Derek Jeter was the face of Major League Baseball for a generation of fans: he was the captain of the New York Yankees, a 14-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger, 5-time Gold Glover, and ultimately a 5-time World Series Champion. The way Jeter acted on and off the field set the precedent that ballplayers of today follow, and cemented his status as one of the greatest players of all time.
But today, we will have one more chance to celebrate and honor “shortstop, number 2, Derek Jeter”. The Yankee captain will have his jersey retired in front of a sellout crowd on Derek Jeter day. Let’s take a look at the Top 10 plays of Derek Jeter’s memorable career as we celebrate the greatest shortstop of all time.
10. Jeter’s First Career Home Run
There’s no better way to kick off this list than with where it all began: a cold April afternoon in Cleveland in 1996. Jeter would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award for his stellar performance as a freshman that year, and he set the tone on Opening Day with his first big-league home run.
The dinger was no cheap shot, and it was the first stepping stone on Jeter’s road to greatness.
9. Yankee Stadium Farewell Speech
The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008, the first time in Jeter’s career that he would not be playing baseball in October, but leave it to Jeter to still find a way to make a memory out of a disappointing season. After the final game in the final season at the old Yankee Stadium, Jeter took to the microphone and addressed the fans.
Jeter spoke completely off the cuff, but spoke entirely from the heart. He found a way to capture over 80 years of memories while urging fans to create new ones at the same time. Perhaps a World Series would have been the only better way to close the doors on the old house, as Jeter more than did the moment justice.
8. Jeffrey Maier Home Run
Every hero needs a little luck every now and then, and Jeter got a much-needed boost from a young fan by the name of Jeffrey Maier late in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles. Down by a run, Jeter flared a ball down the right field line, and as right fielder Tony Tarasco set his sights on the ball, a 12-year-old boy reached out and caught the ball instead.
In the days of baseball before instant replay, the umpire’s call was the final call no matter what, and it was incorrectly ruled a home run on the field. It isn’t the best ball Jeter ever hit, but it is one of his most memorable.
7. Leadoff HR off Bobby Jones in 2000 World Series
The 2000 World Series was like nothing the baseball world had ever seen before: it pitted two intra-city rivals against each other in a sort of “Subway Series” with the World Series on the line. With the Yankees up in the Series 2-1, they needed to come out with a bang in Game 4.
Jeter usually batted second, but slid into the leadoff spot for Game 4. On the first pitch he saw, he crushed a ball deep into the night for an early 1-0 Yankee lead. The blast energized the Yankees, and they would ultimately take the series in 5 games, giving Jeter his 4th ring at the time.
6. Jeter becomes the Yankees’ All-Time Hit King
The 2009 season was a season full of new beginnings for the Yankees: it was the first year at the new Yankee Stadium, it was the first year for beloved Yankees such as CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, and it was a renaissance year for Jeter, who finished second in AL MVP voting for his efforts. And of course, it culminated in the Yankees’ most recent World Series Championship, the team’s 27th and Jeter’s 5th.
But Jeter’s best moment from that season came in September against the Orioles, when he smacked a line drive into right field for his 2,722nd hit as a Yankee, breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for the most hits as a Yankee. It was the last major Yankee record for Jeter to break, and it was undoubtedly the sweetest for Jeter.
5. Mr. November
Derek Jeter has a lot of nicknames: “Captain Clutch”, “El Capitan”, “Number 2”, “DJ”, “Jeets”, and of course, “Mr. November”. Jeter earned the last nickname for his walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series. Down 2-1 in the Series and 3-1 in the game, Tino Martinez tied things up in the ninth inning, setting the stage for Jeter’s walk-off heroics in the 10th.
Right as the clock struck midnight and the calendar turned from October to November, Jeter squared up on a ball down the right field line, walking off the Arizona Diamondbacks and tying the series back up at 2 games apiece. Reggie Jackson may be Mr. October, but Derek Jeter staked his claim to Mr. November with this clutch home run.
4. The Dive
There are only three things that Derek Jeter hates more than anything else in the world: losing, the Boston Red Sox, and losing to the Boston Red Sox. So when Trot Nixon hit a looping foul ball in the 12th inning of a tie game, Jeter ran like a man possessed from the shortstop position to catch the ball at full speed. However, Jeter left himself little room before the Yankee Stadium wall, and the shortstop hurdled the wall and crashed into the fans, all while hanging onto the ball.
While other Jeter plays showcased his skill or his smarts, no play better demonstrates Jeter’s drive than this one. It was a play that only the top 1% of baseball players choose to make, and Jeter never thought twice.
3. 3,000th Hit
There are few baseball clubs more selective than the 3,000 hit club. Out of the 18,000+ men who have played Major League Baseball, only 30 men have notched 3,000 hits. To achieve such a milestone, a player must have remarkable health, consistency, and skill. Check Derek Jeter off for all three of those boxes.
Against the Tampa Bay Rays in a July 2011 game, Jeter got a first inning single to increase his total to 2,999, and when he came up again in the 3rd inning, the crowd at Yankee Stadium went bananas. Never much of a power hitter, Jeter wore down Rays ace David Price and absolutely crushed a ball into the deep left center seats for his 3,000th hit. This moment proved that no spotlight is too big for Jeter, who didn’t crack under immense pressure and produced a lifetime memory.
2. The Flip
So far, we have chosen so many plays that show off Jeter’s top-caliber skill. However, the best part of Jeter’s game may have been his baseball IQ. One of the smartest ballplayers of the last 20 years, Jeter blended athleticism and brains together as only he could in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics.
Down in the series 2-0, it looked like the A’s would tack another run on the board when Shane Spencer’s long throw home sailed over both cutoff men and died before it could catcher Jorge Posada. But then came Jeter, streaking across the diamond, never bothering to set his feet, and finally shuttling the ball to Posada just in time to nab Jeremy Giambi at the plate.
Broadcaster Thom Brennaman called it best when he said that the play was “one of the most unbelievable plays you will ever see by a shortstop”. It will forever endure as one of Jeter’s most famous plays.
1. The Final Walk-Off
Out of Derek Jeter’s 20-year MLB career, no moment meant more to his biggest fans than the last one he would ever make, in his final home game in September of 2014. Given intense media attention all day long, Jeter could hardly focus in his final game in front of the Yankee Stadium crowd. He doubled in his first at-bat, but failed to get a hit in his next three plate appearances and made an error in the field. Despite this, the Yankees nursed a 5-2 lead going into the ninth inning.
However, David Robertson blew the save, forcing the Yankees to have to rally to win. With a runner on second and one out, Jeter came up to the plate, and everyone at the game and watching on television had already written the perfect script in their minds.
Jeter lined the first pitch he saw into right field, scoring pinch-runner Antoan Richardson and walking off the game. Jeter, ever the stoic leader, was more visibly excited then than perhaps at any other moment in his big league career. It was the the final Hall of Fame moment in a Hall of Fame career. And for that, Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium is far and away the best moment of his storied career.