The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter

  • Ian O'Connor
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • 416 pp.
  • July 1, 2011

An unauthorized biography of the now and future baseball great.

Reviewed by Janet Vincent

DJ3K is the imprint on the familiar rubber wristband used by many charitable organizations to promote their causes. The insignia refers to Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Jeter should reach this milestone, achieved by only 27 other major league players, this June. He will be the first New York Yankee to hold that distinction and the achievement will cap his career as one of the most accomplished and respected players in Yankee history. It’s not a vanity bracelet – the proceeds of sales will benefit Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to help young people turn away from drugs and turn to healthy lifestyles. The bracelet will help to fund Jeter’s Leaders, a training program for high school students.

The Captain, Ian O’Connor’s unauthorized biography of Jeter, seeks to answer the question: “How did number 2 get to be number 1?” O’Connor, a sports writer and ESPN radio host, conducted over 200 interviews for this book including conversations with Jeter during the 2009 season. The Captain is written with respect and admiration. Jeter’s detractors, it seems, are actually admirers who shyly discuss his human flaws.

It’s well known to Yankee fans that Jeter spent his childhood summers in New Jersey visiting his maternal grandparents. His grandmother took him to his first Yankee game at the age of 6, the Stadium being only 29 miles from her home. I grew up in Yonkers, New York and only 9 miles from the cathedral of baseball where my grandfather had season tickets, so I share the experience of holding a grandparent’s hand while emerging from the tunnels of the old stadium to behold the wonder that was the house of Ruth and Company. Like Jeter, I imagined myself into the starting line-up, the maker of great plays. The difference is that Jeter actually realized his dream.

A dedicated fan, over time, learns what can be expected from any player – clutch hits, spectacular catches, flailing strike-outs, a fiery temper directed at umpires and water coolers. O’Connor wants the reader to understand how Jeter came to be one of the most respected players in baseball – a timely hitter and playmaker who is almost always in control of his emotions. Those familiar with his story know that Jeter made a record number of errors as an 18-year-old, Gulf League rookie.

What we didn’t know was that he cried himself to sleep each night believing that he couldn’t make it as a professional player. O’Connor takes us through those early years and the continuing development of character and skill until Jeter makes it to “the show” and a string of World Series titles.

There isn’t much of a shadow side to Jeter, as described by O’Connor. He’s always discreet in his relationships and modest in victory. He is the anti-A-Rod in temperament and grace. From Don Mattingly he learned constant hustle and the art of saying little of consequence to the media. From his father, a drug counselor, he understood the dangers of steroids and avoided them. The consummate Yankee and the favorite of George Steinbrenner, Derek Jeter has broken Lou Gehrig’s record for hits (as a Yankee) and is a future Hall of Famer.

The narrative is interesting and some stories shed new light on the inner workings of the Yankee clubhouse, and yet one wishes for more. Perhaps O’Connor should have waited until Jeter’s retirement to write this book. Clearly Jeter himself is not ready to offer any real reflections on his career. In time he might provide a keen perspective on what it’s like to go from vaunted prospect to All Star to aging star.

For a generation Derek Jeter has been the shortstop for the New York Yankees. In childhood I couldn’t imagine the Yankees without Mickey Mantle; it’s hard to imagine them now without Derek Jeter roaming the hot spot of the infield. His number will be retired and more books will be written. It may well be that the final chapter will tell the stories of the young men and women who became leaders because of the Turn 2 Foundation and Derek Jeter’s example. There might actually be things that are more important than winning baseball games. A player and person of Jeter’s stature can tell that story. O’Connor has written a lively book that fans will enjoy. I hope a future book will explore the meaning of being the Captain – in baseball and in life.

Janet Vincent is an Episcopal priest serving in Washington, DC. Before moving to Washington in 2006 she served several Episcopal parishes in New York. She is a third generation Yankees fan.

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