Back in the spring of 1992, Tigers great Hal Newhouser was working as a scout for the Houston Astros, and he saw something special in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He reported back to the front office that Derek Jeter, a skinny shortstop who played for Kalamazoo Central High School, would be the keystone to a winning ball club. Newhouser told his boss, Dan O’Brien, that “He’s a special player and a special kid with a great presence.” Just before the draft, partially due to the scholarship that the University of Michigan had offered him, O’Brien informed Newhouser that the Astros would draft Phil Nevin, not Derek Jeter, because Nevin had agreed to a $700,000 signing bonus, and they expected Jeter to ask for a $1 million signing bonus. Newhouser, who loved to drive to watch high school games, quit his job and left baseball for the final time.
Derek Jeter first burst onto my radar in 1993, when opening a pack of 1993 Topps Series 1, I pulled card #93. I saw the name, but it did not register because it was a draft pick card. I flipped it over and saw two things; One: he was a Yankee, which made me go BLECH!, and Two: Derek Jeter was from Kalamazoo, MI. Still, his card was a draft pick card, and in recent years, not too many first round picks that had cards panned out, so I wasn’t too excited. I kept my ears open.
The “Core Four”
Jeter made the jump to the Yankees from the minors briefly in 1995, and captured the starting shortstop job in 1996, replacing Tony Fernandez. He, along with the other members of what became known as the “Core Four” (Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada) helped lead the Yankees to their first World Series appearance since 1981, and their first title since 1978. Now I started to pay attention, as did the rest of America, Yankees fan or not. Derek Jeter became a household name, in some places beloved (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut), and in some places worse than some four-letter words (Boston, Maine, almost all of New England). The “Core Four” would take the Yankees to five titles together before Father Time started calling them into retirement; Derek Jeter is the final active member.
Derek Jeter’s name became synonymous with several adjectives: classy, respected, clutch performer. He became the Yankees captain in 2003, succeeding Don Mattingly, who had retired in 1995. With Jeter at shortstop, day in, day out, the Yankees won 13 more AL East crowns, including 9 straight from 1998 to 2006, 7 more AL pennants, and 5 more World Series. They only missed two postseasons during his time in the Big Apple, 2008 and 2013. He shined in the postseason, batting .308 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs over 33 postseason series.
The House That Derek Jeter Built
The old Yankee Stadium was known as “The House That Ruth Built”. Perhaps the new Yankee Stadium should be known as “The House That Jeter Built”. Attendance soared. The Yankees were winning again. The cog in the machine at shortstop was an essential piece of the machine. Year in and year out, you could count on Derek Jeter’s name being in the boxscore for a game the next day. In his 19 seasons in the big leagues, he has only had 3 seasons he spent a good amount of time on the disabled list (2003, 2011, and 2013). When he was hot, the Yankees were hot, and when he was injured, the team reflected that as well.
Derek Jeter leaves the game as the all-time leader in hits, games played, at-bats, and stolen bases for the Yankees, which says a lot when you sit and think who has worn the pinstripes. His current lifetime batting average of .312 with over 250 home runs and over 3,000 hits, plus the lack of PED-rumors, ensures that Jeter will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2019. I don’t doubt this, nor would I ever argue it. If anyone is deserving of a 100% ballot, it would be Jeter. He is currently 10th on the all-time hit list, and a poor season of 120 hits will jump him to fifth all-time. Jeter has been selected to 13 All-Star games, was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, won 5 gold Gloves, and 3 Silver Slugger Awards. I am certain, even with a poor performance this season, he will be named to a 14th All-Star Game, to be given a similar sendoff as Mariano Rivera was last year.
The Final Years
In the 2012 ALCS, he broke his ankle in Game 1 against our Tigers, and though it was a kind of relief to not see Jeter in the lineup, I could not cheer over the injury. Even though the Yankees collapsed after it, and our boys went on to the World Series, I could not cheer. It was Derek Jeter, the boy from Kalamazoo who dreamed of being the Yankee shortstop since he was a kid. It was the classiest player since Cal Ripken Jr. It was the player who stayed clean, while other superstars of the era juiced, while his own teammates were rubbing on cream or eating performance-enhancing gummies. He did not deserve to have his season end with that injury, which affected him through 2013, causing him to only play in 17 games, and has partially led to his decision to retire after 2014.
The Yankees come to town in August for a three-game series, their only time in Detroit this season. Tickets right now are $38 dollars a pop for okay seats. You better believe Swami plans on going to one game in the series, arriving 2 hours early for BP…and yes, Swami will have 1993 Topps #93 with me. I won’t even wear my Tigers jersey that day. Also like Rivera last year, Derek Jeter will deserve an ovation at his final game in each ballpark he visits this year. I expect a large one at Fenway, fittingly his final game. I hope to be at the final one at CoPa. Guru said it best, when he said to me “It’s like that bridge between my childhood and adulthood has closed.”, because that is exactly how it feels, even as a Tigers fan. If the Yankees win it all this year, it would be a fitting end to a stellar career, and in the Series, I would be cheering for that, because the great players deserve to go out on top, and Derek Jeter is one of them.
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