Derek Sanderson Jeter was born June 26, 1974 in Pequannock, New Jersey. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) The first of two kids—he has a sister, Sharlee—Derek grew up in a sports-crazy home. For quite some time a story circulated that his parents, Dorothy and Charles, named him after hockey star Derek Sanderson, the dynamic forward of the Boston Bruins. Derek says that isn't true. He was named after his grandfather, Sanderson Charles Jeter.
Charles was an alcohol- and drug-abuse counselor. Dorothy worked as an accountant. The family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan when Derek was four so his father could complete his masters at Western Michigan. Detroit was only a couple of hours away from where the Jeters lived, and Charles often took his son to Tigers games. Derek, however, never changed his baseball allegiance. He loved the New York Yankees. His favorite player was Dave Winfield.
Derek and Sharlee spent their summers with their grandparents, Dot and Bill Connors, at their West Milford home in Bergen County, NJ. With the Yanks just on the other side of the George Washington Bridge, Derek pictured himself in pinstripes as he played with his friends and visiting cousins. Dot was his personal catcher. They would sometimes don their gloves and start throwing before breakfast.
Derek adored baseball. He dreamed of playing professionally, and even predicted in a school essay that he would one day suit up as the shortstop of the Yankees. The genetics were in his favor—Charles had been a shortstop for Fisk University and a cousin, Gary Jeter, logged several good years as a defensive lineman with the New York Giants.
Derek was a spectacularly well-adjusted child. Thanks to a quick mind, easy manner, and the self- confidence that his parents built up in him, his bad days were few and far between. He succeeded at just about everything he tried. The product of a bi-racial couple, Derek turned a potentially tricky situation into a positive—instead of trying to fit into one group or another, he simply felt that he could get along with anyone.
Derek’s athletic prowess was clear by the time he started his Little League career. His parents encouraged him in sports and let him set his own goals. They provided the boundaries, reminding him that if his academics suffered, baseball was off the board.
Derek kept his part
of the bargain, bringing home good report cards and maintaining an A-minus
average once he entered Kalamazoo Central High School. He also blossomed
as an all-around athlete, growing taller than six feet and competing at the varsity level
in basketball by age 14. As a sophomore point guard, he hit a three-pointer
at the buzzer to beat rival Portage Central High School—still among his fondest
sports memories. As a shortstop, Derek drew comparisons to Cal Ripken.
He was big, he could hit, and even as a freshman, his arm was powerful
enough to make throws from the hole.
As a senior, Derek slipped in a slush puddle rounding first during his opening game and nursed an ankle injury much of the year. He saw even less to swing at, but still hit .508 and averaged an RBI per game. He was also a perfect 12-for-12 in steals. Derek was named the 1992 High School Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association and was offered a full scholarship to the University of Michigan.
Derek had his heart set on going pro. It was difficult to predict how he would fare in the draft, because the Michigan high school baseball season is short, and the competition he faced was not consistently strong. In March and April, scouts were calling coach Don Zomer to get a feel for how Derek’s campaign was progressing, only to be told that he was shoveling snow off the field with his teammates. Working in Derek’s favor was the fact that the '92 draft was not considered to be a strong one. He and his parents felt a first-round phone call was well within the realm of possibility.
The Houston Astros chose first and toyed with the idea of taking Derek. They went with Cal State Fullerton star Phil Nevin instead. Houston’s head scout was so upset by the decision that he later resigned. Three more teams then passed over Derek. When Cincinnati prepared for its turn in the fifth slot, he waited with some dread. Though a big fan of Barry Larkin, he did not want to be the heir apparent to the former Michigan star. His beloved Yankees owned the draft's next selection, and Derek held his breath in anticipation of joining the Bronx Bombers.
New York rarely used first-round choices on a high school players, and Derek knew it. In fact, he had not even communicated with the Yankee prior to the draft, so he had no sense of whether he was on the team's radar screen. But the New York brain trust believed Derek was the perfect young player to help reconstruct a winning tradition that had suffered greatly during the late 1980s and early 1990s. When the phone rang and Dorothy was told the Yanks wanted to talk to Derek, she handed the receiver to the happiest boy on the planet.
ON THE RISE
Derek signed for $700,000—plus a promise by the Yankees to pick up the tab for his college education if he suffered a career-ending injury—and went right to work. He required fine-tuning more than anything else on defense—his mechanics were already perfect. He blew the occasional easy chance, but that was more a matter of focus than skill.
Most of the Derek's tutelage came at the pate, where he was schooled on the art of hitting to all fields. Different pitches in different locations required different swings, and the quicker he learned to react, the faster he would reach the majors. The inside-out stroke Derek applied to pitches that were high and tight came in handy here, as he already had a way to keep enemy pitchers from moving him off the plate. His knowledge of the strike zone was better than many of N’ew Yorks older prospects. He was a .300 hitter in the making.
Although Derek took to the hitting instruction well in practice, translating it to games could be problematic. He struggled at around .200 all summer long in his first seson, and he aslo let his hitting affect his fielding, booting 21 balls in 58 games at stops with New York’s rookie-level team in Tampa and later with the Greensboro Hornets. Minor-league manager Gary Denbo assured him this was all fundamental stuff, easily fixed through repetition.
was correct. In 1993, Derek’s first full year in pro ball, he had
a smashing season for Greensboro, batting .295 with 30 extra-base hits
and 71 RBIs. He was named the South Atlantic League’s top shortstop
and its second-best prospect. Derek’s teammates on the Hornets included
Mariano Rivera, Ramiro Mendoza and Shane Spencer.
About halfway through the season, when Derek’s error total had already soared past 30, Gene Michael paid him a visit. A former Yankee shortstop, Michael had become one of the most respected talent evaluators in New York organization. He told Derek that as an up-andcoming star in the Pittsburgh system during the 1960s, he had slogged through three 50-plus error campaigns in a row. Michael advised Derek to find that place between being relaxed in the field and being careless—his comfort zone. Derek was a different player after that.
Derek opened spring training of 1994 in the major league camp. Still a teenager, he found himself fielding grounders next to Wade Boggs and firing throws across the infield to Don Mattingly. After rubbing elbows with these All-Stars, Derek was reassigned to Tampa of the Florida State League. In 69 games, he hit .329, in a league traditionally tough on young hitters. He also stole 28 bases. Derek was bumped up to Class-AA Albany in June, and he continued to sting the ball, batting .377 in 34 games. He finished the year at Class-AAA Columbus, posting a .349 batting average.
Derek might have found himself in New York that summer, had a strike not ended the season. Playing at three levels, he wound up hitting .344 with 43 extra-base hits and 50 steals in 55 attempts. Derek was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America, The Sporting News, Baseball Weekly and Topps. He was also honored at the Florida State League MVP.
In 1995, Derek made it to the show, joining the Yankees briefly during an All-Star campaign with Columbus. He probably could have spent the whole year in pinstripes, but management wanted to give him at least another season in the minors. Veteran Tony Fernandez had been signed to play shortstop in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, Derek batted .317 with 27 doubles and nine triples in 123 games with the Clippers. He led the International League in runs scored with 96. Derek’s first taste of the bigs came in May, when Fernandez went on the DL. Derek returned for the September stretch run, as the Yankees snagged the Wild Card, reaching the post-season for the first time since 1981. Derek did not see much action, hitting .250 overall in 15 games.
The 1996 season opened as planned for the Yankees, with Derek as their everyday shortstop. The team’s new manager, Joe Torre, assured him that Fernandez was now a sub and the starting job was D’ereks to lose. Then Derek went out and almost lost it. The rookie looked nervous all spring. He finally relaxed when Fernandez broke his elbow in the final week of the exhibition season.
Before the opener against the Indians in Cleveland, Torre reiterated to Derek that he just had to make the routine plays on defense—the Yankees would be patient with the rest of his game. So of course, Derek had one of the most memorable Opening Days in team history, becoming the first Yankee rookie to homer in the season's first game in 25 years. He also flagged down a ball to shallow left to complete a highlight-reel catch. Derek’s teammates loved the way he took charge on the play and sensed they had a special player in their midst.
And as things developed, the '96 Yankees were a very special team. Andy Pettitte, a teammate of Derek’s in the minors, led an otherwise veteran starting staff with 21 wins. The everyday lineup featured good, hard-nosed players, including Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Boggs. Mariano Duncan, who had a career year at the plate, was Derek’s double-play partner. New York edged the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East and then fought off the hard-hitting Texas Rangers in the Divisional Series. The Yankees reached the World Series after beating Baltimore in five games to take the ALCS.
All Derek did in ‘96 was hit .314 (including .350 in the second half) with 104 runs scored. He handled himself marvelously in the fiel, and was everyone’s pick for Rookie of the Year. In his first taste of playoff baseball, Derek hit .412 against the Rangers, and he was even better against the Orioles, batting .417.
In Game 1 of the ALCS, Derek drove an opposite field homer
to tie the game. This was the famous ball that a young fan named Jeffrey Maier snatched
away from Baltimore’s Tony Tarasco. New York won the contest in 11 innings. In Game
5, Derek made a diving stop on a grounder by Cal Ripken to record the
Derek had a great divisional series against the Indians, and the Yanks seemed to be on their way to another ALCS showdown with the O’s—until Cleveland engineered a brilliant comeback to send the Yankees packing. Everyone remembers Sandy Alomar’s game-tying homer off Rivera in Game 4, but Derek usually thinks back to the winning single an inning later, which eluded him by only a couple of inches after glancing off of Mendoza’s glove.
Derek came into his own in 1998. He topped the league with 127 runs, collected 204 hits, batted .324, and slugged .481. He also played in his first All-Star game. The Yankees cruised to the AL East crown with 114 wins. Newcomers Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch had good seasons, as did Jorge Posada, who took over regular catching duties. Williams claimed the batting title, and David Cone led the AL with 20 wins at age 35. This was a team greater than the sum of its parts.
The Yankees smothered
Texas in the ALDS and survived a momentary scare against the Indians in
the championship series. Derek delivered the key hit in Game 6 against the Tribe, a
two-run triple to salt the contest away. In the World Series against the
Padres, he batted .353 in New York’s four-game
sweep of San Diego.
Derek kept pushing the ceiling, leading the league with 219 hits and barely missing the batting title—he finished at .349 to Nomar Garciaparra’s .357. Derek knocked in 100 runs for the first time, drew 91 walks and also scored 134 runs.
Facing the Rangers again in the Division Series, Derek paced all hitters with a .455 average. The Yankees won in a three-game sweep. He was also the top New York hitter against the Red Sox in the ALCS, batting .350 in a five-game victory. Against the Braves in the World Series, Derek hit .353 as New York routed Atlanta for its second straight world championship.
MAKING HIS MARK
Derek was again the key man in the Yankees’ quest for a third straight title in 2000. Age was creeping up on the team, and Torre had to juggle his lineup quite a bit. Derek, however, was Mr. Dependable, batting .339 with 119 runs scored. He also played exceptional defense. Derek went 3-for-3 in the All-Star Game and walked off with the MVP trophy. He got the start when Alex Rodriguez was hurt and could not suit up.
After the All-Star break, New York pulled away from the Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to capture the AL East. They did cut it close, however, losing their last seven. Soon everyone was predicting the end of the Yankee dynasty. In the playoffs against the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners, New York dropped a pair of openers but came back to win both series.
Meanwhile, south of Yankee Stadium, the Mets shocked their NL foes to earn a World Series berth as well. This set up the long-awaited rebirth of the Subway Series—a spectacle unseen in the Big Apple since 1956.
Derek was center stage
in the ultimate New York sporting event. In Game 1, he snuffed out a Met
rally when he executed a ballet-like relay to cut down Timo Perez at the
plate. The Yankees won 4-3 in 12 innings. Derek collected three hits in
Game 2, another one-run victory by the Yanks. The Mets took the third
game, prompting Torre to shake up his lineup by moving Derek into the leadoff spot for Game 4. On the first pitch of the evening, Derek
lined a fastball from Bobby Jones over the fence in left field. He later tripled and scored
the game-winning run in yet another slim victory.
The "Derek Jeter Show" continued the next evening, as he erased a 2-1 deficit with a solo homer. The Yankees went on to win 4-2. Derek was named MVP of the World Series.
Coming off a third straight championship, the Yankees did what they do best—opened their wallet and got better. Mike Mussina was signed to bolster the starting staff, Knoblauch was moved into the outfield, and Alfonso Soriano was promoted to the starting slot at second base. Derek worked relatively well with his dynamic new keystone partner, who was a converted shortstop. Early in the year, Soriano was not smooth on the pivot, but as he got used to second base,this problem was ironed out.
For Derek, a sore right shoulder and a nagging hamstring strain kept him below full health all season. Still, he finished at .311 with 21 homers and 110 runs scored. The Yankees easily outdistanced the Red Sox in the AL East, after injuries to Pedro Martinez and Garciaparra left the Boston lineup in shambles.
The 2001 season was notable, of course, for the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. No one seemed to care much about baseball in New York after that, especially the Yankees. Against the A’s in the playoffs, they could not solve Oakland’s starting pitching. Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson shut them down in the opening games at Yankee Stadium, and a promising campaign stained with unfathomable misery appeared to be over.
In Game 3, in Oakland, Barry Zito had the Yanks on the ropes. New York managed to eke out a run against the eccentric lefty, and Derek later preserved the lead in another signaure moment. Racing across the infield to scoop up an errant outfield throw on a Terrence Long double, he backhanded a quick relay toss to Posada in time to nip Jeremy Giambi at the plate. Rivera came on in the eighth for the save, and the Yankees were back in business.
The New York bats finally awoke against Cory Lidle, as the club evened the series with a 9-2 victory. In the deciding game, back in New York, the Yankees completed their comeback by beating Mulder, 5-3. Derek proved to be one of the few consistent hitters against the A’s, batting .444. It was his marvelous defensive play, however, that provided the indelible moment of the series.
Next up were the Mariners, winners of a league-record 116 games. Pettitte and Mussina tamed the potent Seattle lineup to stake New York to a 2-0 series lead. After El Duque got roughed up in Game 3, Clemens and Pettitte wrapped up the pennant with two great performances.
The winners in the National League were the Diamondbacks, a team that barely won its division. Arizona was set up for the postseason, however, with stud starters Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, plus a lineup of veterans including Steve Finley, Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez and Tony Womack. The World Series opened in Phoenix, with Schilling and Johnson turning in phenomenal performances. Soft-throwing Brian Anderson nearly made it three in a row with a fine outing in New York, but weird baserunning and shoddy defense undid the D-Backs, and Clemens won 2-1.
Game 4 was a classic. With Arizona ahead 3-1 with two outs in the ninth, Tino Martinez tied the game with a dramatic home run off Byung-Hyun Kim. Derek ended it an inning later with a walk-off clout. The next night, the Yankees burned Kim again. This time Scott Brosius hit a game-tying homer with two out in the ninth, and New York prevailed in 12.
The series moved back to Arizona, where Johnson won Game 6 as a starter and Game 7 as a reliever. The Yankees went into the ninth with a 2-1 lead and Rivera on the mound—normally an automatic victory. With a man on first, Arizona bunted and Rivera threw wildly to second. Derek, thinking double play, had his weight shifting away from the throw and could not recover in time to prevent the ball from sailing into the outfield. Womack doubled in the tying run, and then Gonzalez blooped a single over Derek’s head for the win. It was the final frustration in a series that saw him bat a meager .148, and produce little other than his one game-winning hit.
For 2002, the Yankees featured a drastically new look. Gone were Martinez, Brosius and O’Neill. New to the club were reigning AL MVP Jason Giambi, Rondell White and Robin Ventura. Young Nick Johnson earned time spelling Giambi at first and DH-ing, while David Wells rejoined the team. Later in the year, trades brought Jeff Weaver and Raul Mondesi to New York. The Yankees cruised to another division title, bolstered by 19 wins from Wells, a big year by Williams, and a near 40-40 season from Soriano. Torre employed less small ball with his more powerful lineup, though Derek did steal 32 bases. His other numbers were solid, with a .297 average, 18 homers and 124 runs scored.
The Yankees went into the postseason expecting an ALCS showdown with the A’s. But they never got out of the Division Series. Anaheim torched New York's pitching, scoring 31 runs to advance in four games. Derek was magnificent, hitting .500 with a pair of homers. But the Angels batted .376 as a team, pounding the ball in both ballparks
The 2003 Yankees won 100-plus games for the second straight year and outdistanced the Red Sox once again in the AL East. This year, however, Torre had to work through multiple problems, including a shaky bullpen and injuries to Giambi, Williams, Johnson and Derek, who separated his shoulder sliding head-first into third base in the season opener against the Blue Jays. He returned six weeks later butgrimaced through a campaign that saw him finish third in the AL batting race with a .324 average. He would have traded a few points of that average for a better year in the field, where he never really looked comfortable.
The Yankees got it together by the postseason and rolled over the Twins in the Division Series. Derek batted .429 to lead the team against Minnesota. In an epic ALCS against the Red Sox, the Yankees rallied against Pedro Martinez in Game 7 and claimed their sixth pennant in eight seasons.
The World Series pitted the Yanks against the impetuous Florida Marlins. New York fans were expecting a cakewalk, but Juan Pierre and Brad Penny starred for the Fish in a 3-2 Game 1win—the first World Series loss at home for the Yanks since 1996. The Bombers took the next two easily, but Florida grabbed the next three games for a shocking series victory. The old pinstripe magic seemed to be fading.
This appeared to be the case in 2004, when the Yankees nearly blew a big lead over the Red Sox in the AL East. They then fell to Boston in the ALCS, entering the history books after blowing a 3-0 series advantage.
Derek had the worst
start of his career in ’04 and was actually booed at one point by the hometown
fans. But he heated up over the summer and finished with a .292 average,
23 homers and 111 runs scored. He also collected his first Gold Glove,
adding yet another award to his trophy case.
Derek had two new infield mates—Miguel Cairo at second and Alex Rodriguz at third. A-Rod, a good friend since they first met as uber prospects in 1993, was acquired in a trade with Texas for Soriano. There was much conjecture in the press as to how these two superstars would co-exist on the left side, especially because Rodriguez was the reigning Gold Glover at shortstop. A-Rod knew he was now playing in Derek's yard and smartly moved to the hot corner.
The New York offense—powered by Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and free agent Gary Sheffield—led the league with 242 home runs, but the starting pitching and middle relief were scary-bad at times. It all caught up with the Yankees in the postseason. New York’s collapse was monumental. A-Rod was villified by fans in the Bronx. Some criticized Derek for not coming to his teammate’s defense. He believed that Rodriguez could handle the situation on his own.
In 2005, the Yankees focused on fortifying their staff, adding hurlers Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jared Wright to a rotation that already included Mussina. So of course, the problem for most of the year was the pitching. The hitters were also inconsistent, with the exception of Sheffield and Rodriguez, who put up exceptional power numbers.
Derek was his usual self, finishing the ’05 campaign with a .309 average and his second Gold Glove. He led the league with 752 plate appearances and was second with 153 singles.
Despite their often spotty pitching, the Yankees managed to win, because New York the AL East again. New York tied Boston with an identical record but took the division after winning tthe season series.
The Yankees looked good on paper as they prepared to face the Angels in the Division Series. Their heads, however, seemed to be somehwere else. After winning the opener in Anaheim, the Yanks lost Game 2 on a wild throw to first base by their normally unflappable rookie, Chien-Ming Wang. Johnson took the hill when the series switched to New York—and pitched poorly. The Angels won a slugfest, 11–7. The last New York run came on a solo homer by Derek.
Down two games to one, the Yankees fought back to take Game 4, with Derek driving in the winning run. But back in Anaheim, the Angels overcame a two-run deficit to win 5–3. Derek drove in two of New York’s run with a sac fly and a home run. He batted .333 with five RBIs for the series.
The 2006 Yankees cruised to the division title by 10 games. Wang, Mussina and Johnson led the starting staff, while Rivera notched 34 saves. Newcomer Johnny Damon added speed to the top of the lineup, bumping Derek down to the two-spot in the batting order. He responded with perhaps the finest season of his career. Derek finished second in the AL with 118 runs and a .344 average, and was the odds-on favorite to win his first league MVP award. When the results were announced in November, Yankee fans were outraged. Justin Morneau of the Twins got the hardware.
That was just a slight disappointment compared to the team’s performance a few weeks earlier in the ALDS versus the Tigers. Detroit had looked like a lock to take the Central before folding late in the year with five losses to conclude the season. The Tigers made the playoffs as a Wild Card. New York fans were confident heading into the series. The Trigers like pushovers in Game 1, as the Yankees chased Nate Robinson early and won 8–4.
It was all downhill from there. In Game 2, New York coughed up a 3–1 lead and lost on a Curtis Granderson triple. Back in Detroit, ex-Yankee Kenny Rogers twirled a five-hit shutout to push the Bronx Bombers to the brink. In Game 4, Torre sent Wright to the hill, and he got bombed. Meanwhile Jeremy Bonderman handcuffed the Yanks The Tigers won 8–3. The New York bats went silent after the first game. The Yankees were outhit by 60 points, despite the fact Derek batted .500 with four doubles and a homer.
In 2007, New York failed to win its 10th AL East crown in a row, but nailed down the Wild Card. Gone were Johnson and Wright, as was Sheffield. Pettitte, however, rejoined the team, and later in the year, Clemens unretired and finished the season in pinstripes.
Derek had a great year, batting .322 and finishing third in the league with 203 hits. His performance went almost unnoticed in the shadow of another MVP season by A-Rod, who clubbed 54 homers and knocked in 156 runs. The arrival of fireballing rookie Joba Chamberlain also drew lots of attention in the Bronx.
The Yankees faced the Indians in the ALDS. For the third time in a row, they failed to advance to the ALCS. Wang self-destructed in Game 1 as Cleveland won 12–3. In Game 2, the Yankees lost when Chamberlain—distracted by a swarm of bugs—threw a wild pitch with a runner on third. The Yankees won Game 3, but they succumbed to soft-tossing Paul Byrd in Game 4. The Tribe did an especially good job against Derek, who managed just three hits in four games. As the last out of the series was recorded, the TV announcers wondered aloud whether baseball fans were witnessing the end of an era.
Perhaps they were. After the season, the Yankees tendered Torre a dramatically reduced salary to stay on with the team, essentially guaranteeing he would walk. Joe Girardi, the catcher for the 1996 champs, took the helm. That triggered the departure of another great Yankee, batting coach Don Mattingly, who harbored aspirations for the skipper’s job.
As always, the Yankees looked to their captain for leadership. But for the first time, he was unable to deliver. A spring wrist injury curtailed his numbers at the plate, and he seemed a half-step slower in the field. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays raced to the top of the division and stayed there. When the Red Sox beat out the Yankees for the Wild Card, Derek watched the postseason on TV for the first time in his career.
Heading into 2009, many fans wondered wheter Derek was entering his declining years. Could he still play shortstop? Perhaps the team should consider moving him to center field, a la Robin Yount. These comments angered Derek. Healthy again, he set out to prove he was still the best shortstop in the league. And, as it turned out, the best leadoff hitter.
Unhappy with the Damon–Jeter combo atop the lineup, Girardi flip-flopped the two and the results were spectacular. Derek batted .334 and drew 72 walks to boost his on-base percentage over .400 for the fourth time in his career. He finished second in the AL with 212 hits, third in the batting race and fourth in runs scored with 107. Damon, meanwhile, exploded for 63 extra-base hits in his new slot and matched Derek’s 107 runs.
Boosting the numbers of both players were the friendlier confides of the new Yankee Stadium. Balls flew over the fences, especially to right field when the weather heated up. The New York lineup was among the most powerful in baseball—even without A-Rod.
The Yankees survived the early-season absence of Rodriguez, who missed time with a hip injury. Jeter stood by A-Rod’s side when he was forced to admit that he had used performance-enhancing drugs while playing in Texas. The controversy ultimately seemd to bring the team closer together.
The addition of newcomers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett didn’t hurt, either. In fact, the Yankee rode their power arms to the division title. Two other new Yankees were key contributors. Nick Swisher provided a good clubhouse presence and excellent production at the bottom of the lineup. All-Star Mark Teixeira caught fire after Rodriguez returned and ended up leading the league in homers.
The rest of the lineup was just as solid. Robinson Cano contributed 204 hits and 103 runs occupying the seventh slot. He was also one of seven Yankees to club 20 or more home run—Derek fell short of that mark with 18. Still, the return of Derek to elite status combined with the performance of the team’s talented newcomers loosened up the Yankee clubhouse. New York played happy, relaxed baseball and won 103 games.
For many fans, the highlight of the regular season came in September, when Derek passed Lou Gehrig on the Yankees’ all-time hit list. He did it in typical fashion, with a ringing single to right field. The New York faithful gave him a standing ovation the lasted nearly three minutes.
Derek was money in the bank during playoff victories over the Twins and Angels, hitting three homers and batting over .300. In New York’s opening-game loss to the Phillies in the World Series, he was the only Yankee to solve Cliff Lee, rapping three hits in an otherwise dismal loss.
The Yankees won the next three, and Derek was right in the middle of the action. With the rest of the lineup struggling, he and Damon found ways to get on base and ignite the offense. The Yankees returned home for Game 6 with a chance to win their 27th title. Derek led the way with three hits and two runs scored. New York won 7-3. Derek celebrated like it was his first championship.
In 2010, the Yankees’ Big Three—Jeter, Rivera and Posada—geared up for another championship run. This season was a little different, however. On Opening Day, they became the first trio in the history of North American team sports to play together for 16 seasons. New York got off to a solid start in the AL East, as Teixeira, Cano and Swisher carried the offensive load. On the pitching side, Sabathia, Pettitte and Phil Hughes paced the starting staff, while Rivera continued to amaze with one lights-out performance after another.
Heading into the All-Star Game, the Yanks held a slim lead in the division with the Rays and Red Sox nipping at their heels. Derek was within range of another 200-hit, 100-run season, but he wasn’t producing on the same level as past years. Still, he was voted into the starting lineup of the Midseason Classic. He picked up a hit in two at-bats before giving way to young phenom Elvis Andrus.
The All-Star Game turned out to be a somber event, as George Steinbrenner suffered a massive heart attack and died. Derek, who last saw the Boss on Opening Day, was deeply saddened by the passing of a man he considered a friend and father figure. Steinbrenner, he told reporters, expected perfection. Derek appreciated that because he demanded no less of himself.
The Yankee family had already been in mourning before Steinbrenner’s death. Days before, venerable public address announcer Bob Sheppard died at the age of 99. Though Sheppard had retired from his duties in 2005, his voice and spirit lived on in Yankee Stadium, thanks in part to Derek. Walking to home plate just didn’t feel right unless Sheppard was announcing his name. Derek made sure a recording of the "voice of God" was played for his at-bats.
The second half of the 2010 season was a tough one for Derek. He struggled to drive the ball, and his batting average dipped to new lows for him. He simply didn’t look like the same player at the plate. However, Derek did lead the league in at-bats and won his second straight Gold Glove—a remarkable achievement for a 36-year-old shortstop. The Yankees finished the year with 95 wins, good for a Wild Card berth. They swept the Twin in the ALDS but lost to the Rangers in the ALCS. Derek batted .250 in nine playoff games.
Derek became a free agent for the first time in his career after the playoffs. He had the Yankees in an awkward bargaining position. With hit #3,000 within in reach, Derek could call the shots. He wound up signing a three-year deal worth $51 million, with an option for a fourth year.
The big story in baseball heading into 2011 was Derek’s pursuit of 3,000 hits. Barring a catastrophe, this would be the year he’d become the first player in Yankee pinstripes to reach this plateau. Derek started the year slowly, but he still put himself on pace to make history by June.
The big moment was also delayed by a trip to the DL. A gimpy right calf kept him out of action longer than expected. His rehab stint included a stint in the minors, including one game in which he wore a specially designed Indepence Day uniform that made him look like a walking, taling American flag.
On July 9, facing David Price of the Rays, Derek finally ended the drama. In typical fashion, he did it in style. After a double in the first inning, Derek launched a homer into the left field stands for his 3,000th hit. The game was stopped as his teammates greeted him at home plate. With the home crowd roaring its approval, even the Rays stepped out of their dugout to salute Derek. In all, he collected five hits in five trips that day, and his final knock—a single up the middle—plated the winning run.
Derek has yet to write the final chapter in a storybook career. Until that day, he will be the engine that powers the Yankee machine, the overseer of team tradition, and the guy who plays the game right. Perhaps the most popular sign seen at the new Yankee Stadium reads, "The House That Jeter Built." Derek has truly meant that much to the franchise.
DEREK THE PLAYER
Derek is an attacking hitter at heart, but he shows patience when he needs to. As he transitions into the final years of his career, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the way opponents throw to him. He is as clutch as they come and uses the whole field, with excellent power to right. The new Yankee Stadium was built for his inside-out swing. It would not be out of the question for Derek to become more of a home run threat if that is what the Yankees need.
In the field, Derek may have lost a half-step on his first step, but he worked hard to gain that back and now—with smart positioning and overall aggressiveness—is as good as ever. His leaping catch of a Trot Nixon foul ball, which took him headlong into the stands against the Red Sox in 2004, became an instant classic. His patented jump-throw on balls in the hole is still amazing to watch. And no one charges a slow roller better at short.
Derek has been one of the fastest righthanded hitters to first in baseball for many years—partly because he busts it out of the batter’s box without fail. He is also a good base stealer. With another club in another situation, he might have 500 steals at this stage of his career. As a 35-year-old leadoff man, he swiped 30 bags in 35 attempts. The key is that Derek always hustles, even on routine grounders right at infielders. His instincts and knowledge of opponents as a baserunner are uncanny.
Is Derek a Hall of Famer? When you watch him play every day, you wonder why anyone would even ask. He may not have the gaudy statistics of A-Rod, Hanley Ramirez and other modern guys, but his numbers are exceptional, he has a handful of rings to flash at the induction ceremony, and the intangibles he brings to the Yankees in the form of leadership are acknowledged by everyone in the game.
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