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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Derek Jeter GQ cover, April 2011, article by Mnookin

From GQ by Seth Mnookin, "There's probably one thing I should get out of the way before we go any further: I am a season-ticket-holding, team-jersey-wearing, Fenway Park-loving Red Sox fan. I was at Yaz's last game. I have a framed picture of Pedro Martinez on the wall of my o∞ce. I got so excited when the Sox embarrassed the Yankees on their way to winning the 2004 World Series that I spent the next two years of my life writing a book about it.

And yes, I admit, when I first got this assignment, it sounded like a big, juicy fastball down the middle of the plate: a glossy-mag treatment about the end of the road for Captain Intangibles himself.

  • I could practically unravel the myths in my sleep....

But then—and you have no idea how much it pains me to write this—the facts got in the way. I've always known that Jeter was a good hitter, that he was a smart base runner, that he had good instincts—but it wasn't until I really began digging into his numbers that I realized that, along with Honus Wagner and Cal Ripken Jr., he's one of the three most valuable offensive shortstops in history. He's already the Yankees' all-time leader in hits and at-bats, and sometime this year, barring injury, he'll assume first place in games and stolen bases. By the time he retires, he has a good chance of also being the team leader in runs, total bases, doubles, and times on base—and this is the franchise, remember, for which Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle played their entire careers.

But his on-field accomplishments only explain part of what makes Jeter so iconic. Just as important is his ability to project an integrity and underlying decency that in today's world seems downright heroic. Think about how few superstars keep their auras intact....

A few years ago, Joe Posnanski, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, coined Jeterate, a verb defined as "to praise someone for something of which he or she is entirely unworthy of praise." It's the tendency on the part of fans, sportswriters, and broadcasters to Jeterate Jeter that drives baseball aficionados who don't live in the tristate area absolutely batshit insane. Derek Jeter is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's a cornerstone of a team that has made the playoffs for fourteen of his fifteen full seasons. He's the only player in history to

  • hit 200 home runs and steal 300 bases as a shortstop....

"He's a guy who goes out there every day and plays hard, and he leads, and he's a consummate professional," says Posnanski. "And he really is what people say he is as a player—just not to the extent that they say it." Part of the reason that he's so lionized is that in the cloistered world of professional sports, an athlete whose image matches his actual day-to-day life is almost unthinkable. Think about the two other superstar shortstops Jeter came up with in the late 1990s: By the time Nomar Garciaparra bitched and moaned his way out of Boston, he'd revealed himself to be an obsessive-compulsive misanthrope who found talking to the media more exhausting than actually playing baseball. A-Rod frosted his hair, divorced his wife, dated Madonna, and 'roided up....

But then came last winter's contract negotiations. By most accounts, Jeter and his agent, Casey Close, were looking for a deal in the neighborhood of four-plus years at an average annual salary of more than $20 million. You can understand why Jeter might have thought this was what he deserved—the contract extension that A-Rod signed with the Yankees in 2007 will keep Rodriguez in New York past his forty-second birthday and has an average annual value of $27.5 million—but the Yankees told Jeter to get real. (At one point, "a source close to the negotiations" told ESPN that Jeter needed to "drink the reality potion" if that's what he thought he was worth.) After the Yankees offered Jeter a three-year deal worth $45 million, Brian Cashman told the media that the offer had taken "his contributions to the franchise...into account." It was a shocking moment: For the first time, the Yankees showed they were perfectly willing to smack down their iconic, infallible captain in public.

Throughout it all, Jeter, who'd made it clear that he had no desire to play for a team other than the Yankees, kept his mouth shut. It was only at the press conference announcing the three-year $51 million deal the two sides eventually agreed to that Jeter acknowledged that he'd been pissed off by the team's approach: "To hear the organization tell me to go shop it when I just told you I wasn't going to—if I'm going to be honest with you, I was angry about it."

And that was it. When I asked Jeter about the negotiations, he said he was done discussing what happened. "I always said I wasn't going to talk about it," he says. "I didn't talk about it. I addressed it one time in the press conference, and I won't bring it up again."...

"For almost two decades, Derek Jeter has spent his winters working out at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa, Florida. He started these regimens shortly after moving to Florida from his parents' house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, so he could concentrate on his game year-round. Of course, a lot has changed since Jeter was chosen by the Yankees with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 draft: He no longer calls his folks every night in tears, no longer second-guesses his decision to turn pro instead of going to college, no longer wonders whether he's good enough to play with the big boys.

Today, Jeter is one of the most famous athletes the world has ever known. He's received plenty of personal accolades, starting with his unanimous selection as 1996's American League Rookie of the Year and continuing right through his eleventh All-Star appearance last summer, but he'll always be best known as a leader, a champion, a class act in an era when athletes are expected to be cheaters and boors. Come June, he'll have been captain of the Yankees for eight full years—which is longer than Babe Ruth, longer than Lou Gehrig—longer, in fact, than any other player in team history. Two years ago, he was chosen to lead the United States team in the World Baseball Classic—and of course, he's been a cornerstone of five World Series-winning teams. He's Tiger without the car crash, Kobe without the rape trial, Brady without the jilted pregnant girlfriend, A-Rod without the...well, everything....

In September 2009, after Jeter became the Yankees' all-time hit leader, former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling described him as a player who'd "always been above the fray." As Schilling was quick to point out, he should know: "As someone who's 'foot-in-mouthed' it hundreds of times, it's refreshing. He's shown up, played, and turned in a Hall of Fame career in the hardest environment in sports to do any/all of the above."...

His off-season contract negotiations with the only team he's ever wanted to play for provided yet another painful reminder that he's no longer the wonder boy shooting line drives with his inside-out stroke. In the weeks before Jeter and the Yankees came to terms on a three-year deal that will take him through the 2013 season, general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that he had "concerns" about Jeter's age and said if Jeter wasn't satisfied with the Yankees' offer, he was "free to test the market." It was the equivalent of the New York Philharmonic telling Leonard Bernstein he could go audition for the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra....

It's possible that Jeter will come back and have a year like 2009, when he hit .334, smacked eighteen home runs, swiped thirty bases, and was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. It's possible that all the time he spent this winter reworking his approach in the batter's box will pay off. It's possible, but unlikely."...

Before I left for the airport, I asked Jeter what he had planned for the rest of the day. "I'm probably going to go home and watch a movie," he said, grinning. "I'm going to watch The Roommate. It's a new one. Just came out today. Go check it out." It was a rare acknowledgement of his private life—his girlfriend, Minka Kelly, is one of the movie's stars. We exchanged some more pleasantries, and then, as he was climbing into his car, he shouted over one last time: "Remember: The Roommate. Seriously. Check it out. It's worth it.""

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