"Where are my parents? Where are my parents?"
In and out of spikes, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter
moves like silk billowed by a breeze. Goodness flows all around
him. He's perpetually light on his feet, even as bedlam spills
like the champagne in and around the dank hallways of Shea
Stadium early last Friday in the afterglow of--goodness!--the
Yankees' fourth world championship in Jeter's five full seasons
in the big leagues. At 26, he has already been enriched with a
lifetime's heaping portion of success.
"Mr. Jeter, this is the police commissioner. Would you like a
picture [with him]?" asks a police officer outside the Yankees
clubhouse, introducing Jeter to Bernard Kerik, the new
commissioner of the New York City Police Department. The hallway
is a gridlock of people. Jeter, the champagne still dripping from
his uniform, flashes his golden grin, as if he is lit from within
like a paper lantern.
"I've got a couple of parking tickets I'd like to talk to you
about," Jeter says as he glides past the commish.
November 6, 2000
Smooth. Kerik laughs. "We'll talk," he says.
Jeter doesn't linger. "Where are my parents? Find out where they
are," he says to a Yankees security official, who squawks into
his radio to another official.
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."
Jeter skips along the creaky wooden runway that leads through the
darkness under Shea's field-level seats to the dugout. To no one
in particular he says aloud with a sigh, "Oh, man. If we'd lost
this, I was moving out of town. Gone!" He bolts up the dugout
steps, where he finds his parents standing on the warning track.
He gives them each a kiss and a long, tight hug.
"MVP! MVP!" A large knot of fans behind the Yankees dugout begins
serenading him with the latest of his many honorifics. Jeter had
at least one crucial hit or play in each of the Yankees' four
wins in their defeat of their crosstown rivals, the Mets, earning
himself the World Series MVP award. It will make a nice bookend
to his All-Star Game MVP award. No other player has ever won both
awards in the same season.
Jeter tosses several championship caps into the crowd. Then he
dashes back toward the clubhouse, heaving his jersey for
safekeeping at a friend in the corridor. He will give it to his
mother as a gift.
After showering, Jeter puts on a silvery gray, windowpane suit
with a gray silk T-shirt underneath. The man is impervious to
wrinkles. He walks out of the clubhouse and down a long, curved
hallway that empties into the visitors' bullpen in leftfield,
where New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is playing catch on the
back mound and tenor Placido Domingo is dodging manure deposited
by horses of the mounted police. Domingo excitedly greets Jeter.
"I called it! Your home run!" says Domingo, who keeps stride with
Jeter as the shortstop walks along the warning track toward an
open gate in the centerfield fence. "I turned to the mayor's son,
Andy, just before you hit it. I said, 'Derek's going to hit a
home run!' I did! I called it!"
"Wish I knew," Jeter says, smiling.
"Watch the manure!" yells a security official. "You might want to
stay off the track. There's a ton of it."
"Nah. No problem," Jeter says.
As he walks out the gate, Jeter is saluted with a polite ovation
from several laborers who are taking apart scaffolding. One of
them yells, "Derek, you're spoiling us!"
There, behind the giant black centerfield background for hitters,
Jeter slips into a white stretch limo that whisks him to a
private party at One51, a Manhattan club. The club has velvet
ropes and bouncers behind them. The place is an elbow-to-elbow
hothouse of smoke, body heat and music so loud you can feel your
heart quake. Hardly anyone dances, though. Jeter is ensconced in
the inner sanctum, a raised area next to the dance floor. Almost
everyone is turned toward him in a kind of homage that spookily
resembles idolatry. Women try to push and lie their way past the
no-necked, square-headed keepers of the last velvet rope.
Teammates David Justice, Denny Neagle and Luis Polonia are there
too, but nobody pays them much notice. When Jeter walks across
the dance floor to the raised area on the other side, the simple
act takes on the complexity of a military maneuver. The men
without necks part the room, either commanding people to move out
of the way or just shoving women. But, hey, what's a little
humiliation in the name of idolatry? One woman, drinking her
money's worth, boasts that she paid $12,000 to reserve one of the
few tables in the inner sanctum.
Jeter is a wallflower, a bit uncomfortable with the size of the
crowd but enjoying the beat of the music and the company of
close friends. Mostly, while standing on a long sofa against the
wall, he chats with his sister, Sharlee, and his steady, Lara
Dutta, who hails from Bangalore, India, and who happens to be
Miss Universe. Others, including Justice, also lean against the
wall, the better to survey the room. Friends come and go with
their congratulations. Jeter offers them flutes of champagne,
though he takes none for himself. It will be 5 a.m. by the time
he leaves, with television cameras still waiting out front to
get a glimpse of him and the other Yankees.
This is the night Jeter's status as a baseball icon has become
official. Never mind One51. An athlete can play no bigger room
than the domain of Yankees baseball. Right now Jeter owns the
Once upon a time there was a man named DiMaggio who played
baseball with such graceful ease that people swore they'd never
see his like again. DiMaggio was, above all, a winner. His
Yankees--and, yes, the New York teams from 1936 to '41, the
Clipper's first six seasons in the major leagues, were known as
DiMaggio's Yankees--won 598 games, approaching 100 a year, and
failed to win the World Series only once.
It's in DiMaggio's footsteps that Jeter walks proudly and
gracefully. The rare modern player who has never tried creatine
or yearned for muscle mass, the 6'3", 195-pound Jeter has the
smooth carriage and angular build of a baseball player from
DiMaggio's era. Jeter, above all, is a winner too. His
Yankees--and, yes, this dynasty will go down as Jeter's
Yankees--have won 487 games, approaching 100 a year, and have
failed to win the World Series only once. Over five postseasons
they have played .754 baseball, going 46-15. Only one other team
in history besides DiMaggio's Yankees (who won consecutive World
Series from 1936 to '39) and Jeter's Yankees has won as many
titles in a five-year span, and that club, the 1949 to '53
Yankees, did it while the torch passed from DiMaggio to Mickey
Mantle in '51, midway through its unmatched run of five straight
"I met him a couple of times when he came out to the Stadium,"
Jeter says of DiMaggio, "but I never had a conversation with him.
I shook his hand, said hello, but I was too much in awe to talk
Now Jeter is DiMaggio's worthy heir, in style and in numbers. In
regular-season and World Series play, DiMaggio scored 625 runs
through his fifth full season. Jeter scored 623. DiMaggio had 994
hits. Jeter had 1,034. DiMaggio played in 19 World Series games
over his first five seasons; his Yankees went 16-3. Jeter played
in 19 World Series games, too; his Yankees went 16-3. Jeter hit
for a higher World Series batting average (.342) than did
DiMaggio (.304), while producing more of New York's offense than
Joltin' Joe: From 1936 to '39, DiMaggio scored or drove in 21 of
the Yankees' 113 runs in the World Series, or 19%; from 1996
through 2000, Jeter was responsible for 22 of New York's 85
Series runs, or 26%.
Through five seasons the ring count is all even. Jeter keeps his
rings locked away at his home in Tampa. Once after each season he
will take them out to study them. "Each one tells a different
story, like chapters in a book," he says. "Starting in November,
when you begin to work out, through October you devote a whole
year to do one thing: to win. That's all that matters. This is
the way I've always looked at it: If you're going to play at all,
you're out to win. Baseball, board games, playing along with
Jeopardy! with my friends. I hate to lose."
Jeter seemed destined for greatness. He shares a birthday (June
26) with Abner Doubleday, the mythical inventor of baseball. On
the day the Yankees' front office gathered to talk about its top
pick of the 1992 draft, Jeter's name came up, and one of those
present said, "Jeter? Isn't he going to Michigan?" There was a
moment of silence. Then Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter,
said, "No. He's going to Cooperstown."
Says Reggie Jackson, the original Mr. October, "In big games, the
action slows down for him where it speeds up for others. I've
told him, 'I'll trade my past for your future.'"
Jeter always has played with a cool assuredness beyond his years.
In 1996, at 22 and in his first World Series, he told manager Joe
Torre during a meeting on the mound in Game 4, when the Yankees
trailed the Atlanta Braves 6-0, "Don't worry. We're going to win
this game." The Yankees did, 8-6, the second of 14 straight World
Series wins, a record that Mets manager Bobby Valentine last week
said will stand longer than DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
"This kid, right now, the tougher the situation, the more fire he
gets in his eyes," Torre said before Game 5. "You don't teach
that. It's something you have to be born with. His parents are a
big part of that."
Says Jeter, "I try not to change anything in the postseason. I
don't like to say you focus more in the postseason, because that
sounds like you're focusing less during the season. But in the
postseason you are more focused. You can't help it. Every pitch,
every grounder, every inning means more.
"Now, what I try to do is keep it simple, treat it like a
regular-season game. Obviously you're going to have more
butterflies. But I don't feel like I act any differently because
it's the postseason. What I'm proud of is that I try to stay on
an even keel. That is something I learned from my parents."
He has been making these Yankees his team for years, but it was
on Sept. 29, two days before the end of the regular season, that
he stepped forward like never before. Torre held a pregame
meeting that night, with the Yankees reeling from 12 losses in 15
games. He ended his short talk by saying, "Does anybody have
anything to say?"
Silence hung in the air. Then Jeter stood and addressed the team
as a whole for the first time. "Everyone is trying to do too
much," he said. "We've always won because guys just did their
jobs, and if they didn't, they knew the next guy would get it
done. We've always used 25 guys to win. We have to get back to
that. People have got to stop trying to do it by themselves." No
one else added a word.
This World Series elevated his stature, especially because of
what was at stake. In the days leading up to the Subway Series,
Mets fans jammed on their car brakes if they saw him exit his
Manhattan apartment and shouted, "Jeter, you suck!" Yankees fans
would tell him, "Whatever you do, don't lose to the Mets."
"We had a lot to lose," Jeter says. "I'm serious: I would have
moved right out of the city if we'd lost. You could have taken
our three rings and thrown them out the window, as far as Yankees
fans were concerned. I'm glad I played in a Subway Series, but
maybe once is enough."
Jeter admitted to bouts of nervousness in this Series, during the
times he played shortstop on Shea Stadium's notoriously awful
infield. The field is so bumpy that Jeter would tell coaches to
quit hitting him practice grounders before games. "You'd start
getting scared and lose your confidence," he says. "I'll tell
you, they need to cut Bill Buckner some slack. I was out there
thinking, You can strike out, get picked off, do anything, but
don't let a ground ball go through your legs. I was going to get
down and block it if I had to." Characteristically, Jeter didn't
make an error in the Series and hasn't committed one in the Fall
Classic since '96.
Jeter helped mightily in every Yankees win. In the pivotal play
of Game 1, a 4-3 nail-biter that the Yankees won in 12 innings,
he threw out the Mets' fleet Timo Perez at the plate in the sixth
inning with a spectacular off-balance throw from near the foul
line in shallow left. In Game 2 he scored what would be the
deciding run in a 6-5 win after he doubled with one out in the
eighth inning. He led off Game 4 with a home run off righthander
Bobby J. Jones, staking the Yankees to a lead they never lost in
a 3-2 victory. He tied Game 5 at 2-2 in the sixth inning with a
homer off lefty Al Leiter.
That game stayed even until the ninth. Leiter, working with two
outs and two strikes on Jorge Posada, could not put him away.
Posada fouled off two pitches, took a ball, fouled off another
pitch and took ball four on the ninth pitch of an at bat that
drained the last of Leiter's energy reserve. He'd thrown 138
pitches. He would never get that third out. Scott Brosius singled
and then, on Leiter's 142nd pitch, so did Luis Sojo.
"A 15-hopper," Leiter lamented. The ball wiggled past Leiter and
two diving infielders like a pedestrian crossing midtown traffic
in the middle of a block. Posada slid home, and when the throw
from centerfielder Jay Payton caromed off Posada's thigh and into
the Mets' dugout, Brosius scored, too.
Jeter would make one more contribution. The denouement of the
Series happened to be a clash of titans: righthander Mariano
Rivera, the best reliever in postseason history, facing Mets
slugger Mike Piazza with two outs and a runner on. Jeter called
timeout and jogged to the mound. Shouting, he still had to press
his mouth near Rivera's ear to be heard above the din of the
crowd. "You know what he's trying to do here; he's trying to take
you out," Jeter said forcefully. "Be smart. Don't be stupid.
Don't just lay one over to try to get ahead. Be careful. This
guy's not just trying to loop the ball over second. He wants to
take you deep. Now let's go!"
Rivera got ahead with a called strike. Then Piazza swung and
connected solidly with the next pitch, a belt-high fastball. With
the scoreboard clock reading 12:00, it was literally the stroke
of midnight. Torre screamed in the dugout, "No!" But a few steps
from the warning track, the ball died an innocent death in the
glove of centerfielder Bernie Williams. Jeter leaped into the
arms of Sojo; he was a champion for a fourth time.
Two nights later Jeter rested his feet on an ottoman in his
small, modestly furnished apartment on the East Side of
Manhattan. His ironing board and iron stood at the ready by his
dining table. He had slept past noon the past two days and left
his apartment only for dinners, once in the Bronx with friends
and this night in midtown with his parents. On Sunday he would
eat downtown at a team party arranged by Torre. On Monday, after
his fourth victory parade through lower Broadway, he was booked
to do Letterman.
"No doubt, this team ranks up there with any team of all time,"
Jeter says. "You can come up with teams that had better players
or hit more home runs or scored more runs. But the name of the
game is winning. I can't see any team being better."
Outside, 11 floors below the drawn blinds, life after the Subway
Series pulsed on. The usual cacophonous symphony of car horns and
tire screeches continued. Nothing had changed. This winner wasn't
going anywhere. More than ever, this is his town. More than ever,
this is his team.
"This kid, right now, the tougher the situation, the more
fire he gets in his eyes," Torre said. "You don't
"If you're going to play at all, you're out to win," says Jeter.
"Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy! I hate to lose."
"I would have moved out of the city if we'd lost," says Jeter.
"I'm glad I played in a Subway Series, but once is enough."