By Glen Sparks
(I have heard this story and read about it several times. The details never change.)
My favorite Derek Jeter story goes back to his days at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. The Year is 1992.
The Houston Astros own the top pick in the upcoming draft. Hal Newhouser is sending in glowing reports about Jeter, the Central shortstop. Newhouser is writing stuff like, “(Jeter) is going to anchor championship teams in the major leagues.”
Newhouser knows something about talent. He is a Hall of Fame pitcher, a two-time MVP. As a scout, he signed Milt Pappas and Dean Chance, two solid big-league hurlers.
The problem, as the Astros see it, is that Jeter might be going to the University of Michigan to play ball. Supposedly, he has a girlfriend going to Michigan, and he is going to follow her to Ann Arbor, and they’ll be campus sweethearts, and Jeter will play shortstop for the Wolverines, and it’s just going to be a wasted pick.
The New York Yankees also like Jeter. Their scout in the upper Midwest, Dick Groch, is raving about him in the same way that Newhouser is raving about him. We have to draft Jeter, Groch is writing to the Yankee executives. Groch isn’t worried about his guy going to Michigan. He knows he can cut a deal if the Yanks just pick him. He wants to play pro ball, Groch says. “The only place Derek Jeter is going to is Cooperstown,” he tells the front office.
Both Groch and Newhouser get it right, of course. They see the great potential in a teenager playing infield for the Kalamazoo Central Maroon Giants.
This is how the fortunes and misfortunes of teams get made. The Astros ignore Newhouser. They draft Phil Nevin, a Cal-State Fullerton guy. To be fair, Nevin isn’t a slouch. He wins the Golden Spikes Award for being the nation’s top amateur baseball player. He doesn’t hit any home runs in 18 games with the Astros, but he does hit 208 home runs for five other major league teams. But he isn’t Jeter. He doesn’t turn into a legend on the winningest team in the biggest city in the country.
The Yankee have the sixth pick in the draft. They’re nervous, but the four teams drafting after Houston also pass on Jeter. The Yanks get their man, and that helps set up a dynasty. Jeter leads the Yankees to five World Series championships and seven American League pennants. (Newhouser quits the Astros’ organization. He figures that if he can’t convince a team to draft Derek Jeter, he can’t convince that team of anything.)
Jeter played the final game of his career Sunday. He batted .310 in 20 seasons and collected 3,465 hits with that inside-out swing. The 14-time all-star ranks first on the franchise list in hits and is sixth on the all-time list. He batted .321 in Series play. Oh, and he hit a walk-off single in his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium. Because, y’know, he’s Derek Jeter.
Jeter will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, just as Groch predicted, and the crowd that will show up for his induction ceremony is going to be amazing. Book your hotel early.