“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 4: Transformation Complete: Jeter Becomes 11th Yankees Captain

“The Captain” PT 2 | Derek Jeter Becomes King Of New York

“The Captain” rolls into its second episode with the story of how Derek Jeter had matured and was ready to become the catalyst to the reemergence of a proud franchise. Behind the hazel eyes and boyish good looks, he opens up about how he took the mantle of team leader.

“I’m very loyal as a person and a player,” Jeter said.  “But loyalty one way is stupidity.  When I feel like you’re trying to take advantage of me I’m done.” 

He braced for the real chance of being demoted had it not been for an injury to his predecessor Tony Fernandez which he says is the only reason he wasn’t optioned to Columbus to start the 1995 season.

“In 1995 my name was the subject of a lot of trade rumors,” Jeter, who was Minor League Player of the Year at the time, recalls.  “My manager Billy Evers called me and told me to splash some water on my face and come to his room early in the morning and tell me congratulations you’re going to the big leagues.”

He wasn’t active for the playoffs but was in the dugout for the 1995 American League Division Series which they lost to the Seattle Mariners.  By 1996, Jeter was front and center as the leadoff hitter and solidified them as a championship team. He, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Andy Petite were blossoming into cornerstones of a dynasty and the stage was a perfect hit for him.

Jeter arrived with Joe Torre as the new manager after the Yankees cleaned house in the front office and installed Bob Watson as the team’s new general manager.  Jeter felt pressure and thought he was heading back to Columbus until the incumbent shortstop Tony Fernandez broke his arm two weeks before spring training ended.

“I always loved playing in front of people, period,” Jeter said.  “I don’t care if you were a scout or a fan.  I felt like I was performing and the more people the better.  It gave me a chance to show off.  Everybody’s watching now, right!”

After the first World Series victory in 1996, Jeter became “King of New York” and was the toast of every borough, especially The Bronx and Manhattan. Within 36 months of bringing a championship to the Bronx, Jeter was the A-list celebrity whose moves were being chronicled by Page 6. His entourage included hip hop icons such as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Spike Lee who were as enamored by his talent as he was to be around them.

Jeter talks openly about his discipline and focus and how Don Mattingly taught him how to be a professional on the field. However, it was Darryl Strawberry, who had his problems navigating his social life as the young player with the New York Mets, who became his off-field mentor that gave him knowledge of a night life griot who blew his chances for the Hall Of Fame by making moves off field that diluted his play on it.

The complicated relationship with Alex Rodriguez is exposed and Jeter candidly explains how their relationship went from good friends to past tense. The Yankees were a championship team while A-Rod was a myth because he was playing in Seattle where many fans on the east coast never saw him play on TV because of the time zone difference.



That Jeter was photographed for the cover of Sports Illustrated posing with his arms around the neck of Rodriguez contributed to this narrative that their friendship was eroding. A-Rod’s blunt comments about being a better player than Jeter also helped fracture ties between the two generational shortstops, especially after Jeter led the Yankees to two World Series in three years, but most experts still branded the Mariners phenom as the best player.

“The Captain” Pt 1 | The Early Years Of Derek Jeter, Understanding His Place In America

“The Captain” Pt 1 | The Early Years Of Derek Jeter, Understanding His Place In America

MLBbro.com will be offering some analysis on the seven-part documentary about the life of iconic MLBbro and five-time World Series champion Derek Jeter, airing on ESPN each Thursday.

Mark Gray will be providing commentary after each episode.

Part 1: The Early Years 

As a player who deftly navigated a legendary athlete’s life for two decades in New York, Derek Jeter was bigger than Broadway and larger than life. Despite his well-publicized private life and the success, he enjoyed living his childhood dream as New York Yankees shortstop. Jeter’s career back story is coming to life in a multi-episode documentary series.

“The Captain” chronicles how the Yankees five-time world champion and face of the franchise navigated through games on the field and off it.  In the first episode of the series Jeter breaks the silence about his childhood and the family’s impact on his Hall of fame career and the journey from Kalamazoo, MI to the Bronx which was his life’s plan.

“I’m a Yankee and I’ll always be a Yankee,” Jeter says. “That’s what I did that’s who I am…shortstop for the New York Yankees.”

Jeter is the most candid he has ever been on camera and displays the same confidence and swag he played with. The Hall Of Fame shortstop, several teammates, NYC based journalists, and a host of broadcasters, peel back the layers of complexity that marked the early catalyst of the Yankees 90s dynasty. The opening scene features highlights from his final game in the Bronx where he speaks with confident reflection after 20 years playing in the footsteps of history at one of the most revered positions in sports.

“I take a lot of pride saying that it’s the only position I ever played,” Jeter said.  “Its the only thing I ever wanted to do and the only team I ever wanted to play for.”

Jeter speaks of his days growing up in Kalamazoo where the baseball diamond was a social sanctuary as he was integrating into American culture. He speaks about a “hyper focus” where he locks in on a task and tunes the world out which led to his earning the USA Today’s High School Player of the Year.

That was the first of many goals he set for himself before his days of glory in the boogie down.

His parents met in Germany while Charles – his father – was finishing his military career in the U.S. Army.  They were transparent in speaking about the difference he would see socially in the United States as compared to how they were perceived as a couple in Europe because of their mixed-race relationship. He credits his father Charles, an HBCU graduate from Fisk University in Nashville, TN, for preparing him with confidence to deal with bi-racial social biases as a Black man in the USA. Jeter admits that he played shortstop because it was the same position his father played at Fisk.

Jeter was born and bred to be a Yankee.  He speaks with great reverence for their contemporary legends. The Captain pays homage to other great Black Yankees including Willie Randolph and Reggie Jackson but admits that his favorite player growing up was Dave Winfield.  As a precocious teenager with his parents at the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Jeter and Winfield met following a game against the Tigers.

“I was able to make contact with Derek and his dad spoke briefly with them before we left town,” Winfield recalls.  “You never know how that moment in time, with me being the person I was, impacted a person’s life.” 

Stay tuned for Part 2 analysis.