By all accounts, when Jeter has felt at risk of being exposed, he’s taken swift steps. About ten years ago, a freelancer working on a piece for The New York Times was in the Yankees locker room after batting practice. Jeter and some other players were joking around—”it was something totally innocuous,” the reporter says—when Jeter realized there was a tape recorder in the room. Later that night, the reporter was buttonholed by a Yankees PR staffer and one of the team’s security guards. When the reporter tried to apologize to Jeter for any misunderstanding, he says, Jeter refused to acknowledge that anything had happened in the first place.
Even those people whose job it is to dig up dirt on celebrities can only shake their heads in amazement. “Derek Jeter could be a guru,” says Richard Johnson, the Los Angeles bureau chief of The Daily and legendary former editor of the New York Post’s gossip column, Page Six. “There’s never been any kiss-and-tell stuff where a girl breaks up with Jeter and then says what a creep he is. I don’t know how he avoids it. He must have some sort of vetting process—maybe he makes them fill out a questionnaire or has a psychological profile done. He’s incredible.”
…Over the course of two days, I spent more than four hours talking to Jeter. I haven’t spent a lot of time talking to boldfaced names, but he was without question one of the nicest, most genuine celebrities I’ve interviewed. Perhaps that was because he no longer feels awkward providing answers that inevitably disappoint reporters looking for scooplets about the “real” Derek Jeter—and because I had no illusions about being the first person to succeed in getting Jeter to open up about his hopes and dreams. There were several times when I asked Jeter a question—about playing in the steroid era, or about players who preferred playing out of the spotlight of New York—and he’d slow down and grow more cautious. Eventually I realized he was worried I’d take what he was saying and make it sound like he was talking about a specific person or situation. When I called him on it, he readily acknowledged that had been exactly what he’d been thinking: “A lot of times, when you say things, people will try to turn it into [something else]. Sometimes someone asks you a question, and if you don’t comment or dispute what they say, they’ll take it as though you agree. I’ve always been very aware of what I’m saying, but I’m also aware of what you’re saying. I always want to make sure that my point is clear.”
[Photo Credit: Day Life]