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The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter Hardcover – May 16, 2011
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access to Jeter that has spanned some fifteen years to reveal how a biracial kid from Michigan became New York’s most beloved sports figure and the enduring symbol of the steroid-free athlete. O’Connor takes us behind the scenes of a legendary baseball life and career, from Jeter’s early struggles in the minor leagues, when homesickness and errors in the field threatened a stillborn career, to his heady days as a Yankee superstar and prince of the city who squired some of the world’s most beautiful women, to his tense battles with former best friend A-Rod. We also witness Jeter struggling to come to terms with his declining skills and the declining favor of the only organization he ever wanted to play for, leading to a contentious contract negotiation with the Yankees that left people wondering if Jeter might end his career in a uniform without pinstripes. Derek Jeter’s march toward the Hall of Fame has been dignified and certain, but behind that leadership and hero’s grace there are hidden struggles and complexities that have never been explored, until now. As Jeter closes in on 3,000 hits, a number no Yankee has ever touched, The Captain offers an incisive, exhilarating, and revealing new look at one of the game’s greatest players in the gloaming of his career.
Photos of Derek Jeter from The Captain
(Click on Images to Enlarge)
Derek Jeter and teammates wave their caps to the crowd after Jeter delivered his postgame speech on Yankee Stadium’s final night.
The captain salutes the fans after breaking Lou Gehrig’s franchise record for hits.
The shortstop’s signature play – the jump throw from the hole – from start to finish.
Photos courtesy John Angelillo/UPI
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Ian O'Connor
Q: Why did you feel compelled to write a biography of Derek Jeter?
A: As I say in the introduction to The Captain, the answer is found in my son’s closet, a mini-warehouse of youth baseball jerseys graced by the frayed number 2. With Derek Jeter nearing the end of his iconic career, not to mention a milestone (3,000 hits) no New York Yankee has reached, I thought it was the right time to do a head-to-toe examination of Jeter’s mass appeal. He is the DiMaggio of his time, a beloved but distant figure. My goal was to humanize Jeter. I wanted to paint a public portrait of a private man while celebrating his dignified approach and explaining why his number 2 is number 1 in the closets of kids everywhere.
Q:How did you gather all the material in The Captain?
A: I’ve covered Jeter’s entire career as a newspaper and Internet columnist in the New York market, so I had a strong base of firsthand observations and knowledge and one-on-one and group interviews with Jeter to work with. I also conducted more than 200 interviews exclusively for this book, including conversations with Jeter and past and present teammates, coaches, friends, opponents, teachers, scouts, executives, admirers, and detractors. (I define his detractors as admirers willing to discuss the shortstop’s human flaws.)
Q: What is your favorite anecdote in the book from Jeter’s early years as a Yankee?
A: One of my favorites involves the period before Derek was drafted. As a child he started telling his parents and others he would someday play shortstop for the New York Yankees, and as a teenager he predicted to some that he would marry Mariah Carey (well, he almost went 2 for 2). But the surreal twists and turns of the draft of ’92, when Jeter dropped into the Yankees’ lap as the sixth overall pick, lends credence to the notion he was meant to be a Yank. Houston rejected the advice of its lead Jeter scout, a former Hall of Fame pitcher for Detroit named Hal Newhouser, who resigned because the Astros didn’t pick Derek at number 1 (they took college star Phil Nevin instead). Cincinnati scouting director Julian Mock rejected the advice of his own people and decided in the middle of a draft-day jog to select a college outfielder from central Florida (Chad Mottola) instead of the high school shortstop from Kalamazoo (Jeter) at number 5. To this day, Derek swears he was so convinced he was going in the top five of the draft, he didn’t even know that his dream team, the Yankees, were picking sixth. He knows now... I also enjoyed discovering how Cal Ripken Jr.’s decision to shake a young boy’s hand in 1993 ultimately put twelve-year-old Jeffrey Maier in the Yankee Stadium stands in 1996, when Maier deflected Derek Jeter’s home-run ball into American League Championship Series lore and helped end Baltimore’s season and Ripken’s indelible reign at short.
Q: Jeter is often portrayed as the perfect athlete. Is he perfect?
A: Jeter is about as close to perfect as a superstar athlete can get, but no, he is not an infallible player or person. As a product of parents who raised him on the strict terms of behavioral contracts he was compelled to sign, Jeter never put himself or his team in an embarrassing position. But he’s been overly sensitive to criticism, he’s terrible at forgiving and forgetting those he believes have slighted him, and at times he could have been a better captain to Alex Rodriguez, who craved Jeter’s approval in his early seasons as a Yankee. Jeter didn’t give it.
"Derek Jeter is undoubtedly the most talked about, argued about, cheered, booed and ultimately respected baseball player of his generation. And as public a figure as he has been, he is in many ways the least known. That changes now as Ian O’Connor, one of the best sportswriters anywhere, goes deep and does what no one has quite been able to do: tell us a bit about who Derek Jeter really is." — Joe Posnanski, author of The Machine
"For years we’ve been telling young ballplayers to play and behave like Derek Jeter. Now we can tell them to read Ian O’Connor's The Captain. Finally, we have an inside look at the worthy successor to Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle." — Dan Shaughnessy, author of Fenway and Senior Year
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Top Customer Reviews
4 of 5 stars (very good)
While I cannot consider myself a fan of either the New York Yankees or of Derek Jeter, I respect the consistent excellence that both of them bring to the game of baseball. When I found this book when looking for a good biography, I picked this up. I then let it sit on my “to be read” pile for over a year until the 2014 regular season ended and I decided to read it after Jeter played his last game. I was able to obtain the audio version of the book at no extra cost, and now that I have a longer commute, I decided to listen to the audio book and this review is based on that version.
This is a book that truly lives up to the title. Ian O’Connor does take the reader on a journey of Derek Jeter’s life and career. In the opening notes, O’Connor does state that he did not obtain interviews with Jeter and that the book was a result of research and interviews with other people. \That is the strength of this book as O’Connor tells the complete story of Jeter’s baseball career from his days in Kalamazoo, Michigan to the 1992 draft when Jeter was unexpectedly available for the Yankees (my favorite chapter in the book) to his struggles in the minor leagues and finally his adventures in pinstripes at both the old and new Yankee Stadium.
O’Connor covers many sports in the New York metropolitan area, including the Yankees and his knowledge of the game and the team shows in the book. He writes not only about Jeter’s ride through the Yankee dynasty of 1996-2000, but also has many stories about the team itself and some of the players in those years such as Scott Brosius and Mariano Rivera. The reader is taken through those seasons, as well as the more frustrating seasons as the Yankees waited nine years before winning another title.
Not only is Jeter’s baseball career covered in the book, but O’Connor also does a fine job writing about Jeter’s biracial roots, the values his parents instilled in Jeter and his sister and also the type of lifestyle that many men can only dream of. What I really liked about this aspect of the book is that it did not turn scandalous, as many other biographies do on this topic, nor did it come off as too admiring. Sure, O’Connor states at times that Jeter seems to be living a charmed life. But he didn’t overdo it by letting the reader know that Jeter worked hard at keeping that portion of his life as private as possible, therefore it didn’t turn into tabloid material.
This isn’t to say there weren’t problems with the book as well. Because I listened to the audio version, it was clear that the narrator, Nick Polifrone, was not familiar with some of the players mentioned in the book as there were several mispronunciation incidents of player names. Two examples are Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia – the second syllable was pronounced with a long A sound instead of the correct short A sound. Also notable is Robin Yount’s name was pronounced with the first syllable sounding like “You” instead of the proper “Yow.” Of course this is not an issue for readers of the paper book or the e-book, but I was disappointed to hear these names not properly pronounced.
I also felt that at times O’Connor’s writing came across as an admirer of Jeter instead of an objective author. That came across when Jeter would be struggling – he would always find a way to overcome it. Those were written in a way that it seemed like the man could do nothing wrong and if he did, he would correct it. I also felt that O’Connor was critical of players not on the Yankees and other teams when it wasn’t called for. This was especially true when the book would need to include the other New York baseball team. The accounts of the 2000 World Series when the Yankees defeated the Mets and also the comparisons to responses by both teams to the 2001 terrorist attacks felt like O’Connor was trying to show just how much better the Yankees were than the Mets. I am sure that he did not intentionally do this, but that is how it felt, especially when listening to the book instead of reading it.
Despite these minor issues, I felt that the book was a very good recap of Jeter’s career and life up to the middle of the 2011 season, including the day Jeter got his 3000th base hit. This book is well worth the time to read for learning more about Jeter and what lead to his Hall of Fame- worthy career.
Did I skim?
Pace of the book:
Excellent. O’Connor keeps the book moving with interesting tales on each portion of Jeter’s career. This is not only for his time with the Yankees but also during his high school days and his struggles in the minor leagues.
Do I recommend?
Yes. Whether the reader is a Yankees fan, a baseball fan in general or enjoys well-researched biographies, this book is a good choice. If the reader is someone who believes too much attention was given to Jeter during his playing days or strongly dislikes the New York Yankees, then pass on this one.
Book Format Read/Listened:
Yet Jeter is still only human and O'Connor is perceptive of his subject's faults. In particular, Jeter is portrayed as being both overly sensitive to criticism and ruthlessly unforgiving towards those he perceives as having wronged him or violated his friendship. The latter trait is especially highlighted in the second-half of the book, which is dominated by the complex relationship between Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. O'Connor, not unfairly, concludes Jeter failed A-Rod in his role as Yankee captain by holding a grudge over passive-aggressive comments Rodriguez had made years earlier and not extending to the third baseman during his early struggles in New York the same public support Jeter had given Chuck Knoblauch and Jason Giambi during their adversities. The chinks-in-the-armor are relatively trifling and stand out only because they contrast, however slightly, with what O'Connor astutely describes as Jeter's almost unfailing instinct to do "the right thing at the right time." Ultimately, it's to Jeter's credit that he was able to overcome his twin shortcomings by improving both his fielding range and his relationship with Rodriguez, putting the Yankees on the path to their 27th World Series victory in 2009.
It's been said that Yankee superstars come in two general molds: those of the flamboyant Ruth-Mantle-Jackson lineage, and those of the stately Gehrig-DiMaggio-Mattingly lineage. A-Rod is of the first; Jeter, very much of the second. From their elegant playing styles and dogged work ethics to their guarded public personas and glamourous romantic lives, the similarities between Jeter and DiMaggio are uncanny. Like Jeter, DiMaggio was also known to summarily cut off anyone who transgressed him even once and was fiercely protective of his personal life. Fittingly, when the old Yankee Stadium closed in 2008, it was the sign in the clubhouse tunnel bearing DiMaggio's famous "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee" quote that Jeter took home as a souvenir. The Jeter-DiMaggio comparison is a compelling one that's made several times within the book, including in a quote from Phil Rizzuto, though one significant difference between the Yankee legends is dutifully noted by O'Connor: Jeter is accessible and unfailingly polite, whereas DiMaggio was notoriously rude.
O'Connor's writing on the whole is smooth, though at times it can be too casual, and he makes one glaring factual error in placing David Justice on the '99 Yankees (Justice was not acquired from Cleveland until mid-way through 2000). While many of the stories will be familiar to Yankee diehards (particularly those who have read Buster Olney's The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty New Edition: The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness), there is enough interesting new material and the book is current enough (up through the 2010-11 off-season, including the surprisingly contentious contract negotiations between Jeter and the Yankees) to stand in its own right as a worthwhile read.
Enthusiastically recommended for Jeter, Yankee, and baseball fans alike.