Born: June 26, 1974
Derek Sanderson Jeter was born June 26, 1974 in Pequannock. Derek’s father, Charles, was an alcohol- and drug-abuse counselor. His mother, Dorothy, worked as an accountant. The family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan when Derek was four. Charles and Derek often traveled to Detroit when the Yankees were in town to play the Tigers. One of Derek’s favorite players was Dave Winfield.
Derek and his sister, Sharlee, spent their summers with their grandparents, Dot and Bill Connors, at their West Milford home in Bergen County. Dot served as Derek’s catcher when he worked on his pitching skills as a boy. As far as his father was concerned, Derek was destined to become a shortstop—the same position he had played for Fisk University.
Derek blossomed as an all-around athlete at Kalamazoo Central High School. By his junior year, Derek was being scouted by big-league clubs and recruited by colleges. Despite a season-long ankle injury, he batted over .500 as a senior and was named National High School Player of the Year. Derek had a scholarship waiting for him at Michigan, but when the Yankees grabbed him in the draft with the #6 pick, the choice was easy—he was going pro.
There wasn’t much the Yankees could teach Derek in the minors. His fielding mechanics were good and he already had the inside-out batting stroke that enabled him to fight off inside pitches. Derek made the tough plays look easy in the field; he sometimes made the easy plays harder than they should be. However, by the time he joined the Yankees at the tail-end of the 1995 season, he was major-league ready in all facets of the game.
Derek won the starting job in 1996 and became the young leader of a very special team. The Yankees had a great balance of selfless veterans and young guns, including Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Along with Derek, this core would propel the Yankees to six pennants and four World Series championships between 1996 and 2003.
Derek often made signature plays when the Yankees needed them most. In the 1996 playoffs, he hit a clutch homer against the Orioles that was snatched off the field of play by a fan named Jeffrey Maier. In the 2000 World Series, Derek homered to lead off pivotal Game 4, and homered again the next game to give the Yankees their third championship in a row. In the 2011 playoffs against the A’s, Derek crossed the infield on a cutoff play and flipped the ball behind him to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate. This play turned the series around and helped New York reach the World Series again. In 2004, he dove into the stands to snare a foul pop in a key series against the Red Sox. The player Derek was most often compared to—Nomar Garciaparra—was on the bench for Boston nursing a minor injury. From that day on, baseball fans (even Yankee-haters) generally gave Derek the edge in head-to-head comparisons.
Derek was not known as a player who racked up big numbers. His value to the team tended to transcend stats. Even so, the stats tell an impressive story. He led the league in runs in 1998 and hits in 1999. He batted .300 or better in 11 of his first 14 seasons as a starter. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1996 and finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting seven times—including a controversial second-place finish in 2006. In 2000, Derek was named MVP of the All-Star Game and the World Series.
Derek also won accolades for his defense. He won the Gold Glove in 2004, 2005 and 2006. After hearing criticism that he had lost a step in the field, he rededicated himself to defense and won the award again in 2009 and 2010. His patented jump-throw from the hole is now taught to shortstops from high school to the pros.
The 2009 season was a fun one for Derek. The Yankees returned to the World Series after a five-year absence. Derek passed Lou Gehrig that summer as the Yankees’ all-time hit king. Against the Phillies that October, Derek was one of the few Yankees who could solve Philadelphia’s terrific pitching. Derek had three hits in Game 6 to help New York take the game and the series. He celebrated like he did as a rookie 13 years earlier.
On Opening Day of 2010, Derek, Mariano and Jorge became the first trio in the history of North American team sports to play together for 16 seasons. In 2011, Derek became the first player in the history of New York baseball to collect 3,000 hits.That July, Derek and Jorge took the field together for the 1,660th time to break the team record held by Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri. The stress of chasing 3,000 and a nagging leg injury led many to predict a decline in performance in 2012. Instead, Derek rapped out 216 hits to lead the AL. The Yankees were actually looking good for a possible pennant until Derek broke his ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers. Detroit went on to sweep the series.
The drop-off came in 2013 and 2014, Derek's final two seasons as a big leaguer. He opened 2013 on the DL with the same ankle problem and didn't return to the lineup until late July. Then quad and calf injuries limited him to just 19 games. Prior to the 2014 campaign, Derek announced that it would be his last, making the entire season a farewell tour. He notched his 1,000th multi-hit game (becoming just the fourth player to do so) and passed Honus Wagner on the all-time hit list. He hit a single and a double in the All-Star Game to finish his career with a .481 average in the Midseason Classic. In his final game at Yankee Stadium, Derek beat the Orioles with a walk-off hit. In his final major league at bat, he beat out an infield single iat Fenway Park.
Derek finished his career as a 14-time All-Star with 5 Gold Glove and 5 Silver Slugger awards. Though he never received an MVP award, he finished among the leaders in voting a dozen times between 1997 and 2009. Derek earned the Hank Aaron Award as the game’s best hitter in 2006 and 2009, was the SI Sportsman of the Year in 2009, and was the MVP of one All-Star Game and one World Series. He will almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.