Derek Jeter named SI’s sportsman of the yearNEW YORK (AP)—Derek Jeter posed in his crisp pinstripe uniform, resting a shiny black bat on his shoulder, while a photographer lying on the ground near the entrance to a Bronx subway station snapped pictures of the New York Yankees shortstop from a low angle.
Photographing the Yankees captain from below to make him look more regal seemed beside the point. Jeter already has an image that is larger than life.
Jeter was back at Yankee Stadium a couple of weeks after winning his fifth World Series title, capping a stellar season with a photo shoot for his latest achievement: Sports Illustrated’s sportsman of the year.
The magazine made the announcement Monday.
“It’s unbelievable. It was completely unexpected. It came out of the blue,” Jeter told The Associated Press during a break in the photo shoot. “When I heard it, what can you say? It’s one of the greatest honors you can achieve in sports.”
The 35-year-old Jeter is the first Bronx Bomber to be tapped for the award that has been given out since 1954. Swimmer Michael Phelps was last year’s recipient.
“That’s even harder considering all the great Yankee players that have played for this organization,” said Jeter, standing under the banners depicting Yankees greats that hang in the Great Hall of the new stadium. “So I hope I’ve done them proud.”
Sports Illustrated Group editor Terry McDonell certainly thinks he has.
“This verifies my idea that he is on the level of Ruth and Gehrig,” McDonell said. “He’s the greatest shortstop in the history of the game.”
Some other baseball players to win the award are Sandy Koufax (1965), Tom Seaver (1969), Cal Ripken Jr. (1995); and the recent nemeses of Jeter’s teams, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling (2001), and the Boston Red Sox (2004).
All business between the lines, Jeter has become one of the untarnished ambassadors in the steroids era of baseball through steady play and quiet leadership on and off the field.
“He’s so classy,” McDonell said. “He brings a dignity and elegance to the game.”
Jeter’s 2009 season was remarkable.
He batted .334 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs with 30 steals to help lead the Yankees to their first World Series title in nine years—a frustrating drought for the player who won four championships in his first five seasons.
And as calls swelled for Jeter to switch positions after his contract expires in 2010, the 10-time All-Star went out and had one of his best defensive seasons: He made a career-low eight errors in winning his fourth Gold Glove.
He also passed Yankees icon Lou Gehrig’s club record for hits, won the Hank Aaron Award as the AL’s top hitter, and was given the Roberto Clemente Award for excellence on and off the field.
The World Series victory might have been Jeter’s most cherished accomplishment this year, but what clinched the sportsman award for him was his philanthropic work. Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation has doled out over $10 million in grants since 1996 to organizations that help keep young people away from alcohol and drugs.
“It’s about the manner of the striving and the quality of the effort, too,” McDonell said. “Off the field he has grown so much as a member of the community.”
Coming 15 seasons into a career full of honors, the award could be seen as a lifetime achievement, but both McDonell and Jeter dismissed the idea.
McDonell was impressed by Jeter’s leadership, how he “stepped in and molded a team” this spring with the arrival of three expensive free agents, and Alex Rodriguez’s admission to using steroids from 2001-03 and then having hip surgery that kept him out until May.
For Jeter, who only looks as far ahead as the next game, he’s nowhere near the end of an illustrious career that could culminate with 4,000 hits.
“I’ll take it one hit at a time. That’s a long way in the future,” said Jeter, who has 2,747 hits. “I’m going to play as long as I’m having fun. Right now I’m having a blast.”