New York Yankees fan have been embarrassingly blessed. It seems that every generation there is a home grown player that becomes adopted by New York as that generation’s “golden child”. On Saturday, by hitting a home run to left field on a 3-2 pitch from David Price, we saw the latest Yankees legend do something that had never been done before. In fact, this milestone had only been accomplished 27 times in the history of Major League Baseball.
In the 1920s to the 1930s, there was Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. From the late 1930s to the beginning of the 1950s, Joe DiMaggio stole the hearts of New York. From the early 1950s to the end of the 1960s, Mickey Mantle patrolled centerfield. In 1970 until his untimely death on August 2, 1979, Thurman Munson became the unwanted hero of New York City. In the mid-1980s until 1995, a left-handed first baseman named Don Mattingly became the latest home grown hero as he was the heart and soul of the Yankees teams that never won. Since 1996, there is one player that has held the hearts of Yankees fans and is still introduced by Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium. That player’s name is Derek Jeter.
Besides being the first Yankee player to achieve the milestone of 3,000 career hits, he is only the 10th player in history to have 3,000 hits that have played with only one team. He joins Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken, George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Craig Biggio, Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente on that list (in order of hits). It is not his ability to achieve history that has brought him into the hearts of New Yorkers and Yankees fans everywhere. He is in the hearts of Yankees fans because when Yankees fans think of what the definition of a Yankee is, they think of Derek Jeter (and Mariano Rivera, but we will save his article for his 602nd save).
In 1992, a scout named Dick Groch was watching a shortstop in Kalamazoo, Michigan named Derek Jeter. There were discussions within the Yankees staff that Jeter may go with a scholarship to University of Michigan. They had the 6th pick in the draft and the rumors were that he may fall to them at #6 because other teams would pass on a first round pick they could not sign. When the Yankees management asked Groch about the possibilities of Jeter going to Michigan and not signing, Groch replied, “The only place this player is going is Coopertown.” Almost 20 years later, Groch is 100% correct. From the time he was five years old, Jeter told everyone that he would be the shortstop of the Yankees. He was drafted by the Yankees as the 6th pick of the 1992 draft. He joined the Yankees in 1995 and became the starting shortstop in 1996. It was rumored that he was given the number 2 because it was the lowest number not yet retired. Many in the organization felt Jeter had the ability to have his number retired along with the Yankee greats if Groch was correct.
So many Yankees moments in the past 15 years have been centered around Jeter. In the 1996 ALCS, Jeter hit a ball to right field that was incorrectly ruled a home run. The famous Jeffrey Maier play helped the Yankees win game one and begin their quest for the 1996 World Series. There were two separate incidents in which Jeter ended up in the stands catching foul balls. Everyone remembers July 1, 2004 where Jeter dove into the stands head first against the Red Sox and in Game 5 of the 2001 Divisional Playoffs he fell into the stand making a backhanded catch against the Athletics. How about “the Flip”? Yankees fans remember when Jeter was in the right place at the right time. On the run, he intercepted an overthrow by Shane Spencer and flipped backhanded to Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi. “The Flip” was voted into the Top ten of Baseball Weekly’s Most Amazing Plays of All-Time and won the 2002 ESPY for Play of the Year. In the 2001 World Series, just after the stroke of midnight, Jeter hit a home run to give the Yankees the Game 4 victory. That swing game Jeter the nickname “Mr. November.” He has led the Yankees to five World Series championships while being the face of the organization.
Jeter holds the Yankees records for the most hits, singles and stolen bases. He is one of six players to have over 2,700 hits, 1,500 runs, 220 home runs, 300 steals and 1,000 runs batted in. He has the most hits by any player to ever wear a Yankees uniform. He has the most career hits in the old Yankee Stadium. He has played the most career games by a shortstop. He has never caused a distraction from the team. He has never been arrested. He has never had his life issues on the back page of the newspaper. He always looks the same and speaks the same way. When he speaks on his bosses, he always says “Mister” whether referring to a manager, general manager or owner. He has charitable foundations and tries to use his name and fame for good purposes. He was the player chosen to speak when closing the old Yankee Stadium. He was the player asked to speak when honoring George Steinbrenner. He is the player that all press outlets want to talk to and he is the player that all fans care about.
So, what is it about Jeter that Yankees fans love and Yankees haters respect? Starting with the quest for the 3,000th hit, he only wanted to get the hit in front of the New York fans. He felt that the Yankees fans deserved to see him get the hit at home. He even admitted to feeling the pressure to make sure that it happened in The Bronx. He knew he would get it one day, but wanted it to be shared with the fans that he has known for 17 years. Yankees fans love that devotion and the haters can only respect it.
Jeter always puts the team first. He always wants to talk about the team accomplishments over his own. He never wants to speak about personal accomplishments on a day the Yankees lose. To Jeter, it is all about championships and to Jeter himself, a season is not successful without a World Series ring. That is what the Yankees fans cling to, a player that wants to pinstripes to be more important than the number on his back. Those are the players that the Yankees fans are drawn to. There are players that you believe would do anything for a victory and Jeter is one of those players.
The 3,000th hit was a home run. The ball went to a 23 year old Yankees fan. The fan gave the ball to Jeter. “It didn’t cross my mind until they asked me what I wanted,” he said. “The only thing I could think of was a few signed balls would be nice, and to meet him. It wasn’t about the money. It was about a milestone and I wasn’t going to take that away from him. Money’s cool and all, but I’m only 23 years old. I have a lot of time to make that.” “Mr. Jeter deserved it,” Lopez said. “It’s all his.” That is what Yankees fans think of Derek Jeter. They love him. Whether it is in a contract debate or a celebration, they love him.
Fifteen playoff appearances, 12 All-Star appearances, 5 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers, 2 Hank Aaaron Awards, 2000 All-Star and World Series MVP, 5 World Series Championships and over 3,000 hits are some of his career highlights. He has been the Yankees Captain since 2003 and is the All-Time leader in hits for the Yankees. In the New Yankee Stadium Monument Park, there is an open space for a future monument. That spot is reserved for Jeter. There will never be a”2” worn on a Yankees uniform after Jeter retires. That is, until he becomes a coach or manager or until he starts to visit for Old-Timers Day.
Derek Jeter. 3.000 hits. Congratulations and we all can only hope for many, many more.