My friend barely turned his head in my direction when he muttered, “I know you’re a Cardinals fan, but I thought that maybe you could at least appreciate Jeter’s accomplishment.” I wasn’t sure why he would say that, because as a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I’m generally viewed as the classiest and most intelligent of baseball fans. But regardless, of course I can appreciate Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit this past Saturday. How could anyone not appreciate it?
Jeter became the first player in his franchise’s storied history to record his 3,000th career hit, and he did it in perfect New York Yankee fashion – with a home run. He became just the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to accomplish the feat of 3,000 hits, and only the second to do it with a home run (Wade Boggs) and while going 5-for-5 at the plate during that game (Craig Biggio). And with all reasonable probability, he’ll be one of the last few to hit 3,000 for quite some time.
Currently, the list of active players trailing Jeter’s 3,004 career hits looks like the Who’s Who of “Really? He’s Still Playing?” Pudge Rodriguez ranks second with 2,842 hits, and I could see him trying to catch on another season or two to get his milestone, but even 158 hits is a stretch for him. Alex Rodriguez is already sitting at 2,762 so you can bet he’ll be the next to hit 3,000, but after that it’s a shallow pool. Albert Pujols will cross the 2,000-hit threshold this season, but even if he has one hell of another decade, will he even do it with the same team?
That’s why Jeter’s feat is so entirely remarkable, even enough to get the most fervent Yankees haters giving a half-assed slow clap out of respect for something we’re probably never going to see again. Jeter has done this all as a Yankee. Not Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Joe DiMaggio, or Lou Gehrig. Only Jeter wore the pinstripes while recording his 3,000th hit, not that those other losers ever even reached the milestone in any uniform.
But my fascination remains with the stigma of the Yankees uniform. We’ve witnessed players arrive for a number of teams with great cavalcades of hype, and we’ve laughed at the schadenfreude as they melted down and disappeared in a matter of seasons. But not Jeter. He did it right, and he did it in the Yankee spotlight. His career began in the middle of the 1995 season, and with it he became a star. And he handled it all with dignity, class, and some of the hottest girls in the world hanging from his arm.
1995-1997: A New Hope
Jeter’s start was rocky, as an injury delayed his magnificent debut in 1995 and he didn’t look too hot when his May call-up eventually arrived. But 1995 was a wash and 1996 was the real coming out party that started with a Jeter home run in the first game. What began as his successful Rookie of the Year campaign, ended with the first Yankees World Series win in 18 years. Suddenly, Jeter was the name on every New Yorker’s mind, and his personal life mirrored that first game home run.
Arguably Jeter’s first tabloid moment came when he was spotted courtside at a New York Knicks game with actress and model Tyra Banks and singer Brandy. Rumors began swirling that Jeter and Banks were an item, which is a tremendous feat for him because this was when Banks was at her celebrity peak (think Fresh Prince of Bel Air in 1993 and Higher Learning in 1995) compared to now:
And you know that for good measure he probably dated Brandy, too. But those details are a little foggy because of his real arrival.
1998: The Beginning of the Jeter Dynasty
By 1998, Jeter was a full-fledged star in New York and with that came an even bigger impact statement than restoring victory to the Bronx. He was dating Mariah Carey. She divorced
her grandfather Tommy Mottola and was suddenly a fixture at Yankees games to cheer on her new man, as well as A-list parties in New York City with Jeter by her side. This relationship was bigger than the World Series the Yankees would win later that year.
While they only lasted a year, this was a testament to the vision that Jeter possessed for himself. He was going to occupy the spotlight, embrace the celebrity, and he was going to make a nation of men want to be him, because every woman wanted to be with him. It probably didn’t even matter how he performed on the field at that point. He had Mariah Carey in her prime, unlike Nick Cannon who is up all night changing diapers in between America’s Got Talent hosting duties, before coming home to Mariah Carey… in her 40s.
1999-2000: Behold the Power
In 1999, Jeter had his most prolific season to date, setting highs in home runs and RBI, and posting the highest batting average of his career. He was providing the perfect parallel between his baseball and personal lives. He performed on the field, took what he wanted off the field, and nobody questioned him for it. He had become bigger than man.
In 2000, after leading the Yankees to their third World Series title in four years, and prior to winning their third in a row later that year, Jeter appeared on Regis & Kathy Lee. In a harmless moment of displaying his charming personality, Jeter admitted that he had a thing for Miss Universe Lara Dutta. Within a week, the two were on a date together. He snaps his fingers and he gets what he wants.
2001: When a Tiger Attacks
Jeter and Dutta dated for more than a year, and during that time Jeter’s friend, Tiger Woods, was quickly becoming the greatest golfer in the history of the game. He even gave tabloids a glimpse of the man he would eventually become when allegedly asked Dutta to join him at his charity event. If it happened, she denied, and Woods and Jeter remained friends, at least in front of the camera, but there was a minor blemish and that didn’t match Jeter’s plan. Exit Dutta, enter Joy Enriquez.
The Yankee great and the 7th Heaven actress may have already known each other from her time as a backup singer for Mariah Carey, but there’s a better chance that Jeter knew her as Alex Rodriguez’s girlfriend. A-Rod had the biggest contract in MLB history with the Texas Rangers that year. But Jeter had his girl.