It’s a name that transcends sports.
With a franchise known for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter carved out his own unique legacy.
For two decades, Jeter was the most visible player on the most valuable franchise in sports. He had more hits than any player in the storied team’s long history, led the franchise to five world championships and was at his best in the biggest moments.
Yet, he was so much more than that. Jeter’s greatness and value to New Yorkers of a certain age transcends wins, statistics and accolades on the back of a baseball card. For many, he is emblematic of a certain era in the late 1990s and early 2000s when public perception of the city was transitioning from gritty and downtrodden to glamorous and world class.
After the Yankees drafted the shy, skinny, biracial 18-year-old from Western Michigan in 1992, few imagined he would be the centerpiece of a group of young players that would reestablish the Yankees as baseball’s greatest team. Nor did many imagine he would do it with such a style and grace that he would become one of sports’ few crossover celebrities.
No one was better at seizing the moment than Jeter. He quickly won the hearts of Yankee fans when he hit a home run on Opening Day of his Rookie of the Year season in 1996, the same season he helped the Yankees win their first world championship since 1978. He went on to win the hearts of just about every New Yorker, except maybe a few hardcore Mets fans.
Jeter was tabloid royalty, the kind of figure whose every move and date were chronicled and the subject of conjecture. He somehow managed to be both sexy and squeaky clean. Unlike other star players of baseball’s steroid era, he avoided any hint of scandal or controversy. Despite playing 20 years in the media capital of the world, he never let his fans down.
Jeter was never regarded as the best player in any season. He never finished higher than second place in the American League MVP voting. Yet all but one of the 397 voters had Jeter on their Hall of Fame ballots. Not even Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio or Mantle received that kind of endorsement.
And so we celebrate Jeter here, celebrate how he returned a championship mentality to both baseball and New York at a time when both needed it.