This is the week when Derek Jeter officially enters the Hall of Fame, a year later than he was supposed to because of the COVID pandemic. And because it is Jeter -- and because of the power of the Yankees -- this will be one of the great Cooperstown moments. He’s a Yankee as popular as the team has ever had on the Yankees squads that mattered as much as he did. And Yankees fans know: Once Jeter ran out to shortstop in April 1996, that was when the Yankees began to matter again.
Jeter was a part of the last Yankee dynasty. His Yankees won four World Series in five years and nearly made it five in six. In the middle of all the winning in the late ‘90s for the Yankees of Joe Torre -- the man Jeter calls “Mister Torre” -- I was with Jeter one day at his locker at the old Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees were getting ready for another October, and I said to him, “You know, this isn’t going to last forever.”
He looked up at me and quietly said, “Why not?”
This was before he made The Flip to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate in Oakland to save a Yankees season, and before he went 5-for-5 on the day he got to 3,000 hits with a home run off David Price. But Jeter was already the player that kids wanted to be. There were other great Yankees at that time. Still: No. 2 was the one.
And the moment I will always remember best for Jeter, as big and important and memorable as any he ever had and the old Stadium ever had, came at the end of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, in the middle of three extraordinary nights in the shadow of 9/11, three nights when the Yankees made a wounded city cheer.
What happened in those three uptown victories against the D-backs, all by one run, didn’t change the downtown devastation in New York City. But it did remind us of the power of sports and, in New York, the power of the Yankees.
The signature moment was provided by Jeter, of course, to win Game 4 in the bottom of the 10th. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius hit unforgettable home runs that week for the Yankees. Alfonso Soriano would get the game-winning hit in Game 5, in the bottom of the 12th. In a memorable pregame moment, President George W. Bush, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his Yankees jacket, threw a perfect first pitch from the mound at the Stadium for Game 3. Before he went out there, Jeter joked to him, “Don’t bounce it. They’ll boo you.” Then the President tossed one right down the middle to Todd Greene and heard the kind of cheer Jeter understood completely.
Game 4, though, was one in which Jeter became “Mr. November.” The start of the World Series had been delayed because of the 9/11 attacks, and so now Game 4 had begun on the last night of October. The Yankees came from behind and tied it on Tino’s two-run shot in the 8th. Now it was the bottom of the 10th, past midnight at the Stadium and there was a sign on the message board that read:
“Welcome to November Baseball.”
Then Jeter hit one over the right-field wall to win the game, 4-3, and even the World Series at two games. And the place went a bit mad. Yankee Stadium had been impossibly loud when Tino tied the game. This was different. This was Jeter. The Yankees had won, 2-1, the night before. They won, 4-3, on this night and would win, 3-2, the next. It was another one of the moments, in that time, when Scott Brosius talked about feeling the ground shake.
The D-backs would win the 2001 World Series when they took Games 6 and 7 back in Phoenix. It didn’t change the way the Stadium felt and sounded for those three nights. I was with Torre at a party a few months later, and he was talking about how people were still consoling him because the Yankees lost.
Torre looked at me and said, “You were there for those three games at the Stadium. You were there for Derek’s home run. You tell me why I should feel we lost.”
Jeter hit one out to right, and it did feel as if the Yankees had won a lot more than a game. Other than that swing, he didn’t hit in that Series. That was his only homer and his only RBI. He had three other hits. He scored two other runs. But there will always be that one forever swing.
“When I first hit it, I had no idea whether it was going to go out, but once it goes out, it’s a pretty special feeling,” Jeter said that night. “I’ve never hit a walk-off home run before, so it was a special experience.”
No. 2 was the one. There were other moments for him. Not like that, a few minutes after midnight and a few minutes into November, one World Series night in the Bronx, when the special experience at Yankee Stadium was him.