When Derek Jeter woke up in his Trump Plaza penthouse this morning, he officially (and unbelievably) began the 35th year of his insanely awesome life.
A first-round selection in the 1992 draft, Jeter has been nothing less than the face of the New York Yankees since 1996 when, at 21, he captured the American League Rookie of the Year award and a World Series title.
The 11th captain in Yankees history, Jeter has four rings, a Silver Slugger award, and three Gold Gloves, not to mention a laundry list of beautiful women accumulated during his 13 years and counting run as New York's most eligible bachelor.
Even more impressive, Jeter's done it all with grace, never embarrassing himself and never presenting himself as bigger than his peers, even if he clearly is. If Michael Jackson was the rare true triple threat in the music industry —singer, dancer, composer—Jeter is his equal in the sports world: Talented, successful, respected. The Yankees couldn't have a better person representing the franchise.
To celebrate the shortstop's big day, River & Sunset has compiled a list of Jeter's most memorable moments in pinstripes.
10. The 1992 First-Year Player Draft
Question: What do Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, B.J. Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Chad Mottola all have in common? No, they aren't notorious serial killers. Incredibly, all five were drafted ahead of Derek Sanderson Jeter, a skinny shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Of the above players, only Nevin had any modicum of big-league success, hitting 208 homers over 12 seasons. Astros scout Hal Newhouser famously quit when the team selected the Cal State Fullerton star over Jeter. Elsewhere, Mottola had a brilliant career...in the minor leagues. Hammonds and Shuey had extended utterly faceless careers. No. 3 pick Wallace doesn't even have a Wikipedia page...that can't be good.
9. Ken Bleeping Huckaby
Jeter was one of baseball's greatest stars by 2003, and also among the most durable, playing in no fewer than 148 games each season of his career. But Toronto Blue Jays reserve catcher Ken Huckaby changed all that on opening day.
Jeter was on first base when Jason Giambi—hitting against the typically-employed extreme shift—grounded back to Roy Halladay, who threw to first. With third base unoccupied, Jeter instinctively made a sprint for the bag. Unfortunately, Huckaby did as well and in a head-first slide, Jeter's left shoulder met Huckaby's shin guard.
Jeter was badly injured, dislocating the shoulder. He would miss six weeks and 36 games. Huckaby, somewhat unfairly, was maligned for the play. Come to think of it, I never saw the guy again. Hmmm...
8. Chad Curtis Spat
One of the most amazing things about Jeter's career has been his ability to avoid bad press. The guy simply never says or does the wrong thing; he is the anti-A-Rod in every imaginable way.
That's what made the sordid tale of Curtis vs. Jeter so odd.
Curtis was a productive role player for the Yankees in the late 90s, but also known to be a serious and religious man with an "old school" approach to the game. When a rift between then-catcher Joe Girardi and Mariners reliever Frankie Rodriguez escalated into an all-out brawl in 1999, Curtis was furious to see Jeter palling around with then-buddy A-Rod after the fight broke up.
According to Buster Olney's fine book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," Curtis confronted Jeter, first in the dugout and then in front of reporters in the clubhouse. The rift was eventually smoothed over, but awkwardness remained. Curtis went on to have one more notable moment in pinstripes—he launched a walk-off homer in Game Three of the World Series that fall—but he was discarded after the season nonetheless.
The lesson? Don't cross Derek Jeter. Like, ever.
7. 2006 American League Most Valuable Player...Well, in a Better World
In terms of production, Jeter has had two standout seasons. The first came in 1999, when he set career bests with a .349 average, 24 homers, 219 hits and 134 runs. Unfortunately, his numbers were lost in the PED shuffle, finishing sixth in the AL MVP balloting behind the sullied likes of winner Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Rafael Palmiero.
Jeter's other benchmark campaign came in 2006—in retrospect really the final season of his prime. At 32 years old, Jeter batted .343 with 14 homers, 97 RBI, 214 hits, 118 runs and a career-best 34 steals. He captured his first and only Silver Slugger award at shortstop and his third straight Gold Glove. He was the glue of that Yankee team, leading them to their most recent AL East title.
Despite that, the captain finished a close second to Twins slugger Justin Morneau in the MVP race. A-Rod had won the MVP the season before, and I always thought Jeter was hurt by the voters relative unwillingness to hand out back-to-back MVPs to teammates. That's right, I said it. Anti-Yankee treachery was afoot!
6. "The Dive"
It is a signature Jeter moment, Yankees vs. Red Sox, July 1, 2004. In the 12th inning of a thriller the Yankees would go on to win in 13 innings, Trot Nixon lifted a pop-up along the third-base line that Jeter locked in on. He sprinted toward the wall and caught the ball in full stride before going head-long into the hard plastic blue seats of the old Stadium.
It was a scary moment—A-Rod's startled reaction was particularly memorable—and Jeter came out of the stands looking like a bloodied and bruised warrior. Which, of course, is what he is...the captain was back in the lineup the next day.
5. Subway Series MVP
Let's face it, the 2000 Yankees were not an especially great team. By far the weakest team of the dynasty run (even the '01 World Series losers were better), the Yankees had nonetheless scratched their way back to the Fall Classic to face the Mets. Jeter was one of the main reasons for that.
Firmly in his prime, Jeter batted .339 with 201 hits and 119 runs during the regular season and he continued his production in the World Series, batting .409 (9-for-22). His leadoff homer in the decisive fifth game—flashbulbs popping all around him through each of the decks of Shea Stadium—is another of the iconic Jeter images.
4. Luis Bleeping Gonzalez
By 2001, Derek Jeter was professional sports' ultimate winner. He had played in five full seasons and had won World Series titles in four of them. He was the face of success...all of which made that season's Fall Classic against the Arizona Diamondbacks even more surreal.
Without getting too much into the gory details, we all know the series went the distance, and Mariano Rivera was handed the ball with the lead in the ninth inning of the seventh game in Arizona. That still hurts even to type.
Then came Luis Gonzalez's broken-bat flair over Jeter's head, touching down just past the infield dirt and setting off a wild celebration by the home team. Derek Jeter had lost. It was a modern day Mighty Casey scenario. Jeter's teams have become no stranger to failure in the subsequent years, but it always remains an odd sight to see such a proud player fall short.
3. The Jeffrey Maier game
Jeter was already a star by the time he stepped into the batter's box against Baltimore's Armando Benitez in Game One of the 1996 ALCS. What happened next would make the rookie shortstop—and a punk kid in Yankee Stadium's right-field stands—household names.
With the Yanks down a run, Jeter lifted a pitch deep to right. The drive appeared to not quite have home run distance, and sure enough right fielder Tony Tarasco was camping under the ball at the wall. But that's when 12-year-old Maier came in, reaching over the wall and knocking the ball out of play.
Umpire Rich Garcia blew the call, ruling it a homer, and baseball history was made. Talented, handsome, and lucky? He was just 22, and already Jeter had it all.
2. Mr. November
The 2001 World Series was filled with memorable moments, so it can't be much of a surprise that Jeter would ultimately be involved in one of them. The September 11 terrorist attacks pushed the Fall Classic back a week, and so it was that Jeter stepped into the box at midnight on November 1 during the 10th inning of Game 4. With the score tied 3-3, Jeter took an offering from D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim and lifted it into the right-field seats for a dramatic walk-off solo blast. The stadium was rocking and "Mr. November" was born.
1. "The Flip"
It was the play that signified everything that makes Jeter special. It was Game Three of the 2001 ALDS, and the Yankees had their backs against the wall, down two games to none.
With Mike Mussina nursing a 1-0 lead and Jeremy Giambi on first base, Terrence Long lined a ball down the right-field line and into the corner. Shane Spencer dug it out and fired back wildly to the infield, missing both cutoff men. It was an error that in most every case would allow Giambi to score without a play.
But Jeter was two steps ahead, sprinting to the first-base line to scoop up the dribbling ball before shoveling it backhanded to Jorge Posada. The Yankees catcher tagged Giambi—who inexplicably didn't slide—on the leg just before he touched the plate.
New York went on to win the game, series and pennant. It is perhaps the most iconic Derek Jeter moment, and a true measure of his legendary instinctive nature.
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