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Derek Jeter was the face of the Yankees

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees during

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees during batting practice before the game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 7, 2014 at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Getty Images

It started as a concept from some advertising person. A marketing slogan to sum up the place in history of a retiring athlete. Who knows how many other ideas were tried and rejected?

"Respect.''

One word with one tweak: For this retiring athlete -- Derek Jeter, the 40-year-old captain of the Yankees -- the word became "Re2pect," with the "S'' morphing into a "2'' in honor of his uniform number.

It was uncomplicated and elegant, like the man.

It was a winner, like the man.

Because as much as five World Series rings and more than 3,450 hits, respect is what Derek Jeter has been about in the 20 seasons in which he has put on a Yankees uniform.

Not the respect he gets.

The respect he has given.

Respect for the game and its history. Respect for the fans. Respect for the Yankees' organization. Respect for his teammates, his opponents, his managers. For his family and for himself. Even a grudging respect for the media.

That is why Jeter has been cheered and revered in multiple major-league ballparks this season since announcing his retirement in February on Facebook -- a medium that hadn't been invented when he made his Yankees debut on May 29, 1995, in Seattle's long-since-imploded Kingdome.

Has it sometimes been a bit much? Sure. When reverence turns to worship, it can be hard to remember the actual flesh-and-blood individual being celebrated in the first place. It can be easy to roll the eyes and mock. It can be easy to not get it.

Derek Jeter is not the greatest player in baseball history. He is not the greatest player in Yankees history. He is what he is -- a great player who was the centerpiece of a great team.

But there's more to the story. More to the man. And that's why fans, players, executives, the grudging media and an entire sport took the time this summer to tip their caps, both in the spot-on TV commercial and in real life.

It's about respect.

"There's a lot of players that are good players, they go about their business,'' said Paul O'Neill, Jeter's former teammate. "It's just there was something about him. He has charisma, he has a personality. There was always a smile. Immediately, off the baseball level, he was kind of a pop guy. He was on magazine covers. He was everywhere. He was never overwhelmed by that.''

Oh, sure, there are all the hits and rings and the Jeffrey Maier home run and the Flip Play and "Mr. November'' and the dive into the stands against the Red Sox and the home run for his 3,000th hit and the dating life filled with famous names . . .

"But that's not why he's Derek Jeter,'' longtime Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman said. "Everybody had great moments. It's just who in this world, in this day and age, can play in this market for 20 years and never do a wrong thing, never say a wrong thing, never be in the wrong place, always is there with the fans? He's always talking to little kids. He's done it since the day he came in. Twenty years of this. These little kids are now grown up.

"All those little things wouldn't matter if he didn't have five rings and 3,000 hits and passed everybody in the record books, but it does matter. I think it's just as important. And maybe that's how he did it. There's got to be a reason more than he's a great player that every shortstop in the world has No. 2 on the back of his uniform. There's something else besides being a great player or the world would say, 'That's nice.' ''

The world said a lot more to Jeter this season. From spring training in Tampa to the (sometimes cheesy) visiting ballpark ceremonies to the All-Star Game in Minneapolis to Derek Jeter Day on Sept. 7 at Yankee Stadium to his final home games, Jeter has been honored all year long.

His last game is scheduled for Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston.

"The last day will be the toughest,'' said Mariano Rivera, Jeter's former teammate, who retired after last season. "That, definitely, he will find out.''

Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "He's going to be missed, there's no doubt about it. But the game will go on. One individual is never bigger than the game, even though he has meant as much to this game as I can remember over the last 20 years.''

Born to be a Yankee

By now you probably know the backstory. Derek Sanderson Jeter was born in Pequannock Township, New Jersey, on June 26, 1974. The family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, when Jeter was 4, but he continued to spend parts of his summers in New Jersey.

Jeter said he became a Yankees fan because his maternal grandmother, Dorothy Connors, used to take him to Yankee Stadium to see players such as Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry.

Connors and Winfield were among the guests on hand for Derek Jeter Day.

When Jeter was 9 and in fourth grade, he stood in front of his class at St. Augustine Cathedral School and said he planned to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.

"It was something you sort of just knew was going to happen,'' Shirley Garzelloni, Jeter's teacher at the time, told Newsday in 2012. "When it happened, it almost wasn't a big surprise. It was something he was talking about forever.''

In the 1989 Kalamazoo Central High School yearbook, Jeter wears a Yankees jacket in a photo of student leaders.

The Yankees drafted him with the No. 6 overall pick in 1992 and Jeter reached the majors three years later. Signs of the player he would become already were evident.

"I met Derek before he became the Derek Jeter you know with 100 other players at rookie career development,'' Winfield said. "He was the most inquisitive, the most interested in the game, he knew the history. He just wanted to be all he could be. I can look now 20 years later -- he's achieved everything and more than he ever envisioned.''

Worked hard to improve

Jeter has always credited his family -- father Charles, mother Dorothy, younger sister Sharlee -- with keeping him grounded. "You talk to them for five minutes and you know why he is who he is,'' Waldman said. "They're always there. They're so important. Everything is the parents.''

In 1993, Jeter made 56 errors in 126 games for Class A Greensboro. There were those inside the organization and out who said the 6-3 Jeter was too tall to play shortstop, that he would have to move to third base or centerfield.

But Jeter wanted to be the shortstop of the Yankees. So he worked hard with minor-league instructor Brian Butterfield -- now the third-base coach of the Red Sox -- and reduced his error total in 1994 to 25 in 138 games at three levels, including his first taste of Triple-A.

Jeter also hit .344, cementing his status as the No. 4 prospect in baseball heading into 1995, according to Baseball America magazine.

Wearing uniform No. 2, he went 0-for-5 in his first major-league game, an 8-7, 12-inning loss to the Mariners in Seattle. The next day, Jeter went 2-for-3 with a walk. His first big-league hit -- a ground single to left -- came in the fifth inning against Tim Belcher.

Jeter stayed with the playoff-bound Yankees until June 11 before being returned to Triple-A. He came up again with the September call-ups and appeared in two more games, finishing his first major-league action with a .250 average in 48 at-bats.

Then-manager Buck Showalter decided to keep Jeter with the team, but not as an active player, during the organization's first postseason series since 1981. Jeter watched the Yankees lose a thrilling five-game Division Series to the Mariners.

In 1996, Jeter went into spring training as the favorite to start at shortstop under new manager Joe Torre.

The rest is history. Baseball history.

Opening impact

After he had a lackluster spring training, Jeter's first Opening Day was snowed out in Cleveland. On the next day, in frigid conditions, the 21-year-old hit a home run and made a running, over-the-shoulder catch in short leftfield to spark a Yankees victory.

When asked to name his top Jeter moment recently, Girardi -- then the Yankees' catcher -- chose that one.

"You can look back to the first game he played as a starting shortstop in '96,'' Girardi said. "The home run he hits on a cold day. We were snowed out the day before and it was like, 'Damn, this kid, nothing fazes him, in a sense.' ''

The veteran Yankees soon learned the rookie was unlike most they had come across.

"Just his personality when he was really young,'' Girardi said. "How he used to walk around the clubhouse and sing. I found that interesting. I think the most amazing thing I've always said about Derek is his ability to relax in every moment. No matter what the situation is, he's always been able to relax.''

Said O'Neill: "You never know what to expect. You always hear about prospects and what they'll become. The can't-misses that do miss. You never dream that a kid's going to become a Hall of Famer. You knew immediately that he wasn't scared of the situation of playing with the Yankees. He was a very, very intense competitor and a great guy to play with.

"As a sports person, you always say there's no switch you can turn off and on. Derek Jeter, to me, had a switch where he could do everything all day and then hit a switch when it was time to play the game. His popularity was so much greater than anybody else's -- he was the face of the Yankees -- but he never put himself above anybody else.''

The Jeffrey Maier game

Jeter hit .314 with 10 homers and 78 RBIs in a Rookie of the Year season. He hit .412 in his first postseason series, .417 in his second and .250 in the Yankees' six-game victory over the Braves in the World Series.

If the pressure of the postseason got to him, no one saw it.

"The first year,'' Torre said, "the first playoff game we had against Texas, he made an error which I think kind of contributed to our losing that first game. I was asked if I felt I had to talk to him, the fact that he was a rookie and devastation and all this stuff. On his way out of the clubhouse, he peeks into my office and he says, 'Mr. Torre, get your rest tonight. Tomorrow's the most important game of your life.' And he walked out. I said, 'I don't need to talk to him.' ''

Jeter hit one home run that postseason. At least that's how the record books remember it.

Jeter's eighth-inning drive to rightfield at old Yankee Stadium in ALCS Game 1 was possibly headed for Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco's glove when a 12-year-old fan, Jeffrey Maier, reached over and pulled the ball into the stands.

The Orioles were furious, but it was ruled a game-tying home run (there was no replay review in those days). The Yankees went on to win on Bernie Williams' home run in extra innings and capture the series in five games.

Recently, Jeter was reminded of that moment before a ceremony in his honor in Baltimore. Showalter, now the Orioles' manager, joked that he was going to have Tarasco present Jeter a framed photo of the tainted home run as a retirement gift.

"I've already reaped the benefits of it, so I don't need a poster,'' Jeter said. "I've had other reminders of it.''

After the Yankees won the World Series, Jeter became one of the biggest stars in the city. It might have been a lot for a 22-year-old to handle, but part of Jeter's legacy is that he handled it just fine.

Still, Torre said he felt the need to have another talk. Just in case.

"You know -- single, good-looking, Rookie of the Year, champ -- I just wanted to make sure that he wasn't taking anything for granted,'' Torre said. "We had a very short conversation.''

Double MVP

The Yankees went on to win three consecutive World Series from 1998-2000, capping one of the greatest runs in baseball history by beating the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series.

Jeter made his first of 14 All-Star teams in 1998 and finished third in the AL MVP voting. He set career highs with 219 hits, a .349 average, 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999.

In 2000, he became the only player to be named MVP of the All-Star Game and World Series. He hit .409 with two home runs against the Mets, including a first-pitch blast in Game 4 at Shea Stadium after the Yankees had dropped Game 3.

Before the 2001 season, Jeter signed a 10-year, $189-million contact extension. He had one year to go before free agency.

The Yankees made the World Series again in 2001, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games. Jeter was involved in two plays during that postseason that will live on in memory.

The first came in the seventh inning of ALDS Game 3 in Oakland with the Yankees leading 1-0 but facing elimination. Terrence Long doubled into the rightfield corner and Jeremy Giambi tried to score from first base. The throw from Shane Spencer went over two cutoff men and bounced weakly toward the plate, but Jeter sprinted over to the first-base line, grabbed the ball on a hop and backhanded it to Jorge Posada, who tagged out the non-sliding Giambi.

"The Flip Play'' was born. The Yankees won the game, 1-0, and the series in five.

"I've seen it a lot. I was where I was supposed to be,'' Jeter said in June in his final visit to Oakland. "I'm not supposed to throw it home, but that's where I'm supposed to be. I've never been one to sit down and sing my own praises. I'm happy it was at a big moment for us. Maybe years from now, but I've just never sat down and looked at it like that.''

Jeter also hit the game-winning home run and earned the nickname "Mr. November'' in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the World Series.

 

 

The postseason had been delayed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the game began on Oct. 31. After the Yankees tied it on Tino Martinez's two-out, two-run home run off Byung-Hyun Kim in the bottom of the ninth, the calendar flipped to November as Jeter -- 1-for-15 in the series to that point -- began his 10th-inning at-bat against Kim at midnight.

Jeter -- the first man to bat in November in major-league history -- fell behind Kim 0-and-2 but battled through a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with a classic "Jeterian'' swing and a home run into the short porch in right.

After raising his right fist in the air while rounding the bases, Jeter leaped high in the air as he approached the plate and landed somewhat awkwardly in a crouch. "When I first hit it, I had no idea,'' he said at the time. "Once it goes out, it's a pretty special feeling. I never hit a walk-off home run before. I think I broke my foot hitting the plate.''

But the Diamondbacks came back from a 3-2 deficit in games and a 2-1 deficit in the ninth inning of Game 7, scoring two runs off Rivera to win the 2001 World Series.

The Yankees then made the postseason each year from 2002-07 without winning another World Series. Jeter had four rings. He wanted more.

"He was genuinely upset -- and not just for sound bites -- if you didn't win,'' said 2005 Yankee Al Leiter. "I remember flying back from Anaheim after we lost Game 5 in the Division Series. I said, 'Jetes, you had a great year.' He said, 'It didn't matter. We're going home.' And it was legit. There were no cameras.''

Promoted to Captain

As the years went by, Jeter piled up the hits and the accolades. He won the first of his five Gold Gloves in 2004. He finished second in the MVP voting in 2006, when he hit .343 with 14 homers, 97 RBIs and a career-high 34 steals.

On June 3, 2003, Jeter was named captain of the Yankees in an oddly timed ceremony in Cincinnati. Impulsive Yankees owner George Steinbrenner made the decision to anoint Jeter without much fanfare as the team's first captain since Mattingly.

Perhaps Steinbrenner was motivated by one of the few public dust-ups to ever involve Jeter.

During the offseason, Steinbrenner called out Jeter for partying too much. By this time, Jeter had been linked to many famous women, and The Boss took a shot.

It was really the only time in 20 years that Jeter's personal life was called into question.

"You think about all the time he spent there and never really did anything to embarrass his family, his team, his teammates, the organization, the city,'' Showalter said. "That's really hard to do. I don't care whether it's New York or Kansas City. There's something to be said for that.''

Jeter said he was not happy with his personal life being criticized, and the matter died down -- at least until a famous TV commercial for a credit card company aired in late May.

In the ad, Jeter is in Steinbrenner's office when The Boss asks: "How can you possibly afford to spend two nights dancing, two nights eating out and three nights just carousing with your friends?''

Jeter says nothing. He simply holds up his credit card.

Steinbrenner looks impressed. The two then are shown dancing on a conga line.

Jeter had the time to shoot the commercial because he was recovering from the first major injury of his career.

On Opening Day in 2003, Jeter dislocated his left shoulder when he slid headfirst into sprinting Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby's shin guard at third base while trying to take what had been an open base. He missed 36 games.

In 2004, Jeter suffered what could be called a far more glorious injury. With runners on second and third and two outs in the 12th inning against Boston at Yankee Stadium on July 1, Jeter ran toward the stands after Trot Nixon's pop-up. He got to the ball in fair territory -- robbing Nixon of a two-run hit in a game the Yankees would come back to win, 5-4, with a two-run 13th -- but his momentum carried him into the stands, and he made a headlong dive over the wall at full speed.

The attendance was 55,265 that night, but his face somehow hit an empty seat. The dazed Jeter emerged with the ball, not to mention a bloody chin, a bruised, swollen right cheekbone and a bruised right shoulder, and had to leave the game. "He looked like he got hit by Mike Tyson,'' Alex Rodriguez said. But after getting seven stitches in his chin, Jeter played the next night against the Mets and had two walks, a stolen base and a run scored.

As the focus often turned to the tumultuous Rodriguez and Steinbrenner's increasing feuding with Torre, Jeter continued as a steady presence at short.

His relationship with A-Rod was a source of constant intrigue. The two had been like brothers as young players, but that ended when Rodriguez blindsided Jeter with critical comments in a 2001 Esquire magazine article.

Jeter eventually forgave but never forgot, and the two were said to never be as close again. What made it worse for the more athletically gifted A-Rod -- whose career and reputation have been torpedoed by his current year-long suspension for performance-enhancing drug use -- is that he could never live up to the stature of Jeter.

"You're looking for things that he doesn't do right,'' CC Sabathia said of Jeter. "Like, 'he can't be that perfect.' The first time I really had a conversation with him, he talked to me like he knew me. I was at the All-Star Game with Grady Sizemore and it was Grady's first All-Star Game. Us three had a conversation and I remember when he walked away, me and Grady looked at each other like, 'Wow.' He's a smart guy. I think he gets people.''

A fifth ring

The Torre Era ended after another postseason loss in 2007. In 2008, under Girardi, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in Jeter's career as they closed old Yankee Stadium and prepared to move into a new $1.3-billion ballpark across the street.

Jeter, who until then was not known for public speaking, made a memorable speech after the final game at The House That Ruth Built.

"The great thing about memories is you're able to pass them along from generation to generation,'' he said. "Although things are going to change next year and we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change. That's pride, tradition and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world. We're relying on you to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories we make at the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them on from generation to generation.''

It didn't take long for the new memories. In 2009, Jeter hit .334 with 18 homers, 66 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in his age 35 season. Then he hit .407 as the Yankees beat the Phillies in six games, earning Jeter his fifth World Series ring.

His final postseason numbers are astounding. In 158 games -- nearly a full season -- Jeter hit .308 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs. That's against the best pitchers, in the toughest situations, on the biggest stages. It's why he has another nickname: "Captain Clutch.''

"What he's accomplished, as a team here and as an individual, it's pretty amazing,'' Girardi said.

Michael Jordan, the six-time NBA champion who is a friend of Jeter's, was a surprise guest on Derek Jeter Day. The two have more than sneaker deals in common. "Great athletes, great players, they thrive in pressure because they prepare themselves for pressure,'' Jordan said. "Winning thrives on great leadership. I think he's a great leader . . . This kid's done everything the right way.''

That includes how the "kid,'' then 37, picked up his 3,000th hit on July 9, 2011. Jeter, who had been struggling at the plate as No. 3,000 neared, homered to left against Rays ace David Price. He went on to go 5-for-5. Of course, one of the five proved to be the game-winning hit.

"I don't think you could have scripted it any better,'' Girardi said. "This one is already movie-ready.''

The Yankees bowed out of the playoffs early again in 2010, '11 and '12 and missed the playoffs in Jeter's final two seasons.

Unfortunately, the final image of Jeter in the postseason will be one of him in excruciating pain after he shattered his left ankle going for a ground ball in ALCS Game 1 in 2012 against the Tigers (after batting .364 in the first round).

Jeter's season was over, and the injury and its effects lingered into 2013, as he appeared in only 17 games and hit just .190.

Farewell season

Going into 2014, Jeter had an option year left on the four-year contract he had negotiated (with some acrimony) after the 2010 season. (At that time, Jeter admitted he was angry at general manager Brian Cashman for suggesting the shortstop was welcome to test the open market if he didn't like the Yankees' offer.)

Jeter chose to return for $12 million and vowed to be ready by Opening Day. He announced on Feb. 12 that this would be his last year. The Yankees and Major League Baseball immediately began to prepare to honor Jeter, who tried to enjoy the hoopla amid the more important work of playing for the only team he ever wanted to be a member of -- a dream that came true.

Jeter ends his career as the Yankees' all-time leader in hits, games, at-bats, singles, doubles and stolen bases. He passed Honus Wagner this August for sixth on baseball's all-time hits list.

 

"I never saw Babe Ruth playing,'' Rivera said, "or Joe DiMaggio, or Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, but I saw Derek playing for 19 years in the big leagues and some years in the minor leagues. All I saw was determination and desire to be the best.''

Despite league-average statistics, Jeter was able to stay healthy and play regularly in his age-40 season. He was elected by fans to start the All-Star Game and went 2-for-2 to raise his Midsummer Classic batting average to .481 (13-for-27).

On Derek Jeter Day -- staged in early September to avoid conflicting with a pennant race that the Yankees turned out not to be a part of -- Jeter took to the microphone again.

In front of a sellout crowd, Jeter thanked his family, the Yankees and the fans. He mentioned one person by name -- Steinbrenner.

"In my opinion,'' Jeter said, "I've had the greatest job in the world. I got a chance to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees, and there's only one of those. And I always felt as though it was my job, was to try to provide joy and entertainment for you guys, but it can't compare to what you brought me. So for that, thank you very much. I've loved what I've done. I love what I do. More importantly, I've loved doing it for you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you very much.''

As the crowd chanted his name, Jeter waited a few minutes. Then he told the crowd, "We've got a game to play.''

And Derek Jeter started to get ready to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.

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