For the past 18 years, the face of America’s national pastime has remained static. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is set to finally hang up his cleats. Jeter’s final home game is Thursday Sept. 25 against the Baltimore Orioles and his last game ever will be Sunday Sept. 28 at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.
From the moment Jeter entered the league, there was a special aura about him. In his first full season in 1996, Jeter had a .314 batting average and helped the Yankees defeat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. He only hit 10 home runs that year, but George Costanza memorably taught him how to step up his game in the offseason. From that point forward, Jeter was at or near the top of the league in jersey sales. Now at 40-years-old and hitting just over .250, Jeter is still leading the league in sales.
All of this begs the question: why is Jeter so popular? Plenty of other athletes have been successful in major markets like New York, but none have really had the pull of The Captain. Unlike New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Jeter was not drafted first overall and given the proverbial silver spoon.
In the 1992 Major League Baseball Draft, Jeter—coming out of Kalamazoo Central High School—was taken behind the likes of Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, B.J. Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chad Mottola (don’t feel bad, I haven’t heard of them either).
Even in the early years of his MLB career, Jeter was somewhat of an underdog. He made an average of under $400,000 per year in his first two seasons. In those seasons, however, Jeter won two World Series rings, a Rookie of the Year award and had been elected to an All-Star Game.
Of course, he was not an underdog forever. As the number of Yankees World Series titles grew, so did Jeter’s popularity. From 1999-2009, Jeter hit .292 or higher every year.
One of the most remarkable things about Jeter is that he has never been tied to performance enhancing drugs. While former teammates Rodriguez and Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte have both been caught using PEDs, Jeter has stayed away from it and his statistics reflect that. When a player uses drugs like anabolic steroids or human growth hormone, the number of homeruns they hit typically skyrockets. Jeter has only hit over 20 homeruns three times in his career and never in back-to-back years.
Off the field, Jeter is someone that everyone wants to be. He’s a clean-cut guy who dates celebrities—most notably Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel. It can be difficult for athletes to transcend sports and go into the celebrity world without any scandal, but Jeter has handled it better than almost anybody.
Jeter’s legacy can be epitomized in two commercials: one released by Nike and one by Gatorade. In the Nike spot, celebrities and athletes like Michael Jordan are shown paying respect to The Captain’s incredible career. The Gatorade ad shows Jeter interacting with fans in the streets of New York City—a king amongst men.
If you’re still trying to go to one of Jeter’s last games, good luck. The cheapest tickets currently available on StubHub.com for his last home game are being sold for over $300. If you actually want a good seat, you could pay up to $10,000. Tickets for his final game are going for double that.
It’s hard to truly sum up Jeter’s legendary career. He’s one of the few athletes ever to have a Hall of Fame career and have a nearly untarnished public image. When Jeter walks off the field on Sunday for the last time, the sporting world will tip its collective cap to The Captain.