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Mudville: July 19, 2024 5:28 am PDT

The Captain

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 48, 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 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 Yankee 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.

Nevertheless, a seven-part documentary series about Jeter, his Hall of Fame career, and his family aired this past summer on ESPN (“The Captain”), and Jeter and A-Rod, as Alex Rodriguez has come to be known, seemed to have at least partially reconciled prior to the airing of that documentary. Despite their having shared the same stage by now on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball alternative broadcast (the “KayRodCast”) and just prior to the 2022 World Series on FOX, it’s doubtful Jeter and A-Rod will ever be close friends again.

Alex Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners and Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees pose together for photos on July 21, 1995 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Crandall/Getty Images)

But the more surprising aspect of “The Captain” is how much Derek Jeter and his family and friends revealed throughout the series about the Yankee captain, his personal life, and his private thoughts. Ever the professional in any context, Jeter is the master of making a public statement without expressing any opinion or any private spin at all. And yet on “The Captain,” much was revealed about the well-known baseball figure and we, the audience, were brought into his and his family’s lives in a way that we’d never been before.

Married since 2016 and now the father of three young daughters, prior to that Jeter had become famous for his relationships with high-profile female personalities in the modeling, music, and film industries. It had always 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’d received such a basket?

In “The Captain” Jeter laughs and denies ever having sent the gift baskets and claims he never understood how that particular rumor ever got started. The truth is, we’ll never really know for sure whether there were any gift baskets; but it’s still the stuff of Yankee urban legends.

Yankee fans – and indeed baseball fans of other teams – will recall Jeter’s 2008 speech the last day the Yankees played in their original Bronx stadium. Famed throughout 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.

Alex Rodriguez #13 and Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees look on from the dugout during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 12, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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. At the end of February 2022, however, he stepped down from the Marlins’ CEO position and relinquished his partial ownership in the team, citing as his reason 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.

Former New York Yankee Jorge Posada visits with CEO Derek Jeter of the Miami Marlins during the game between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays at loanDepot park on June 23, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

“I only had one goal in my career — to win more than anyone else … and we did,” Jeter said at the outdoor festivities at Clark Sports Center, about a mile south of the Hall of Fame – when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021.

Many other thoughts about winning and focusing on the end game have been shared by Jeter since that speech, through a speech at Yankee Stadium this past summer, and through his own, recently launched social media. Jeter’s also expressed his ideas about winning and always striving to be your best on “The Captain” and on the various national sports broadcasts on which he’s recently appeared.

One thing we can definitively 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 have ultimately been pretty consistent through the years. Will he return to baseball, perhaps even in a broadcaster capacity, in the coming months or years? That’s anyone’s guess. But this much is for sure: Whatever Derek Jeter decides to do next, he’ll do it with the same clear goal of winning as he’s done everything else in his life.

BallNine's fearless editor. Sports addict who's lived on both coasts (though loyal to her hometown New York City teams). Writer of many articles on education. Speaker of little bits of many languages.

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