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Derek Jeter: A Legacy Worthy of Respect

Zach Thompson breaks down Derek Jeter’s career.

Boston Red Sox Vs. New York Yankees At Fenway Park Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In modern baseball, it’s rare for any player to play his entire career with one franchise, but when that franchise is the most decorated in the sport and the player is a meaningful contributor to multiple championships, the pieces are in place for a truly legendary career. Derek Jeter played 19 seasons in the Majors, all with the New York Yankees, and helped win five World Series titles between 1996-2009. As we celebrate the arrival of Jeter’s NFT at the DraftKings Marketplace, let’s take a look at the highlights of his storied career and how he became such a legend.

Jeter was born on June 26, 1974, in New Jersey but moved to Michigan when he was five years old. He played Little League in Michigan during the school year, but during the summer, he returned to the New York area to visit his grandparents. During those summers, he often attended Yankees games and became a passionate fan of the team. Despite earning a scholarship to the University of Michigan, he chose to go pro right out of high school after he was drafted No. 6 overall in the 1992 draft by the Bronx Bombers.

Early in his professional career, Jeter struggled both at the plate and in the field, but he still impressed with his poise and professionalism. He committed himself to offseasons of hard work and started to grow into a much more highly-regarded prospect throughout his four seasons in the minor leagues. He got the call to the Majors in 1995 after injuries to Tony Fernández and Pat Kelly but didn’t impress enough to keep the job when the veterans returned. The following year, though, then-Yankees manager Joe Torre was convinced that Jeter was ready and wanted to give him the full-time job. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wasn’t so sure, though, and actually approved a trade that would have sent future Yankees legend Mariano Rivera to Seattle in exchange for Félix Fermín to help improve the team’s SS depth. However, the rest of the Yankees’ front office was able to talk Steinbrenner out of the trade and into giving Jeter a shot at the everyday role.

Not making that trade proved to be a wise choice not only because Rivera blossomed into the best closer in MLB history, but also because Jeter made an immediate impact, putting together a strong enough season to unanimously win the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year. He hit .314 with 10 home runs, 104 runs scored, 78 RBI and a .354 wOBA. Jeter also began laying the groundwork for his outstanding postseason career in his rookie year, including his famous home run against the Orioles in that year’s ALCS that got an assist from Jeffrey Maier reaching over the railing in right field. Ultimately, he helped lead the Yankees to a World Series victory that year over the Braves. Two years later, in 1998, Jeter made his first All-Star game and also finished third in AL MVP voting while helping the Yankees to another World Series win over the Padres.

The Yankees added two more World Series wins in a row with Jeter at the heart of the three-peat that lasted through 2000. The third of those championships came at the expense of their crosstown rivals, the Mets, and Jeter earned the World Series MVP Award, becoming the only player in MLB history to earn All-Star Game MVP and World Series MVP in the same season.

In 2001, the Yankees fell short of making it four championships in a row, losing to the Diamondbacks in seven games, but Jeter still had a memorable postseason, highlighted by his famous play known as “The Flip” which helped the Yankees avoid elimination against the Athletics in the ALDS. In 2004, Jeter made another amazing play chasing down a Trot Nixon pop fly and hurtling headlong into the stands behind third base at Yankee Stadium. He landed two rows deep and still managed to hold on for the catch. It seems appropriate that Jeter’s memorable plays in the field have more to do with hard work and hustle than with amazing natural ability. Jeter never had the pure tools of some of the best players of his era, but he always worked hard, played smart and gave maximum effort. Jeter’s success always seemed to be more based on mental focus and hard work than natural ability.

After winning four World Series titles in his first five seasons, it took until Jeter’s 13th season for him to claim his fifth ring. He dominated for the Yankees’ entire 2009 postseason run, hitting .355 in the playoffs, including .407 in the World Series against the Phillies. He finished third in the AL MVP voting that season and was also named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated.

Jeter was a free agent following the 2010 season and almost left the Yankees. New York wisely brought back the then-36 year old, though, so that he could finish his career with four more years in the Bronx. One of the most memorable moments from his final few seasons with the Yankees was his 3,000th career hit, which came on July 9, 2011. Jeter achieved the milestone in style, going 5-for-5 on the day he hit that plateau, reaching exactly 3,000 hits on a home run, and adding a walk-off hit to end the game. Jeter is the only player to have 3,000 hits all with the New York Yankees and the only player to join the exclusive club as a Yankee.

In 2014, Jeter announced before the season that it would be his final year, setting up a “farewell tour,” as he visited each city for a final time. Typically, his send-off included a donation to his Turn 2 Foundation along with a significant gift which ranged from a jar of dirt from Comiskey Park from the White Sox to a personalized kayak from the Rays. He even got a special send-off from the rival Red Sox, which included a heavy-metal placard from the Green Monster reading “RE2PECT,” signed by the 2014 Red Sox and a live singing of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” The Yankees, of course, had to go even bigger and got Jeter a “Re2pect” salute from the astronauts at the International Space Station, a declaration of “Derek Jeter Day” and a 10-day trip to Tuscany.

Jeter’s tributes may have gotten a little out of control, but there’s no arguing his place in baseball history. Jeter is still the Yankees’ all-time career leader in hits (3,465), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), plate appearances (12,602) and at-bats (11,195). He finished with five Gold Glove awards, five Silver Slugger awards and 14 All-Star appearances.

Off the field, Jeter was one of the most heavily marketed athletes ever. His “working class” vibe and dedication to excellence appealed to many major brands including Gillette, Ford, VISA, Gatorade and Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike. His celebrity in the “City that Never Sleeps” also led to plenty of attention to his dating life. He had relationships with fellow celebrities Mariah Carey, Jessica Biel and Miss Universe Lara Dutta before marrying model Hannah Davis with whom he now has two daughters, Story and Bella.

Jeter was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020 in his first year of eligibility, being named on 396 of 397 ballots submitted. COVID-19 delayed the induction ceremony until Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, which puts it right in the middle of his week as the featured athlete for DraftKings’ NFTs.

Since his retirement, Jeter has stayed very involved in Major League Baseball and is still one of the most well-respected and recognized faces of the game. Since September 2017, he has been CEO and part-owner of the Miami Marlins.

While his post-career legacy still has plenty of room to grow, there is no doubt that Jeter is one of the greatest players of all time. His hard work and consistent hustle made him a fan favorite, and his on-field accomplishments put him on the shortlist of the greatest players of all-time for the most successful team in the history of baseball.