Ian O’Connor’s new book, “The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter” was given a fair but tough review by Richard Sandomir over the weekend in the Times Book Review:
O’Connor’s sweet Life of Derek raises a core question: Can a Jeter biography be anything less than an ode to a wonderful guy who has been the face of the Yankees for a decade and a half, since he was 22? Maybe O’Connor’s man-crush is the inevitable result of extended exposure to Jeter and his story. Without a tell-all, what’s left? The tale of a terrific fella who, as O’Connor reports, quizzes dates about their morals and has a “spectacular talent for doing the right thing at the right time.”
But O’Connor is a serious journalist, a former newspaperman and now a columnist for ESPN.com who has covered Jeter’s entire career. Surely he searched for the “other” Jeter, to balance the one who “dated supermodels at night and helped their grandmothers cross the street by day.” (Disappointingly, O’Connor’s notes do not cite any interviews with these grandmas.) Surely he wanted to find a troubled side to Jeter, so he could offer a complex picture like the ones that have emerged in definitive biographies of Joe DiMaggio (by Richard Ben Cramer) and Mickey Mantle (by Jane Leavy).
Sandomir notes that the darkness never arrives perhaps because it doesn’t exist. The book is dutifully researched, he writes, but “O’Connor rarely elevates his material beyond a narrative about Jeter’s greatness as a man and player. A straightforward storyteller, he gods up his subject without irony, detachment or recognition of the hyperbole that comes with so much positive testimony.”
If there is any darkness in the book it is reserved for Alex Rodriguez:
Rodriguez is absurdly easy to criticize. He is blunder-prone and shows none of Jeter’s sense of himself. But O’Connor’s open loathing of Rodriguez is as difficult to accept as his adoration of Jeter. “A-Rod was ruining the Yankee experience for Jeter,” he writes. Rodriguez is a “man of dishonor” after he admits to using steroids. And when he follows his agent’s advice to opt out of his Yankees contract in 2007 (he ultimately re-signed for another 10 years), O’Connor says, “On muscle memory, Alex Rodriguez played the fool.” Once the enemies find detente, with Jeter deciding that a humbled and “emasculated” Rodriguez is worth a second shot, O’Connor extends the saint-sinner imagery to an explicitly biblical level. Here he is, describing the jubilant scene after the Yankees clinched their division in 2009: “The photos captured a beaming Jeter lifting A-Rod’s cap off his head with his left hand and pouring a bottle of bubbly over A-Rod’s bowed scalp with his right. At last, the captain had baptized Rodriguez.”
As the announcer Dick Enberg says in moments of rapture, “Oh my.”
In other words, save your money.
[Drawing by Paul Mcrae]