The Scrapbook congratulates contributing editor Joseph Bottum on his latest Amazon Kindle Single—The Swinger, a consideration of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as his career comes to a close this season.
Author of Dakota Christmas, which reached number one on the Amazon ebook bestseller list in 2012, Bottum has written two previous Kindle Singles on sports figures, Tim Tebow and R. A. Dickey. Tebow, currently looking for work in the NFL, and Dickey, finishing off a strong season with the Toronto Blue Jays, both have compelling personal stories, full of trials and triumphs. However, Bottum’s latest subject—pegged as an eventual Hall of Famer by the scout who signed him at the age of 18—has seemingly never known anything but success. Paradoxically, this is what makes Derek Jeter, in Bottum’s telling, inscrutable.
In spite of numbers that are guaranteed to earn Jeter a place in Cooperstown when he first becomes eligible in 2019, fans, sportswriters, and his professional peers have often disagreed about Jeter’s talents. Sure, he won five World Series, was an all-star 14 times, and will finish sixth on the all-time hits list with nearly 3,500 base-knocks. But, say some, his lack of range and spotty fielding ability also cost the Yankees runs, games, maybe even championships. That’s what it means to take center stage in the Bronx for nearly 20 summers—you win the Gold Glove five times, and they still say your defense isn’t good enough.
Jeter never engaged the critics. Nearly everyone, fans and detractors alike, agrees that a large portion of his success—especially his longevity and consistency—is owing to the fact that he reserved his energies for the playing field. Sure, he dated models, singers, and actresses, but compared with other great athletes who played in New York—think of Joe Namath, Reggie Jackson, and Jeter’s sometime teammate and rival Alex Rodriguez—Jeter was a ghost.
To put it another way, Jeter was a special kind of New Yorker. As the novelist Walker Percy once explained, some come to New York to become famous and rise above their faceless neighbors. Others come to get lost amidst the masses. As Bottum’s marvelous ebook shows, the paradox of Jeter’s career is that he did both. The man, whoever he is, lost himself in a game that won him the applause and admiration of millions.