate struggled through an interview, Jeter put his arm around her and told her she did a good job. "That was great," Jeter said "Just keep practicing in front of a mirror, you'll be fine. You did a good job."
I've never thought Jeter was especially fast but he has stolen 275 bases in his career, and he rarely gets caught. There is something about stealing a base that transcends speed, something about anticipation and quickness and a sense of the moment. I think Jeter has bucket loads of that stuff. He has done all of those things that express consistency and equilibrium. He has cracked 200 hits six times in his career. He has hit 15 or more home runs seven times despite playing in a right-handed hitter's graveyard. He has hit .300 every year but two, he has on-based .370 every year but two, he has either led or finished second in the league in singles eight times. He has scored 100 runs or more every full year he's played (until this year -- he will need a big finish), and sure, it's true Jeter has been followed by great hitters his whole career but, hey, 100 runs is 100 runs and the only way you can get there is to play a lot, get on base, and take the opportunities when they come.
Derek Jeter missed the entire one-hour pregame ceremony in which the Yankees said their ceremonial goodbyes to Yankee Stadium. The captain, afterall, was busy getting himself ready to play a baseball game. He took treatment in the trainers' room for his badly bruised hand, took extra batting practice in the indoor batting cage and stretched on the floor of the Yankee clubhouse. By the latter stage of the ceremony, Jeter looked up from his stretching and discovered that he and Bernie Williams, his former teammate, were the only ones left in the room. Williams, the graceful former centerfielder, was still in the clubhouse because he would be the last Yankee introduced, the headliner on a program that included Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson.
But ... now we'll get to the point of this story. I think that in many ways Derek Jeter this year has added a third title. He has, against all odds, become UNDERRATED. And that is a wicked turn. I think Jeter at 35 is having one of his greatest seasons. I think he's playing defense better than he ever has, he's getting on base and slugging like he did in his prime, and in my view he has been the Yankees most valuable player in 2009. And, for once, it's funny, I don't hear too many other people talking about it.
At 8:23 p.m. Friday evening, No. 2 became No. 1 when for the 2,722nd time in his Hall of Fame career, Derek Jeter delivered a base hit. Yet, for the first time in his career, Derek Jeter had no idea what to do next. In a historic and unforgettable run as the Yankees shortstop and centerpiece, Jeter had been defined by his preternatural calm, his corporate cool, and his quiet confidence. But after singling sharply into right field in the third inning at Yankee Stadium to surpass Lou Gehrig as the team's all-time hits leader, for the first time in his career, those characteristics deserted him. Suddenly, he was a man alone with his moment, and over 46,000 fans were singling him out for a prolonged ovation 14 years in the making, causing Jeter to temporarily feel what must be the most foreign of emotions to him: out of place on the field where he is normally completely at ease.