How Derek Jeter became Derek Jeter

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1974, Derek Jeter was born.

In 2014, in his final spring training, he asked if he could ask me a question, which was rare.

“Who,” he asked respectfully, “is Arky Vaughan?”

I explained that Vaughan was a star shortstop, mostly for the Pirates, then the Dodgers, in the 1930s and ’40s, a lifetime .318 hitter who hit .385 one year. Jeter thanked me, then I realized why he had asked. People were mentioning Jeter among the best shortstops ever, a list that included Vaughan, and Jeter felt uninformed, and he felt it was disrespectful to Vaughan, and the game, by being undereducated on a topic. Jeter is always prepared, always in the right place at the right time, hence The Flip play in the 2001 playoffs against the A’s.

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That need for cognition, combined with great talent and a love of competition, is why Jeter is, for me, one of the four greatest shortstops of all time. He finished with 3,465 hits, sixth-most ever, more than Honus Wagner, who is considered, at least statistically, the greatest shortstop ever. Jeter got another 200 hits — so appropriate — in the postseason, where he shined his brightest. He made 14 All-Star teams, won five Gold Gloves, five World Series rings and came only one vote short of unanimous induction to the Hall of Fame.

But Jeter wasn’t about numbers. He’s the guy in the pickup basketball game who might not always be the most talented player on the court, but the guy who always finds a way to make a play to win.

“He is the captain of the Yankees,” former Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez said, “because you can hear him running to first base every time.”

Jeter was all about winning. In his 20 years with the Yankees, they were 515 games over .500 in games that he played: Lou Gehrig (501) is the only other position player 500 games over .500. In Jeter’s 20 years, there were only five games that he played in which the Yankees were mathematically out of postseason contention when the game started. Four of those were in 2014, his final season. In the final home game, Jeter won it with a walk-off single.

“I thought he was a great player when I played against him,” said current Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “Then I played next to him, and he was even better than I thought.”

It didn’t matter what Jeter did leading off a game — hit a home run or strike out — he would return to the dugout with the same message for his teammates about that day’s opposing pitcher: This guy has nothing! We’re going to crush this guy! It was Jeter inspiring his teammates, the relentless captain of the Yankees, setting a course for the day for his team.

After the Yankees’ last championship in 2009, the fifth for Jeter, the iconic shortstop entered the joyous clubhouse, which was packed with screaming players and bursts of champagne. Jeter deftly worked his way through the bedlam as he might avoid a sliding runner at second base. He didn’t stop until he got to the lobby on the other side of the clubhouse. There stood his mother and father, who got the first hug and kiss because they are the reason he was there, they are the reason that he is who he is, they are the reason that he has five rings. After thanking his mom and dad, Jeter celebrated with his team.

Other baseball notes for June 26

  • In 1970, the Orioles’ Frank Robinson hit two grand slams in one game against the Senators. They would be his only grand slams in six years as an Oriole.

  • In 1978, the Blue Jays beat the Orioles 24-10. In the fifth inning, down 24-6, Orioles manager Earl Weaver called the bullpen phone. Elrod Hendricks, a backup catcher who was warming up pitchers in the bullpen, answered the phone. “You better get up,” Weaver said. Hendricks said, “Earl, it’s me, Elrod.” Weaver screamed, “I know who it is, you better get up!” Hendricks pitched 2⅓ scoreless innings. Then a real pitcher, Don Stanhouse, pitched the eighth.

  • In 1935, broadcaster Hank Greenwald was born. When he was the Yankees’ play-by-play guy in the late 1980s, he was a recognizable figure, but he had to show his ID badge to the same security guard every day at Yankee Stadium. Finally, Greenwald had had enough. So he pasted a headshot of Giants outfielder Jeffrey Leonard over his face on his ID badge. The same security guard asked for his ID, looked at it and said, “OK, go ahead.” The next day Greenwald pasted a headshot of Secretariat over his face on his ID badge. The same security guard asked for his ID. Greenwald showed it to him. “OK,” said the guard. “Go ahead.”