Monday, June 13, 2011

Steinbrenner's Alternate Choice For Captain

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Derek Jeter was named captain of the New York Yankees on June 3, 2003. The announcement came out of left field, in Cincinnati, where Joe Torre acknowledged he was not even consulted on George Steinbrenner’s appointment.

Not even six months after he publicly questioned whether Jeter was fit to be captain, and whether Jeter partied too much for his own good, Steinbrenner had cut against his own grain for the sake of old times. He was firing and rehiring Billy Martin all over again.

“It’s something I’ll always treasure,” Jeter said of the captaincy, “and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”

Strangely enough, entering spring training, Steinbrenner had floated Roger Clemens as his possible choice for captain to a couple of people inside the organization. Clemens over Jeter would have been a terrible judgment call, as the Rocket had established himself with the Red Sox and was not an everyday player. But the Boss adored Clemens’s John Wayne swagger. The thought did not gain any traction, and the homegrown Yankee was left as the logical choice.

from The Captain

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why Cleveland didn't draft Jeter at No. 2

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Cleveland had the number-two pick, and its young scouting director, Mickey White, saw Derek Jeter play on an injured ankle on a soaked field. White liked what he saw, but not as much as the Indians scouts who had watched Jeter run on two healthy feet.

Bill Livesey was there with White on that same ungodly afternoon, but the Yankee scouting director was experienced enough to catch Jeter again three days later. White was in his second year on the job, and he confessed that his time management skills left something to be desired. He did not return to Kalamazoo.

White had heard Houston would take Jeter at number 1, anyway, and later came to believe — despite Dan O’Brien’s claims to the contrary — that the Astros picked Nevin because they thought he would be easier to sign than Jeter.

Either way, Cleveland had drafted Manny Ramirez the year before and Jim Thome in 1989 and was more interested in pitching. The Indians wanted the best arm in the country, and that arm belonged to Paul Shuey, a right-hander out of the University of North Carolina. Shuey had his mechanical flaws, but he had a Juan Marichal leg kick that made his 95-mile-per-hour heater that much harder to see.

When you talk about the draft, White said, “it’s like you’re in a Fidelity Mutual discussion and you’re trying to figure out what an investment is going to reap.” The Indians thought a power closer out of the Atlantic Coast Conference was a better investment than a high school shortstop.

from The Captain

John Wooden's One Problem with Derek Jeter

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

The scoreboard announced,“attention fans: welcome to november baseball,” and Jeter and Kim engaged in the longest duel of the night — nine pitches, four foul balls, and a full count.

As he fought to stay alive in the at-bat, Jeter represented the battered state of the Yankee offense. Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius were planning to retire, Martinez was approaching free agency and the realization the Yanks weren’t bringing him back, and the benched Chuck Knoblauch knew he was done in the Bronx, too. This was a dynasty running on fumes, trying to sputter its way home one last time. So the shortstop who had been hearing his mother implore him to “do something” all week finally did something no major leaguer had ever done: he hit a home run in November.

At 12:04 a.m., Kim’s 3-2 pitch had landed on the other side of the 314-foot sign in right, not far from Jeffrey Maier–ville. The Giants’ Barry Bonds had belted a record 73 homers in the regular season, and none of them packed a wallop like this Jeter shot that cleared the wall by a matter of inches.

A fan held up a sign that read “Mr. November,” and as Jeter approached the plate and the manic pile of teammates surrounding it, he decided to take the kind of lunar leap Bobby Thomson took to punctuate his Shot Heard ’Round the World half a century earlier; Jeter had better hang time.

“It was the only showboating thing I ever did,” Thomson had said. Jeter could have made the same claim. One of his biggest fans, John Wooden, who likened Jeter to his championship point guards at UCLA, watched from his California home and said he was surprised that baseball’s most selfless superstar engaged in this celebration of self.

“Joe DiMaggio would’ve just rounded the bases and touched the plate,” Wooden said.

From The Captain

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jeter's Playoff Prank in the '07 Cleveland Series

Following the famous midges playoff game in Cleveland in '07, Jeter's playoff prank at Doug Mientkiewicz's expense.

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

The next day, a workout day in the Bronx before Game 3, the day before the Yankees faced the possibility of a third straight first-round exit, Mientkiewicz found humor in his team’s desperation, referencing the captain’s personal brand of cologne.

“The joke around the guys is that we all had Derek Jeter’s ‘Driven’ on,” Mientkiewicz said. “That’s why all the bugs were attacking us.”

Jeter woke up to the quotes the following day, game day, and decided Mientkiewicz would regret that remark. Rome was burning, Steinbrenner was blustering, and Jeter was busy proving that no situation was too alarming to make him forget he was a man playing a boy’s game.

In the clubhouse before Game 3, Jeter made a point of completely ignoring Mientkiewicz, who returned to his locker after batting practice to find a letter resting on his chair, a letter supposedly from Macy’s. The letter read something like this:

Dear Mr. Mientkiewicz. Thanks to your comments to the media, we’ve had to pull 12.2 million bottles of Derek Jeter’s Driven off the shelves. You’ve cost my company and Mr. Jeter millions of dollars. I hope this turns out well for you.

Mientkiewicz nearly passed out. He thought that he was done as a Yankee, and that he would be sued for everything he had.

“I was crushed, and my stomach was in knots,” Mientkiewicz said. “Derek wouldn’t even look at me. And then right before he takes the field for the game, he runs by me and says, ‘That letter was bullshit. It was a joke.’ I’m bent over, hands on my knees, going, ‘You’re an asshole. I know this playoff thing is easy for you and it’s another game for you, but it’s not for me.’ And Derek’s over there giggling his ass off.”

Laughing before an elimination game. This was the essence of the postseason Jeter, never sweating the stakes.

from The Captain

Derek & Alex & Thurman & Reggie

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Rodriguez? The magnitude of his talent, contract, stardom, and personality made him a natural threat. So Jeter was not beyond taking an occasional poke at him, as he did the time two female reporters who happened to be wearing pink shoes stopped at his locker.

Jeter mentioned the matching shoes, and when one of the reporters playfully asked him where his pink shoes were, Jeter said, “I don’t have any.” He then rolled his eyes toward A-Rod’s locker and joked, “He might.”

It was clear Jeter and Rodriguez needed a Kissinger-like mediator the way Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson did. Back in the day, the simmering Jackson-Munson feud was settled — or tempered, anyway — when backup catcher Fran Healy and clubhouse attendant Ray Negron persuaded the two stars to meet inside a hotel restaurant in Detroit.

On arrival in the Bronx, Jackson had his own Esquire moment — he was quoted (erroneously, he swears) in Sport magazine as saying, “I’m the straw that stirs the drink. Maybe I should say me and Munson, but he can only stir it bad.”

Munson was just as furious with Jackson’s remarks as Jeter would be with A-Rod’s nearly a quarter century later, but the two eventually got past it and won a couple of championships together before Munson died in a plane crash.

“Thurman is Jeter and Reggie is Alex, and I’ve told Jeter that,” said Negron, who became an adviser to George Steinbrenner. “Jeter is more to himself like Thurman was, and Alex is more outgoing like Reggie.”

Jackson was among those who tried to improve relations between Jeter and A-Rod. He spoke to Rodriguez and Jeter separately, telling A-Rod about his own isolation in Munson’s and Billy Martin’s clubhouse, and advising Jeter on his responsibilities as a team leader.

“I spoke to him as a captain, not as Derek Jeter,” Jackson said. “I told him what I thought was needed, and I think he took pieces of what I said that he agreed with and didn’t take the pieces he disagreed with.

“I certainly hope Derek and Alex can win together like I did with Thurman. Alex has a good heart, but sometimes he doesn’t express himself well, and he tries to express himself too much. If he would say less and let his bat do the talking, no one can talk like him with a bat. But when he tries to say the right things, it just doesn’t work.”

from The Captain

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Night Nomar was No-More

Jeter's Diving Catch in the Stands in 2004, and the Night Nomar was No-more

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

If Jeter was baseball’s most respected figure even before Trot Nixon lofted that ball over Alex Rodriguez’s head, Garciaparra was not far behind. But something changed forever the moment Jeter made the catch and turned his landing into an X Games stunt gone wrong.

A television camera caught Garciaparra alone on the bench, with the rest of his teammates on the dugout rail, while Jeter was risking life and limb. For a franchise and a fan base waiting some eighty-six years for a championship, the juxtaposition was impossible to ignore.

“It was just straight superstition that Nomar always sat in a certain place in the dugout,” Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. “And our fans were like, ‘Look, Derek Jeter’s diving into the stands and busting his face up, and Nomar’s sitting on the goddamn bench and not even cheering for the team.’ It was just one of Nomar’s superstitions, and he got ripped for it.”

Nomar’s decision to sit out the thirteen-inning game was not the primary reason he was traded. It was merely on the list of reasons that made a deal sensible.

“It was weird,” Jeter said of Boston’s reaction to Nomar’s no-show on July 1, “because I didn’t think Nomar deserved to be treated the way he was. I thought that was bad.”

It was now official: Jeter had outlasted the most conspicuous challenges to his shortstop throne. Rey Ordonez, who was supposed to battle him for New York supremacy, had long been traded by the Mets and had already played his final big league game. Alex Rodriguez had surrendered the position to join a winner in the Bronx. And Nomar Garciaparra had been shipped out of the rivalry and out of the American League, out of sight and out of mind.

From The Captain

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Steve Caruso, Jeter's first agent, gets his drafted client signed

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

The Yankees’ Brian Sabean immediately began negotiations with Steve Caruso, a labor relations consultant turned beginner agent who landed Jeter as a client after landing A. J. Hinch, the Oklahoma high school star.

Caruso would come to see Jeter as the second-best teenage prospect he had ever seen, right behind a Miami phenom named Alex Rodriguez. On a strong recommendation from Hinch’s father, Charles Jeter had invited Caruso to Kalamazoo and, over a few slices of pizza, agreed to let him represent his son.

“Then [Scott] Boras showed up at the airport and he was bugging Charles a couple of weeks later,” Caruso said. “Charles, to his credit, wouldn’t let Boras come over because he’d already made a deal with me.”

Caruso would go to bat for Jeter, a client he saw as “a skinny seventeen-year-old who barely said three words,” a client who lived in a home modest enough to greet a visitor with a broken handle on the screen door. That modest existence was about to change in a big six-figure way.

Sabean faxed Caruso an opening offer of $550,000. The agent assured the Yankee executive these negotiations would not be nearly as acrimonious as the Brien Taylor talks but also told him that bid would not get it done.

Caruso wanted to beat the $725,000 bonus Toronto had given the California high school star Shawn Green and his agent, Moorad, the year before. As the faxes and phone calls went back and forth, Jeter phoned the Michigan head coach, Bill Freehan, to seek his counsel. Freehan was in a delicate spot — he wanted Jeter on scholarship in the worst way, but as a former All-Star catcher with the Tigers he understood the lure of the big leagues.

“The kid wanted to go to Michigan,” said Freehan’s assistant, Ace Adams. “No one knows this, but Jeter did not want to sign [with the Yankees]. He wanted to go to Michigan with his girlfriend, and he wanted to play there.”

But the Yankees kept inflating their offer. Derek called the Michigan ead coach and said, “Mr. Freehan, what should I do?” You’ve got to sign,” Freehan finally told him. “You’re crazy if you don't."

Adams was flabbergasted over his boss’s show of integrity and good aith. “I don’t think many college coaches would’ve ever said that,” dams said, “but Bill was such a classy guy.”

Jeter listened to Freehan. On June 28, 1992, two days after his ighteenth birthday, Jeter signed an $800,000 deal with the Yankees hat included a $700,000 bonus (Caruso’s 5 percent cut amounted to $35,000) and enough to cover the full ride to Michigan that Jeter was giving up.

His deal at number 6 doubled Chad Mottola's at number 5 and beat those signed by the top three picks.

from The Captain

How Jeter Almost Ended Up Wearing No. 19

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

The assignment of a single-digit jersey was no small matter in Yankeedom. Billy Martin was number 1, Babe Ruth number 3, Lou Gehrig number 4, Joe DiMaggio number 5, Mickey Mantle number 7, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey number 8, and Roger Maris number 9. All those numbers had been retired.

“When you project a single digit at Yankee Stadium,” Buck Showalter said, “you’d better be right.”

Showalter and Gene Michael agreed Jeter was worth the shot. Nick Priore, the longtime equipment manager, was not so sure. When Priore assigned number 51 to the promising center fielder, Bernie Williams, Showalter asked him, “Don’t you think Bernie will be a better player than that?”

“If it’s f---in’ good enough for Willie McGee,” Priore shot back, “it will be f---in’ good enough for Bernie Williams.”

But Priore gave in on Jeter. So did George Steinbrenner, who told Showalter, “You’d better be right about this,” words that did not shake the manager’s faith.

“I knew by the time Derek proved he wasn’t worthy,” Showalter said, “I’d be long gone anyway.”

In ’95, Jeter batted .250 without a home run or stolen base in fifteen big league games, and he had homered only twice in 123 games in Columbus the same year. Maybe Priore did not think Jeter was single-digit material. With Showalter gone and Michael in a reduced role, maybe Priore thought he should act on his gut instinct.

Either way, the equipment manager decided to change Jeter’s number to 19. His assistant, Rob Cucuzza, wrote down the number on a card and posted it above Jeter’s locker.

“Robin Yount wore 19,” Priore said, “and he started his career as a shortstop.” If 19 was good enough for Robin Yount, the equipment manager reasoned, it would be good enough for Derek Jeter.

Only Derek saw it differently. “He came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to get me number 2 back, you’ve got to get me number 2 back,’ ” Cucuzza said. “I think Derek was a little scared to go to Nick. I was caught by surprise that he was so locked in on number 2.”

Was Jeter suddenly locked in because he realized the historical significance of number 2? “Oh, I know Derek had that in mind,” Cucuzza said.

Jeter was given number 2...

from The Captain

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Derek Jeter, AAU Basketball Player

On Derek Jeter, AAU basketball prospect with the Kalamazoo Blues

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Jeter was so serious about baseball and his favorite team, said Monter Glasper, one of his roommates, “he even wore Yankee boxers to bed.” The Blues joked with him about that. “But you could tell he was never joking when he said he’d end up playing for them,” Glasper said.

Once on the court, Jeter was no longer a daydreaming shortstop, but a basketball player as serious as Glasper and Kenyon Murray, who would earn scholarships to Iowa. If Jeter was not a strong ball handler, at least not by top-shelf AAU standards, he was among the Blues’ best shooters and defenders and perhaps their most fearless presence in the final minutes of a frantic game.

Jeter’s favorite shot was the three-pointer from the corner. David Hart, a point guard who would earn a scholarship to Michigan State, would penetrate and kick it to the gunner many Blues likened to the Pistons’ trigger-happy reserve, Vinnie Johnson.

“It didn’t matter if Derek had missed twenty shots in a row,” Hart said. “If the game was on the line and he got the ball again, he was putting it up.”

Jeter’s parents, Charles and Dot, took in every game from the stands, “and it was definitely unique,” Hart said, “because I came from a two-parent home, too, but a lot of our guys didn’t.” Charles and Dot filmed the Blues’ games, and with no operating budget to speak of, the Blues’ coaches would borrow their fi lm and show it to the team on the locker room or hotel walls, complete with Dot’s running commentary on her son’s play.

Dot knew the game. “Sometimes she was hollering, ‘Go, baby, go,’" Williams said, “but she was very on point. She could be very critical of Derek’s performance.”

So could the Blues’ coaches. During one film session, Williams drove Jeter to tears by repeatedly pointing out open big men in the paint while he was firing away from the perimeter. The assistant coach had to apologize to Derek a few times for shredding him in front of the team.

But all in all, Jeter was a basketball coach’s best friend. The Blues played a powerhouse Oklahoma team in one prominent national event, “and on paper,” said Hall, their head coach, “we didn’t belong in the same gym with those guys. And Derek came off the bench and shot Oklahoma right out of the tournament.”

Everyone agreed Jeter had major college ability, even if basketball rated as a distant second love. Derek had what his father called a quiet arrogance on the court. “He always wanted the last shot,” Charles Jeter said. “He usually didn’t make them, but he was never afraid to fail.”

from The Captain

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Girardi's Forecast that Jeter Would Switch Positions

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Jeter said he did not pay attention to sabermetric rankings, and he was incredulous when asked why.

“A computer?” he said. “I don’t know anything about it. I haven’t learned about it, and I really don’t care to learn about it. . . . I think it’s literally impossible to do that, because everybody doesn’t play in the same position and doesn’t have the same pitcher. The ball’s not hit to the same spot, and you don’t have the same runner. . . . One day he’s got a leg problem, the next day he doesn’t.

“You just can’t do it. There are too many factors that go into it.” Only it was not just the computer. Even the most ardent Jeter fans were seeing a slower and less supple version of the shortstop’s former self in the field.

One was his former teammate and coach Joe Girardi, National League Manager of the Year in Florida who was fired by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria in a clash of stubborn personalities. Girardi had become an analyst for the YES Network, and he thought as much of Jeter’s tangible and intangible skills as any teammate the captain ever had.

Girardi saw Jeter as a baseball player who could beat you eight days a week. But as he watched his old teammate cheat to his left to compensate for lost range up the middle, watched him get to fewer ground balls than he used to, Girardi told a couple of friends something he took no delight in saying.

“I feel sorry for the next Yankee manager,” he said, “because he’s the one who’s going to have to tell Jeter he can’t play shortstop anymore.”

From The Captain

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Ron Washington, Oakland third-base coach, on sending Jeremy Giambi home and straight into DJ's famous flip play.

Washington had the same feeling as he moved down the line, escorting Giambi home. Back when he had scouted Jeter in the minors, Washington was the one who decided Derek was “not no goddamn shortstop” and wrote him up as a future third baseman. If Oakland’s third-base coach had long accepted the fact that he was wrong, he was about to discover just how wrong he was.

By the time Jeter caught the ball on a bounce on the first-base line some twenty feet from the plate, running toward the Yankees’ dugout and away from Posada, Washington knew he had made the right choice. Jeter’s intangible brilliance was not going to overtake the tangibles of the play, not this time.

Momentum and time and gravity were all working against the Yankee shortstop. But somehow he called an audible on the fl y. Jeter converted himself into a wishbone quarterback and delivered a pitch to the tailback that would have made J. C. Watts proud. Jeter did not just make a backhanded flip to Posada; he had the presence of mind to fl ip the ball against the grain of his body, so the catcher would receive it on the third-base side of the plate. “That son of a bitch threw the ball back this way,” Washington would say, “because he knew it would tail back in. He threw it so all Posada had to do was catch and tag.”

Washington on his reprimand of Giambi: “I walked into the dugout and everybody’s patting Giambi on the back for the effort,” Washington said. “And I point-blank told Giambi right there, ‘You’ve got to fu--in’ hit the dirt.’ That’s exactly what I saidd. He didn’t say anything.”

from The Captain