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Derek Jeter: The Last Yankee Captain


photo by Keith Allison, 2008, CC 2.0

When it comes to big-game players, Derek Jeter is on a short list for the greatest of all-time. Whether it was a key defensive play or a timely hit, the New York Yankees Hall of Famer had a knack for making the right play at the right time.


The Kalamazoo native and University of Michigan alum was drafted by the Yankees with the sixth overall pick of the 1992 Draft. After three-plus years in the minors, Jeter made his Major League debut on May 29, 1995. He played in a total of 15 games during the 1995 season.


Jeter became a starter at shortstop the following year, and would remain there for the next 19 seasons. The 1996 American League Rookie of the Year hit .314 with 10 home runs, 78 RBIs and 104 runs scored. More importantly, he helped lead the Yankees to their first World Series championship since 1978, hitting .361 with 12 runs scored in 15 postseason games.


 

After a successful sophomore season in 1997, Jeter would return to the big stage in 1998. The Yankees won the World Series for the second time in three years, led by the first-time All-Star shortstop, who hit .324 with 19 home runs, 84 RBIs, 127 runs, 203 hits and 30 stolen bases.


The next two seasons would bring similar success for Jeter and the Yankees, as New York won two more World Series titles, giving them three in a row and four in five years. Jeter had arguably his best season in 1999, setting career highs with a .349 average, 24 home runs, 102 RBIs, 134 runs, 219 hits, a .438 on-base percentage, .552 slugging percentage and a .989 OPS.


In 2000, he became the first player to win All-Star Game MVP and World Series MVP in the same season. In the Yankees’ three-peat from 1998-2000, Jeter hit .375 with two home runs and 14 runs scored in 13 World Series games.


 

The Yankees came within two outs of a fourth straight championship in 2001, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks on a walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez, but Jeter had one of the defining moments of his career in the 2001 postseason.


In Game 3 of the American League Division Series, with the Yankees down two games to none to the Oakland A’s, he intercepted an off-target throw from right fielder Shane Spencer and flipped it to catcher Jorge Posada for the out at home plate, preserving a 1-0 lead in a game the Yankees won to avoid elimination. The play, which will never show up on a stat sheet, perfectly illustrates the instincts and high baseball IQ of Jeter.


 

In 2003, Jeter became the first Yankee captain since Don Mattingly in 1995. He went on to hold the position until his retirement in 2014, becoming the longest-tenured Yankee captain in history. New York won another pennant in 2003, but would lose the World Series to the Florida Marlins in six games.


Up to this point in his career, Jeter was widely acknowledged as one of the greatest hitters ever at shortstop, but 2004 brought a new honor: a Gold Glove. He would go on to win three in a row and five in seven years, finally establishing himself as a complete player at his position.


Jeter continued to rack up individual honors, including four straight Silver Slugger awards from 2006-09. He also had three straight 200-hit seasons from 2005-07, the second time in his career he accomplished the feat (1998-2000).


 

In terms of team success, the Yankees remained a contender, but after six pennants and four World Series championships in eight years, they would go five years without playing on baseball’s biggest stage.


That would soon change, as the Yankees faced the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Rising to the moment once again, Jeter hit .407 as the Yankees won in six games. It was the fifth and final World Series title for Jeter, who hit .321 with 32 runs scored in 38 career World Series games.


After a solid but unexceptional season in 2010, Jeter reached the biggest milestone of his career in 2011. On July 9 he went 5 for 5, including a third inning home run off the Tampa Bay Rays’ David Price for his 3,000th career hit. He became only the second player in Major League history to hit a home run for his 3,000th hit.


 

Following two seasons in which he hit below .300, Jeter hit .316 with 15 home runs and an AL-leading 216 hits in 2012. The 38-year-old was awarded his fifth career Silver Slugger for his efforts.


After a series of injuries limited Jeter to only 17 games in 2013, the future Hall of Famer embarked on a retirement tour in 2014. Two moments defined his season. On July 15, he went 2 for 2 with a run scored in his 14th and final All-Star Game, finishing his career with a .481 average in 27 All-Star at-bats. The second big moment came on September 25 in his final game at Yankee Stadium, when he hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to give New York a 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles.


 

The final numbers on Jeter are impressive. He hit .310 with 260 home runs, 1,311 RBIs, 544 doubles, 66 triples and 358 stolen bases in 20 seasons. His 3,465 hits rank sixth all-time, and his 1,923 runs rank 11th. In the field, his 2,674 games at shortstop rank second all-time, and his 6,605 assists at the position rank 10th.


What most people will remember about Jeter, however, are his contributions on the championship stage. In 158 career postseason games, he hit .308 with 20 home runs, 61 RBIs, 111 runs, 200 hits, 32 doubles and 18 stolen bases. The runs, hits and doubles all rank first all-time, while the home runs are third, RBIs fourth and stolen bases sixth.

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