“Its a bitch playing in New York. It’s not easy. I’d like to think my relationship with the media was a good one. I didn’t try to make their job difficult. I tried to make my job easier. This was how I was going to survive New York.” – Derek Jeter, episode 5 of The Captain.
By 2004 the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were meeting for the second straight year in the American League Championship Series and took a 3-0 lead.
Previously there had never been a team who blew a lead that large in a best of seven series. The Yankees took a 4-0 lead in game four and were looking to finish them.
“There was no doubt in my mind that the series was over,” recalled Gary Sheffield.
Sheffield, part of the new generation of Yankee imports at the time, was acquired following their second late inning meltdown that cost them a world championship in 2003.
After years of dominance, New York felt no pressure and there was an arrogance it would continue. Even with new actors on stage it was Cats or the Lion King on the Bronx version of Broadway.
Despite knowing the outcome you want to see a production with a different cast. However, the absence of chemistry and pressure from the Red Sox proved too much in 2004.
Jeter had previously stated in episode four of The Captain that there were “ghosts in Yankee Stadium that would show up” and despite acknowledging the Red Sox were a good team “they were still the Red Sox and they would find a way to choke.” This time it didn’t happen.
“You can tell when pressure is getting to people especially when they haven’t been in situations like this before,” Jeter said.
For the first time in his career Jeter’s team couldn’t find the clutch gene that would have sealed another pennant. After the team’s meltdown he felt the heat from the organization.
If you haven’t watched “The Captain”, Derek Jeter’s version of “The Last Dance”, I highly recommend it. I grew up hating Jeter and the Yankees. This has really changed my perspective. I love Jeter’s mindset and leadership. A good watch for coaches, athletes, and competitors.
— David Gurganus (@CoachDGurganus) August 5, 2022
General manager Brian Cashman started using analytics which were concluding that he no longer had the range to be the spectacular defensive shortstop such that his contemporaries were. Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra.
George Steinbrenner, the notorious owner who was known to admonish players and managers for not playing up to the championship standard that trademarked the organization, made the bold move to empower Jeter. After talking with fellow pinstripe legends such as Reggie Jackson and Willie Randolph Steinbrenner officially named Jeter the 11th captain of the Yankees.
“There’s nothing I did as captain that I wouldn’t do if I wasn’t the captain,” said Jeter. “In order to maintain a consistent level on the field, my job as captain was to limit the distractions with our team.”
With the ascension came the New York media’s voracious appetite for Jeter’s personal life. From Esquire Magazine to the New York Post’s Page Six, the analysis of his dating life and cultural background became headlines. Rumors of gift bags for dates after the proverbial happy ending took a life of their own once they were published above the fold.
“Nobody did a better job of hiding in plain sight than Derek Jeter,” said veteran baseball writer Joel Sherman.
An ESPN interview between Sheffield and a longtime reporter also brought issues of race into the Jeter legacy. When “Sheff ” stated the Yankees Black and white players were coached differently and Jeter “wasn’t all the way Black”, Pandora’s box of bi-racial conversation suddenly became in play with the media.
“Derek Jeter does not identify racially,” said longtime New York sports pundit Wallace Matthews. “He just seemed to be racially neutral. Derek Jeter was almost colorless.”
S/O to Jeter for appropriately going off on dude for calling him race neutral and colorless. pic.twitter.com/RCcNx4Uivg
— Tim Mack (@TimMackJ) August 5, 2022
“How I was raised was as a Black man,” Jeter said. “That’s how society is going to view you.”
Regardless of color, Jeter played the entire fame game in The Big Apple as well as anyone to ever do it.
The Captain — Part 1
The Captain — Part 2
The Captain — Part 3