by Deb Seymour
Back in 1995, when the Yankees called up a 20-year-old Derek Jeter for the first time to the major league team, there were noises about him being some kind of wunderkind. Yankee fans had already heard about this kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan (who had been born in New Jersey) and who was chosen sixth overall in the 1992 draft. It’s always fun to look at who preceded a top draftee who wasn’t drafted first overall; and in Jeter’s case, that was Chad Mottola, chosen fifth overall by the Cincinnati Reds. Mottola, now a coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, played for five years in the major leagues for five different teams, to the tune of 125 total at-bats. Needless to say, that turned out not to be the story in Derek Jeter’s case. Drafting players in any sport is always a bit of a gamble.
Jeter, now 47, has led a career whose trials and tribulations are well documented. He spent his entire 20-year major league career with the Yankees, amassed 3,465 hits, batted a career .310, and was a five-time World Series champion. Elected one vote shy of unanimously into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Jeter’s always been a polarizing figure across Major League Baseball — not so much because of his personality or politics, but because he became the face of the game at a time when the Yankees were both the winningest and arguably the most despised franchise in American sports.
The Yankees aren’t the dynasty team anymore that they were during Jeter’s playing tenure; and Jeter’s defensive statistics during his playing career have become something of a lightning rod for debates over whether he even deserved to be voted into the Hall of Fame — let alone almost unanimously. One thing is clear, however: as a Rookie of the Year, 14-time All-Star, and World Series MVP, Derek Jeter was a player who stood out among his peers; and he took that responsibility very seriously. Named captain of the Yankees in 2003, Jeter represented the team, spoke for the team, and led the team through thick and thin.
Much has been written over the years about Jeter’s tense relationship with teammate Alex Rodriguez, a polarizing and very high-profile player in his own right — but very little concrete evidence of their dynamic ever left the clubhouse. And that was no accident. Jeter is as private as they come, carefully filtering any information that reaches the public about either his professional or his personal life. Married since 2016, prior to that Jeter had become famous for his relationships with high-profile female personalities in the modeling, music, and film industries. It’s been rumored that he sent his lady friends gift baskets filled with Yankee and Jeter memorabilia, especially when the relationship didn’t work out. Though this story line’s become the punch line for many jokes, how many women ever actually publicly stated that they received such a basket?
Yankee fans will recall Jeter’s 2008 speech the last day the Yankees played in their original Bronx stadium. Famed through baseball lore as one of the best “off the cuff” speeches ever delivered by an active player, one has to wonder exactly how off the cuff that speech was. Jeter’s known for meticulously planning, preparing, and crafting his approach to just about everything. As articulate a player as there was in 2008, Jeter probably figured he would need to say a few words that day and at the very least, was mentally prepared for it.
Jeter retired from playing major league baseball in 2014; but his career entered a different phase in 2017, when he acquired a four percent share in the Miami Marlins organization. Subsequent to his becoming part owner and a shareholder in the Marlins, Jeter was named CEO of the team, with a vision of rebuilding the Marlins franchise from top to bottom — farm system to major league team, player personnel to front office and coaching personnel. Jeter has been quoted as saying he expected his team to be “competitive,” despite a rebuild in which some expensive star players such as Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich were moved to other teams. Jeter claimed he was building a foundation for the future of the franchise and that, ultimately, winning would reinvigorate the Marlins’ fan base in the Miami region. Yesterday, however, he stepped down from the Marlins’ CEO position and relinquished his partial ownership in the team, citing that “the vision for the future of the franchise is different than the one I signed up to lead.” The perennial winner, it seems Jeter didn’t see eye-to-eye on the way forward as a winning one with the majority owner(s) of the team and decided to step aside.
“I only had one goal in my career — to win more than anyone else … and we did,” Jeter said (last summer) at the outdoor festivities at Clark Sports Center, about a mile south of the Hall of Fame (“Derek Jeter Struck All the Right Notes in Hall of Fame Speech,” Joel Sherman, New York Post, September 8, 2021). One thing we can say about Derek Jeter, and it’s that he’s always done everything on his own terms. Though a very funny guy at times, Jeter has a deep intensity and competitiveness about him that were part of what made him a great Yankee leader. A thoughtful, well spoken, and yet always driven and goal-oriented personality, Jeter’s many public faces ultimately have been pretty consistent through the years. Will he return to baseball in the coming months or years? The Marlins phase is still too fresh for anyone to know for certain. But this much is for sure: Whatever Derek Jeter decides to do next, he’ll do it with the same clear aim to win as he’s done everything in the past.