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Jeter always in position to win

Jeter drives the Yankees
By Nick Acocella
Special to

"I met Tiger Woods and I looked in his eyes - and I saw Derek Jeter. They don't have to tell people they're good. They just prove it by the way they love the competition," says Joe Torre on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Derek Jeter is, above all else, a winner. In his first five full seasons, the lanky New York Yankees shortstop led the team to four world championships. In baseball history only Joe DiMaggio, a World Series winner in each of his first four years, did better.

Jeter's importance goes beyond his .314 average, the fifth highest in Yankees history behind Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs and DiMaggio, all Hall of Famers. His defensive prowess, baserunning, clubhouse presence and on-field leadership have made him the central figure in the latest Yankees dynasty that has produced five American League pennants and nine AL East titles since he arrived fulltime.

While Jeter has never hit 25 homers and only once knocked in more than 85 runs, he still is considered one of the game's top players. From 1996 through 2005, Jeter led all major leaguers with 1,924 hits; was selected for five All-Star Games; had at least 25 doubles and reached double digits in homers and steals every season; and scored more than 100 runs nine years.

The best shortstop in Yankees history also has shined in October. In 23 postseason series (115 games) through 2005, he had a .307 average, 81 runs and 47 RBI.

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter beats Mike Piazza's tag to score on David Justice's double in the third inning in Game 3 of the 2000 Subway Series.

In 2000, Jeter was voted the Most Valuable Player in both the All-Star Game and the World Series. He was the first Yankee so honored in an All-Star Game.

An aggressive first-pitch hitter, Jeter justly has earned a reputation for not walking enough and striking out too often. He has whiffed more than 100 times in five seasons and 99 times in three others. On the other hand, in 2002 he hit .437 with seven homers swinging at first pitches.

Off the field, Jeter also is a hit. A bachelor, he is noted for squiring beautiful models to New York nightspots and has been called the Prince of the City. He has been linked romantically with former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, pop singer Mariah Carey and actress Jordana Brewster.

Jeter was born on June 26, 1974 in Pequannock, N.J., to an interracial family. His father Charles is an African-American from Alabama and his mother Dorothy is white. Charles, a substance abuse counselor, and Dorothy, an accountant, moved the family to Kalamazoo,Mich., when Derek was four.

On summer vacations, he and his younger sister Sharlee traveled back east to West Milford, N.J., where they lived with their grandparents, both Yankee fans. Introduced to baseball at six by his grandmother, he also became a Yankee fan under her influence. At Kalamazoo Central High School he batted .557 as a junior and .508 as a senior when the American Baseball Coaches Association named him High School Player of the Year in 1992. The Yankees selected him with the sixth overall pick in the June draft. Jeter struggled in the low minors in 1992 before showing promise at Greensboro of the South Atlantic League (A) the next year.

In 1994, he batted .344 while splitting the season among Tampa of the Florida State League (A), Albany of the Eastern League (AA) and Columbus of the International League (AAA). He was named The Sporting News' Minor League Player of the Year. He hit .317 for Columbus and led the International League with 96 runs in 1995. He also appeared in 15 games for the Yankees that season. By the following spring, the 21-year-old was in the show for good. He was the first rookie to start at shortstop on opening day for the Yankees since Tom Tresh in 1962.

Voted Rookie of the Year for his .314 average and 104 runs, he went on to hit .361 in the postseason as the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves for their first world championship since 1978.

His most memorable at-bat of the year came in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the AL Championship Series against Baltimore. He was given a game-tying homer by umpire Richie Garcia despite a 12-year-old fan reaching out and pulling the ball back into Yankee Stadium's rightfield stands above a waiting Tony Tarasco in what seemed to be interference.

After batting .291 in 1997, Jeter bounced back the next season with a .324 average, a league-leading 127 runs, 19 homers and 84 RBI. Eliminated in the Division Series in 1997, the Yankees surged back to the top with a sweep of the San Diego Padres in the World Series. After hitting only .176 in the Division and League Championship Series, Jeter came through in the World Series, batting .353.

His best season was 1999 when he achieved personal bests in hits (219), runs (134), doubles (37), triples (9), homers (24), runs batted in (102), average (.349), slugging percentage (.552) and on-base percentage (.438).

That August, Jeter was criticized by teammate Chad Curtis for playfully sparring with Alex Rodriguez, his good friend, on the edge of a Yankees-Mariners brawl. Curtis was traded to Texas before the season ended.

Jeter followed his outstanding campaign with averages of .455, .350 and .353 in the three postseason series. His play against Atlanta helped produce a second consecutive world championship sweep.

In 2000, Jeter sparkled again with a .339 average, 15 homers, 73 RBI and 22 steals. He faltered in the Division Series against the Oakland A's with a .211 average, but rebounded with a .318 mark against Seattle in the ALCS and a .409 average against the Mets in the first Subway Series since 1956. DJ, as he's called, had two homers, a triple and two doubles in the five games against the Mets.

In February 2001, Jeter signed the richest contract in Yankees history: $189 million over 10 years. While his average dropped to .311, he had 21 homers, 74 RBI and 27 stolen bases. He then destroyed Oakland in the Division Series with his bat (a .444 average) and his glove. Not just the famous "Flip" to Jorge Posada in Game 3, but also the headlong dive he made into the photographer's box behind third base to snare a Terrence Long popup in Game 5.

After that, however, his bat - for the most part - went silent in the ALCS against Seattle and in the seven-game defeat to Arizona in the World Series. His 14-game Series hitting streak, which tied him with Roberto Clemente for third best all-time, was snapped in Game 1.

Jeter had one huge moment in the Series, though, when he smacked a game-winning homer in the 10th inning of Game 4 at four minutes after midnight. The Yankee Stadium scoreboard flashed the message "Mr. November" to commemorate the event. It was the first time major league baseball ever was played in that month.

Despite slipping to .297 in 2002, Jeter still had a solid season with 18 homers, 75 RBI and a career-best 32 stolen bases. He led the majors in stealing percentage, getting caught only three times for a .914 percentage.

In December 2002, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner criticized Jeter's flair for the New York nightlife, saying his star shortstop "wasn't totally focused" and that "it didn't sit well" with him that Jeter reportedly stayed out until 3 a.m. at a birthday party. Angry, Jeter took some veiled shots at the owner, but then refused to discuss the matter again, defusing the situation.

In 2003, Jeter and The Boss made two VISA commercials that poked fun at Steinbrenner's criticism.

On opening day, Jeter suffered a dislocated shoulder in a collision with Toronto's Ken Huckaby. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound shortstop was sidelined for six weeks and then struggled at the plate. But Jeter, who was named the team's captain in June, bounced back to bat .324, two points behind AL leader Bill Mueller, but with only 10 homers and 52 RBI.

In 2004, Jeter rebounded from a dreadful start - he was hitting only .189 on May 25 - to finish with a .292 average, 23 homers and 78 RBI and win his first Gold Glove. However, the season ended in disappointment when the Yankees became the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in the postseason as the Red Sox rallied to defeat them in the ALCS.

In 2005, Jeter had his fourth 200-hit season as he batted .309 to go with 19 homers and 122 runs. But again the year ended in defeat as the Yankees lost to the Angels in the ALDS.

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