Long before he was The Captain, long before he was bound for Cooperstown and having his number retired, Derek Jeter was a lanky 17-year-old from Kalamazoo, Mich., who once told his fourth-grade teacher he would someday be a New York Yankee and wrote an essay in eighth grade about becoming their shortstop.
Five World Series titles, 14 All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves and 23 years later, few remember how Jeter’s professional career got started. This is the story of how Jeter went from a high school phenom who was named American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Year in 1992 to being drafted and signed by the Yankees as told by the people who aided in his ascension. Their titles are listed as they were in 1995 when Jeter made his major league debut.
For more on Jeter’s journey, click here.
Bill Livesey (Yankees vice president for player development and scouting): “The first day (I watched Jeter) was a rainy day, as only it can be up in the North. You see a young, athletic kid, just a real projectable body. Everything we saw … he did relatively easily. We saw him take (batting practice), and he had some pop in his bat. He threw effortlessly. He moved well for a big, rangy kid. It looked to us like he had a flow for the game. It was the whole picture. Everything he did — it looked like he belonged as a baseball player.”
Dick Groch (Yankees Midwest scouting supervisor): “I remember telling my wife, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation.’ I knew this was going to be a special guy.”
Livesey: “The scout, Dick Groch, just couldn’t have been any higher on him. Everybody we sent in had the same feeling. We were almost to the point of not wanting to get our hopes up too much … We sent the West Coast guy in, Don Lindberg, and he loved him. Jack Gillis was our national cross-checker, and he loved him. I had been in to see him. I thought this was the guy for us.”
Mitch Lukevics (Yankees director of minor league operations): “You were like, ‘This kid’s too good to be true.’ No — he was true.”
Buck Showalter (Jeter’s first major league manager, managed the Yankees from 1992 to 1995): “It doesn’t take any great scouting and great evaluation. … It didn’t take Johnny Superscout to figure out he was going to be really good.”
Livesey: “We just left and we said, ‘Jeez, what else do you need to see? It’s all there, we just have to hope he gets to us (at the sixth pick in the draft).'”
Showalter: “I was watching some tape of him during the June draft in high school at Kalamazoo. He was a first-five-pick-in-the-country guy.”
Groch: “My approach is not to (inform the family) until you’re ready to pick him. Then you go to the parents. You go to Derek. His dad said he had a price, but he never said what it was.”
Livesey: “We downplayed it. We studied him thoroughly but thought that if he fell to us we’d be able to sign him — or hoped we’d be able to sign him, anyway.
Derek Jeter: “They never contacted me until the night before (the draft).”
Livesey: “We had to convince Mr. Steinbrenner to go with a high school player. He wasn’t really high on high school players at the time. It took too long for them, in his mind.”
Showalter: “If you can say, ‘This guy is going to be as good as he’s capable of being,’ then you’re comfortable. And we knew that he would be as good as he was capable of being.”
Livesey: “We said, ‘Yeah, he’ll be in the big leagues in four years. Sure.’ We were thinking more like five or six. We weren’t lying to him, but we thought we were stretching the truth.”
Lukevics: “You never know how the draft is going to go. Everybody in the room was hoping Derek Jeter would fall to us. If the Yankees had the No. 1 pick, they would have taken Derek Jeter.”
Livesey: “I think we were all feeling that you just don’t get your hopes up too high, because the chances of a guy like this falling are slim.”
Lukevics: “When you have that type of expectation with a young player and you have the sixth pick in the draft, every pick you’re holding your breath.”
Dan O’Brien (scouting director for the Houston Astros, who had No. 1 overall pick): “Signability was a factor. We had narrowed it to (Phil) Nevin and Jeter. There was some interest in Mr. (Jeffrey) Hammonds, too, but it had become quite clear signability was going to be an issue there. We did have some diversity of opinion. As I recall, there was not a consensus one way or the other.”
Groch: “The team I was actually most worried about was the Reds (who held the fifth pick). They had a part-time scout in Battle Creek (Mich.). I know Cincy liked him. Boy, would things have been so different if they got him.”
Livesey: “Once Houston decided to choose Nevin I think some other organizations made some deals with kids. Cleveland took Paul Shuey. Montreal took a left-handed pitcher named (B.J.) Wallace from Mississippi State. Baltimore took Hammonds, an outfielder from Stanford who had been a New Jersey kid. Then right in front of us, Cincinnati took (Chad) Mottola, a college outfielder from Central Florida. At that point, Derek fell to us.”
Phil Nevin (No. 1 overall pick in 1992 draft by Houston, one All-Star appearance and 208 home runs in 12 seasons with seven teams): “I get to hear about it every year at draft time. You always hear about the Brady Six, the six quarterbacks drafted before Tom Brady. Well, we are the Jeter Five. The five biggest failures in the history of the game. I guess I can laugh about it now.”
Livesey: “It was as much excitement as I’d been around on a draft day, when he fell to us.”
Jeter: “It was like a dream come true. But it was a shock. I had no idea it was going to be them.”
Nevin: “You always hear people say things happen for a reason, but Derek Jeter was the perfect guy for the organization at that time.”
Groch: “The most crucial period is the 24 to 48 hours after the draft. Is he going to sign?”
Livesey: “I think a lot of people knew that the Yankees had been his favorite team since he was a kid spending summers in New Jersey with his grandmother. We were as confident as you can be under the circumstances.”
Jeter: “I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. I don’t know that I was going to get drafted much higher (after going to college). I figured that’s my profession. I might as well get started.”
Groch: “High school kids are a very scary sign. And I heard Derek had a girlfriend going to Michigan. Once you inject a girlfriend into the situation, you never know.”
Jeter: “Hearsay. Pure hearsay.”
Livesey: “I flew up with Dick Groch to talk to the family. … We’re leaving the house, had a great visit with them. I think that we were fairly optimistic that we would be able to get it done.”
Groch: “We got it done in a couple of hours. We gave him $700,000 plus $100,000 for college. What broke the stalemate was that he wanted equipment for the Kalamazoo high school and recreation programs. We took care of that.”