As ESPN releases “The Captain,” a seven-part documentary about the career of Derek Jeter, we are revisiting some of the memories that defined the Hall of Famer’s legendary career. Episode 2 of “The Captain” premieres tonight on ESPN and ESPN+ at 9 ET. All episodes are subsequently available on ESPN+.
The first time Don Mattingly spent time with Derek Jeter, he knew there was something different about the 20-year-old.
“He had a presence about him,” Mattingly said in the new book, The Franchise: New York Yankees. “He had confidence, but it was quiet and respectful.”
Mattingly was in what turned out to be the final year of his career, and while Jeter played only 15 games for the Yankees in that 1995 season, Mattingly’s departure meant there would be no captain in '96.
It took more than seven years before owner George Steinbrenner handed out that title again, but on June 3, 2003, the Yankees called for a pregame press conference in the bowels of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
Jeter was being named captain.
“It meant a lot, because I know it's a title that is not thrown around too lightly in our organization,” Jeter said. “Prior to the Boss naming me the captain, there were whispers that it may happen. When he called me and he asked me if I was OK with being named captain, the one thing he told me was, ‘Listen, I don't want you to change anything. I want you to continue to handle yourself how you've handled yourself up until this point. That's why I'm naming you the captain.’”
Even before the job became his, Jeter was essentially the de facto captain of the Yankees.
“His maturity was incredible from day one,” Tino Martinez said. “Just the way he went about his business day in and day out, his preparation, his love for the game, his accountability. You knew he would be a great leader all those years and he developed into one, but he was a pretty good, quiet leader in years one and two, as well.”
“I put him in the same category as Donnie,” Jim Leyritz said. “He was not a rah-rah guy that would get in people's faces, but if you saw his work ethic, you knew that this kid was mature from a very young age. I think that just resonated within that entire clubhouse.”
Even with a number of accomplished veterans on the team including Roger Clemens, Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, there was little doubt that Jeter was the right choice.
“I think he had a special appeal because of his talent and the fact that he had established himself as a very popular and well-liked person in the sports community in New York,” Williams said. “He was the guy that every girl wanted to be with and every guy wanted to hang out with. The city of New York was his oyster. He was really committed to the game, and winning was the most important thing for him. He made it very appealing for Mr. Steinbrenner to make him the captain.”
“I tried to play the game the right way,” Jeter said. “I tried to play hard every single day; I felt as though that was my responsibility.”
Aaron Boone joined the Yankees less than two months later, sent to New York at the Trade Deadline. He had watched Jeter from afar, but seeing the way he handled his business on and off the field stood out to Boone.
“He played the game with tremendous confidence,” Boone said. “He was always prepared. He was tough as nails. He played through things and he posted. He was just a rock of consistency in the kind of person he was, how he prepared and how he played. He certainly set an example that way.”
For years, Jeter would say that while he might not be the most talented player on the field at a given time, there would never be anybody there that worked harder than him. That attitude rubbed off on his teammates.
“His leadership style was his work ethic,” Jason Giambi said. “You were like, ‘If Derek's out there, how can I not be?’”
Jeter wasn’t the type of leader to hold team meetings, but that didn’t mean he was afraid to approach a teammate for a private conversation if an issue arose.
“As you get a little bit older and you're around a little bit longer, you may be a little bit more vocal behind the scenes,” Jeter said. “I wasn't a guy that spoke just for the sake of speaking; I spoke when I had something to say -- and I did a lot of it behind the scenes.”
The Yankees brought in some high-priced veteran talent prior to the 2009 season, signing CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett as free agents. When Teixeira arrived at Spring Training, he had a conversation with a member of the Torre-era Yankees about playing in New York.
“Tino Martinez was in camp as an instructor and he told me, ‘The best piece of advice I can give you is this: Just do what Derek does,’” Teixeira said. “I didn't puff my chest and rip my shirt off after big hits, dance around the bases. I wanted to model my Yankees existence after someone that had done it really well for a long time.”
Jeter retired at the end of the 2014 season, but the Yankees have yet to hand out the captain title in the seven-plus years since he hung up his spikes for good.
“When it comes to leading by example, you could not do better than Derek Jeter,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “His work ethic, the way he conducted himself, the things he said, there's never better. There may have been some as good, I'm sure, but there's never been better.”