“The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter”
By Ian O’Connor
416 pages, $26
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
It’s rare that a biography of a sports superstar is bereft of scandal. Tales of steroid use, infidelity and gluttony often dwarf the tales of on-field heroics.
But in Ian O’Connor’s exhaustive bio, “The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter” (published today), the 36-year-old’s dedication to the diamond trumps all.
Jeter, who was garnering attention in high school for his baseball IQ, agility and maturity, is depicted as a golden child who gave a floundering organization a new heartbeat during some dismal years. Playing shortstop for the Yanks, as he has since 1996, was a dream from childhood for Jeter, who wore a Yankees pendant in high school and slept in pinstriped boxers.
“We’re expecting big things from you,” owner George Steinbrenner told Jeter the day they met, O’Connor writes — it was a rather high expectation from The Boss that “scared Jeter” to death.
While Jeter always appears composed on the field, the biography exposes some of his frailties, such as his apparent thin skin as an adult and his out-of-control emotions while struggling in the minors. During his first year, the homesick 18-year-old would cry himself to sleep at night, running up $400 monthly bills calling his family back in Kalamazoo, Mich.
His Yankees career — complete with five championships, millions of dollars and dalliances with some of the nation’s most attractive women — has been largely drama-free, until his “friend” Alex Rodriguez joined the Bombers’ infield in 2004.
Close when they were young superstars, the relationship between Rodriguez and Jeter was destroyed when A-Rod knocked Jeter’s abilities during a 2000 “Esquire” interview.
Despite Rodriguez’s apology, the friction remained when he was traded to the Yanks, to the point that Jeter was advised to “fake it” by general manager Brian Cashman and coach Don Mattingly when it came to their relationship.
“Derek has the whole city to himself. Alex represented a threat to that,” an unnamed Jeter teammate told O’Connor. Rodriguez is depicted as insecure and obsessed with Jeter, constantly demanding to know everything his teammate is up to.
Five rings later and in the first year of a four-year deal, the “threat” has abated — even as Jeter’s skills fade.