Q&A Feature with Derek Jeter — in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine
By Alfred Santasiere III
September 12, 2016 — The September Issue of Yankees Magazine includes two Q&A features on the Yankees’ 1996 championship team. I traveled to Tampa, Florida, in May to interview Derek Jeter for one of the pieces, and managing editor Jon Schwartz spoke with Joe Torre in New York City for the other feature.
I visited with Jeter at his office in Tampa for more than an hour, and I thoroughly enjoyed our candid conversation about his first full season in the big leagues. Besides interviewing Jeter for this special feature, it was also great to catch up with him and reminisce about so many other great moments in his storied career that I got to witness firsthand.
During the interview, I asked Jeter about a trade that George Steinbrenner almost made in the spring of 1996, in which he would have dealt Mariano Rivera to Seattle for shortstop Felix Fermin. Had that deal gone through, Fermin would likely have been the Yankees starting shortstop that season.
“The guys I came up through the organization with were mentioned in trade rumors all the time,” Jeter said. “I was supposedly getting traded every offseason when I was in the minor leagues. That’s what you’d hear. So you can’t say you tune it out, because you can’t help but to hear about it, but you really try not to pay attention to it. I think that was just the way of the world back in the day. Bernie [Williams] was the first guy from our era to get an opportunity to come up through the minor league system and be an everyday player in New York. The Yankees stuck with him. They let him struggle, and he ended up becoming a great player. But we always felt like we were playing for our jobs. So who exactly supported Mariano not getting traded and me getting an opportunity? Who really knows. But I appreciate whoever took a chance on me.”
A few minutes later, I had a funny exchange with Jeter stemming from a comment I made about Torre’s expectations for him back in 1996.
“Joe Torre said his hopes for you in 1996 were that you would play solid defense and bat somewhere between .240 and .250,” I said.
“He didn’t tell me that,” Jeter said through a laugh.
“He didn’t?” I asked.
“He never told me that he hoped I would hit .240 to .250,” Jeter responded.
Jeter far exceeded what Torre had hoped for, batting .314 in the regular season, with an especially impressive .350 average in the second half.
“First, I wanted to play every day and contribute,” Jeter said. “I wanted to help the team win. I don’t think I ever really sat down and said, ‘Statistically, I want to do this, this, and this.’ I just wanted to contribute. Even though there were a lot of questions about me, I felt as if I could do that. I took it day to day and came to the ballpark with the attitude of what can I do on this particular day to, №1, get better but — more importantly — help the team win and keep my job?”
I was also interested in what life was like for Jeter as a young star in the Big Apple.
“When that year started, I was 21, so if I wasn’t playing professional baseball, I would have been going into my senior year of college,” Jeter said. “My college experience to that point was playing in the minor leagues and then it ended in New York. I don’t know what to compare it to because it’s all I know. But if you have success in New York playing for the Yankees and you win a World Series when you’re 22 years old, it’s everything you could imagine. I don’t know what you wanted to be when you were younger, but that’s everything I wanted to be. All the things that came along with playing for the Yankees, that’s something I don’t know that you could ever prepare yourself for. I guess I was wide-eyed.”
At the end of the interview, I got Jeter to talk about something that he vowed he would never discuss me about during his career — individual accomplishments. I reminded him that he said he would reflect on personal triumphs after he hung up his jersey for the last time, and he did just that.
In addition to that season’s crowning accomplishment of winning the World Series, Jeter also took home the American League Rookie of the Year Award with a unanimous vote.
“Everything that I could possibly have imagined happening in my first year happened for me,” Jeter said. “I can’t look back and say, ‘Well, I wish this or that happened,’ because absolutely everything did happen. It was the perfect picture. There’s no other way I would have wanted it to go.”
Be sure to pick up a copy of the September Issue of Yankees Magazine, where you’ll find the complete Q&A. This feature can also be found on www.yankees.com/magazine, where we are putting our longform content online.
— Alfred Santasiere III