Dick Groch, the New York Yankee scout who spotted Derek Jeter at a camp in Mount Morris, Michigan, knew he was seeing something special. When the Yankees’ brass expressed concern that Jeter might opt to attend college at Michigan instead of turning pro, Groch replied, “The only place he’s going is Cooperstown.” How right he was—but even the scout couldn’t have predicted how synonymous with the Yankees, and with sporting greatness, the shortstop would become.
Jeter was never the best player in the league in a given season, and he never won a regular season MVP award, but he has more than enough accolades to make Keith Olbermann and the army of Jeter haters look silly. He was Rookie of the Year in 1996, an All-Star 14 times over, earned five Gold Gloves, and has more hits than all but five men in Major League Baseball history. His five World Series rings put him behind only 20 other players, 19 of whom were Yankees. But Jeter fits right in with the best ever to wear the pinstripes, and these moments from an iconic career demonstrate why.
The First Hit
It took Jeter nearly four years to break into the majors, but when he did, he brought it. He was the missing piece of the puzzle for the 1996 championship team in his first full season, but his first hit came in 1995 against the Seattle Mariners.
The Phantom Homer
On the way to the 1996 World Series, the Yankees met the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series. The face-off started off with a controversial bang, as Jeter’s opposite-field home run in Game 1 was shown to have been scooped into the stands from above the right-fielder’s glove by 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier.
A Leadoff Subway Series Homer
The first World Series of the new millennium was an all-New York affair. The Yankees got off to a 2-0 series lead but dropped the first game at Shea Stadium to the Mets. Then came Game 4, and manager Joe Torre’s decision to make Jeter the leadoff man. No. 2 did the rest, and the Yankees were on their way to a 4-1 series win.
Jeter was always clutch, and not just in the batter’s box. In the 2001 ALDS, the Yankees led the Oakland Athletics 1-0 in the seventh inning. Terrence Long lined one into the right-field corner and Jeremy Giambi, running from first base, looked certain to score after the throw from right field missed the cutoff man. Then Jeter intervened.
The 2001 playoffs were pushed back a week after 9/11. As Game 4 of the World Series headed to extra innings at Yankee Stadium, the clock struck midnight and we saw November baseball for the first time. Jeter stepped up and hit a walk-off home run off the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Byung-hyun Kim, tying the series for a great city watching with a heavy heart.
Another chapter from the great rivalry between the Yanks and the Boston Red Sox went to extra innings at Yankee Stadium in July 2004. In the 13th inning, a Red Sox batter popped one down left field line and Jeter went to get it. He caught both the ball and a bleacher to the face as he dove into the stands.
The Yankee Hit Record
Jeter currently holds the Yankee record for stolen bases, and in 2009, he earned the hits record, as well. He singled to right field to pass the great Lou Gehrig, one of just a handful of better players to wear the pinstripes. Here’s what it looked like from the stands.
The 3,000-hit club is the definition of exclusive. Twenty-eight men have reached the mark in the history of American professional baseball. Two of them did it with a home run. One of those was Jeter, who in 2011 homered off of Tampa Bay pitcher David Price—winner of the Cy Young Award the following year—and wrote his name on a special page of the history books.
The ‘Derek Jeter Day’ Speech
The Yankees couldn’t be sure of how their season was going to end in 2014, though they were always a long shot for the playoffs. They wanted to be sure that Jeter—who had announced in February he would retire at the end of the season—would be properly honored and that the fans would have their chance to say goodbye, so they christened September 7 “Derek Jeter Day.” The captain had the opportunity to address the crowd and Yankees faithful everywhere.
The Walk-Off Goodbye
The script, it seemed, was written. September 25 was Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium, and the fans had been chanting his name for what felt like three hours straight. David Robertson had contrived to give up two home runs in the top of the ninth to allow the Orioles to tie the score, and now Jeter was up with the game on the line and a runner on second. No one had any doubts, but it took everyone’s breath away all the same.
So long to a winner, a superstar, a gentleman, and a Yankee.