“The Captain” Part 4: Transformation Complete: Jeter Becomes 11th Yankees Captain

“The Captain” Part 4: Transformation Complete: Jeter Becomes 11th Yankees Captain

“When you win four [world championships] in five years where are you going after that. There’s nowhere else to go. You’ve got to stay there or you waste a year of your career.” – Derek Jeter

Following 9/11, the emotional aftermath took it’s toll on the New York Yankees as Jeter became the 11th captain in the team’s history.

That was just one part of the transformation that started taking place in early stages of the twilight of his career.  The powerful championship machine that was seemingly invincible began showing signs of falling apart despite being five-time American League championships  and winning four World Series.

To the outside observer, the Yankees were a juggernaut and the original group who redefined their legacy in the Bronx were beginning to show signs of age.

With age came the experience and championship savvy which held over from their previous success.  However, the grind of annual postseason lore and the dramatic finishes began wearing on a dynasty in transition.

“If you play this game long enough you’re going to struggle,” Jeter said.  “It gets hard.”

Part of what made the Yankees of the Jeter era so iconic was the fact they would never die, the opposition had to kill them.  But in many respects the annual grind of more than a half decade of postseason title runs began wearing them down.  They had become the championship fighter who could no longer deliver the knockout blow when it came time to close.

However, the routine of ALCS comebacks and ultimately playing until November left the aging Bombers in a place they were unaccustomed to. Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the baseball history, blew saves against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Florida Marlins in 2003 and their invincibility was no more.

After their final late inning meltdown on the precipice of a championship, the core of Camelot would be torn apart.  A Yankees team that was previously built through drafted players who were developed through their organization succumbed to a new era of free agent players that were brought in for immediate success. The influx of imported teammates which changed the dynamics inside their clubhouse.

That was the time when Jeter started seeing his baseball mortality. Many of the names on the locker would change because team owner George Steinbrenner was adamant about winning another before turning the franchise over to his son Hank.  Ultimately, however, the Boston Red Sox had different ideas.

“The Captain” Part 3: “I Never Got Along With People Who Were Cocky Or Arrogant”

“The Captain” Part 3: “I Never Got Along With People Who Were Cocky Or Arrogant”

“I never got along with people who were cocky or arrogant. I’m confident in my ability but not arrogant.  I have a small group of friends who are like family to me. It takes a long time for me to trust someone. If they do something or slights me in any way, I have the unique ability to just cut them off.” – Derek Jeter, Captain.

Coming off their 1998 world championship, the New York Yankees started looking more like general manager Brian Cashman’s team than the one Bob Watson built.  Roger Clemens was signed during the offseason and other free agents such as Chad Curtis, there was a change in the atmosphere of the clubhouse.  

Jeter admitted that he didn’t like Clemens from previous incidents where the Rocket hit or flirted with his central casting chin by delivering 100 mph fastballs with precision. However, Jeter respected Clemens because “he was a gamer” and would show up every to every start ready to compete.

Curtis, however, was from a totally different world. They were an oil and water mix.  Former Yankees catcher Jorge’ Posada remembered how Jeter’s blasting hip hop music rankled the feathers of Curtis and “that rubbed him the wrong way”. Their tempered feud came to a head during a heated benches clearing brawl in Seattle when Felix Rodriguez hit Curtis. During the melee’ Jeter and Alex Rodriguez appeared to be exchanging pleasantries while Curtis took a beatdown.

“First off Chad Curtis has issues with everybody,” Jeter said.  “This [wasn’t] the first time I had an issue with Chad Curtis.  It was the first one that people found out about.” 

With a gangsta grin and disarming warmth, Derek Jeter opens episode three of “The Captain” with a look into the soul of what made him great.  Like other great champions such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who were affable outwardly, Jeter’s quest to be a champion was driven by things which may have been mundane to most. 

In a December 2000 article with Esquire Magazine, Alex Rodriguez, Jeter’s ride or die MLB homey, answered a question from reporter Scott Raab about Jeter’s “character amongst players”.  A-Rod’s answer would change their relationship forever.

“Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him, so he’s never had to lead,” Rodriguez said.  “He doesn’t have to. He can just go and play and have fun and hit second. Hitting second is totally different than hitting third or fourth in a lineup because you go into New York trying to stop Bernie [Williams] and O’Neill and everybody.

“You never say don’t let Derek beat you.  That’s never your concern.”

That was also the same sentiment that was shared by Boston Red Sox shortstop emeritus Nomar Garciaparra.  After the Yankees beat them in the 1999 American League Championship Series with Jeter delivering a home run in the clinching game Garciaparra said the 

 “We didn’t lose to the better team,” Garciaparra remembered.  “We just weren’t good enough to win the series.

Jeter’s response nearly two decades later: “That’s what losers say”.

Neither Rodriguez or Garciaparra ever reached his status on the field or off it either. While they took moments to exhale Jeter “never enjoyed the moment because he a was preoccupied by “what’s next next.”

Jeter then won the 2000 World Series MVP after leading the Yankees to their fourth championship in five years when they beat the New York Mets 4-1.