Jeter can do no wrong in new biography

Posted: July 06, 2011

DEREK JETER is about to go where no other pin-striped, single-digit Yankee has ever gone before. Not Babe Ruth, not Lou Gehrig, not Joe DiMaggio. Jeter is about to become the first New York Yankee to grind out 3,000 hits.

He plays hard, he plays hurt, he's handsome, he's humble. He has won five Gold Gloves, despite the furious screeches of those nerds with their charts and graphs and decimal points who insist the shortstop has the range of a weary snail.

He played for baseball's most intrusive owner, George Steinbrenner. Transformed one of The Boss' rants about his social life into a clever commercial that had them dancing together.

He navigates New York's tabloid jungle with grace, avoiding the quicksand by hoarding his thoughts on anything with the barest scent of controversy. He has dated some of the most beautiful women in the world, on his terms, and is currently romancing actress Minka Kelly, who is gorgeous and talented.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman once said, if you had a daughter, you'd want her to marry someone like Jeter.

And, if you have a son, I've got a book for you to buy him. It's called "The Captain" and it's written by Ian O'Connor, a gifted journalist who does not disguise his admiration for Jeter, even if the player did not cooperate.

You don't have to be a Yankees fan to enjoy this glowing portrait of a big-league ballplayer, the face of the franchise for a dozen years. If O'Connor searched for a dark side, and that's doubtful, he didn't find it. Or if he did, he doesn't reveal it.

Jeter is described as a "biracial golden child," the son of a black father and a white mother. He may have gotten his steely work ethic from his grandfather, Sonny, who never called in sick. He probably got his aborrhence of drugs from his father, a drug counselor.

He was a dynamite high school athlete in Kalamazoo, Mich., thoroughly scouted. O'Connor goes deep into the decision of five teams to pass on Jeter before the Yankees snatched him out of the amateur draft.

There's a painful segment about Hal Newhouser who resigned when Houston ignored his enthusiastic scouting reports. And we can't blame that one on Eddie Wade.

It is somehow comforting to read that Jeter did not set the minor league world afire. He cried himself to sleep many nights, and ran up huge phone bills, seeking sympathy from his parents.

Finally promoted to the big show, handed the cherished No. 2, he had to convince front-office cynics that he belonged. What followed was an only-in-America saga of success, four world championships in his first 5 years, a .313 batting average, and a play that will live forever, that incredible sequence against Oakland in the division championship series.

The Yankees were clinging to a 1-0 lead when Terrence Long slashed a Mike Mussina pitch for a double down the first-base line that seemed sure to score Jeremy Giambi from first. The cutoff toss from rightfield was woeful but here came Jeter, chasing down that throw. He caught it on a bounce, running full speed toward the Yankees dugout. Caught it and flipped it, across his body, to catcher Jorge Posada.

Posada tagged Giambi, who stubbornly ignored a teammate's anguished pleas to slide. Jeter fist-pumped, a gesture he usually saved for postseason clinchers.

O'Connor is so enchanted by the play he does a two-and-a-half twist off the high board into a glistening pool of hyperbole. "Jeter," he writes, "did not know it at the time, but this was a fitting moment for him to take a stand. In the coming years Jeremy Giambi would admit to taking steroids, and his brother, Jason, would testify about his own steroid use before a federal grand jury. They were both wearing the colors of a team built around sabermetrics, the analytical approach that would be used like a bayonet to puncture Jeter's standing in the game.

"The disparate forces of steroids and sabermetrics collided at the plate that day and there was no mathematical formula to explain why Jeter - patron saint of the clean ballplayer, punching bag of the sabermetric set - walked away without a scratch."

Hoo-ha.

The reality is that the reader is left to wonder why Jeter, squeaky clean in the steroid era, didn't speak out about the epidemic of performance-enhancing drug use? He may have been borrowing a page from Michael Jordan who argued that "Republicans buy sneakers, too" when he dodged commenting on a political issue.

OK, so Jeter cringes at criticism. That doesn't make him a bad person. And he was downright frigid toward teammate Alex Rodriguez, that surely doesn't make him a bad person. O'Connor gets a trifle heavy-handed in comparing the two star players, with Jeter winning in every personality category.

The author shows his chops when he thoroughly retells the Jeffrey Maier story. Maier is the 13-year-old kid who brought his glove to the ballpark in the 1996 playoffs, scrambled to the front row and deflected Jeter's fly ball, transforming it into a home run.

One of the few flashes of anger comes through when Jeter is furious with the way the negotiations for his last contract go public. Cashman suggests he test the free-agency waters, which is not what the captain expects to hear. He settles for 3 years and the highest pay for a shortstop in the league.

He chugs through a tough 2011 season and gets within six hits of 3,000 when a calf injury puts him on the disabled list. Let the record show that the Yankees won 12 of the first 15 games he missed.

Now he's back, needing four hits for 3,000. He will get to 3,000, at home, and make a short, humble speech. Joe Torre, who managed him through some golden years, will be there. Jeter still calls him "Mister Torre."

Did you expect anything else?

Send email to stanrhoch@comcast.net.

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