As Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly watched ESPN's Michael Jordan docuseries "The Last Dance" on Sunday, his mind kept coming back to one person: Derek Jeter. A baseball lifer, Mattingly has had a front-row seat to the rise of Jeter from a fresh-faced rookie to a world champion to a baseball franchise owner. Along the way, Mattingly served in every possible capacity, from Yankees star and team leader in 1995 to Yankees bench coach in 2007 and now as manager of the Marlins, where Jeter now signs the checks as the chief executive officer and part-owner.
As the images of Jordan's early career flashed on the screen, Mattingly couldn't help but be reminded of the young shortstop who became a New York sports legend.
"I heard someone else say that Michael [Jordan] is one of the only guys who he thought could turn it off and turn it on and never turned it off. I loved that statement. I think that was Roy Williams, and Derek was like that," Mattingly said. "He's so consistent. It's smooth every day. Spring training at-bats look just like playoff at-bats. It's one of those guys who could relax and be focused but be there to win every single day. He truly had that on all of the time and every day. That's a long time and that's not easy to do. That's part of the toughness you see from the inside."
Watching the first two episodes of the 10-part docuseries, Mattingly thought back to spending his first spring training with Jeter, who would later become a Jumpman brand ambassador with a signature line.
"I saw him coming into spring training the very first time, right out of high school, skinny little kid who did not belong in big league camp and he would say it. He just looked out of place and to see how quickly that changed, it was incredible. Over the next year, he got better, and then another year you're going 'this guy is looking like a player, and so quick.' Time goes so fast in the game, and then I retire and come back and coach and watched him during retirement in the World Series and what he's accomplishing and then to go back to be a coach and to be a part of the clubhouse again and watch how he goes about his business. It was day in and day out fun to watch."
Mattingly noted that while everything might look easy for someone like Jeter on the surface, he witnessed the effort not seen by the general public, a day-to-day grind he experienced through nights on team planes and dinners and countless hours in the clubhouse.
"The toughness, it's probably not a word a lot of people use with him because he's a good-looking dude, beautiful wife, beautiful family, has got it all," Mattingly said. "You start watching the Michael Jordan documentary and I'm telling you, Derek is right there, even now with that kind of toughness that you're going to see in this documentary. It's Derek."
The relationship between the two Yankees legends has evolved as Jeter has gone from hotshot rookie to Mattingly's boss. When Jeter took over the job running the Marlins, Mattingly walked into his new boss and former teammate's office and told him that if he needed to let him go and hire a new manager, he was free to do so without affecting their friendship.
"We're friends, it's never going to change, but you are an owner now and if you don't think I'm the right guy for this, you gotta move on. It's not going to change anything" Mattingly told Jeter. "I wanted to let him know that right away and he's had to make some decisions on that. We had our conversations last year before I re-signed it was clear for me, all I wanted to hear was that he thought I was the right guy. I wanted it to be baseball. Derek doesn't get into this not to win. Anything he's done, he's won and he's been coming out on top. He didn't get in this to lose. I had to earn this job from him from the standpoint that it feels like I am the right guy to help build this organization in its totality."
In today's game, Mattingly says Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout most reminds him of the day-to-day consistency and effort put forth by Jeter. When he reflects on the time he's spent with Jeter, Mattingly makes a point that Jeter was one of the few hitters who never dramatically altered or tweaked his approach and swing during his career.
"I think the thing he was doing during his first game is the same thing he was trying to do during his last game," Mattingly said. "You watched him hit, he hit the same way. He talks about it, how he never used a different bat. It's hard to not really change what you do over the course of that many years because your body changes and your quickness and things like that, but he just stayed with what he always did. Could still shoot that ball to right field. It was amazing he stayed that consistent."