Of the 2,138 regular-season games Jeter has played in his major league career, only one was meaningless—that is, a game in which the Yankees had been mathematically eliminated from a shot at the postseason and the subsequent possibility of winning the World Series. He has won 60.3% of the games in which he has played, the highest percentage among active players who have appeared in at least 1,000 games.
Pull on this thread, this need of his to win, and of course it takes you back to his parents. Derek attended afternoon kindergarten. He knew it was time for school when The Price Is Right ended. He watched the show with his father. They would bid against each other while playing along with the show's finale, the showcase showdown. "He never let me win," Jeter says. "He never let me win anything, checkers or whatever."
Kalamazoo has given the world Shakespeare fishing rods, Gibson guitars, Checker cabs, and Jeter's will to win, in that order of rigidity. If you were to draw up a list of Jeter's dislikes, most all of them would be what he regards as obstacles to winning:
1. Individuals who don't care about winning.
2. Self-promoters. "I never liked people who talked about themselves all the time, gloat," he says. "If you're accomplished and have done things, people will talk about it for you. I don't think you have to point it out. I'm not judging anybody. That's just the way I am."
3. Measuring success by individual statistics. "In this day and age, not just in baseball but in sports in general, all people care about is stats, stats, stats," he says. "You've got fantasy this, fantasy that, where you pay attention to stats. But there are ways to win games that you don't get a stat for."
4. Injury talk. "You either play or you don't play. If you're playing, nobody wants to know what's bothering you. Sometimes it's a built-in excuse for failing."
5. Negativity. Jeter wants nothing to do with negative questions from reporters or negative talk from teammates. He once went 0 for 32 and refused to admit he was in a slump. "We weren't allowed to use the word can't—'I can't do this, can't do that,'" Jeter says of his childhood. "My mom would say, 'What? No.' She's always positive. I don't like people always talking about the negative, negative, negative, because once you get caught in that mind-set, it's hard to get out of it."
Last week, the day after the commercial shoot with Gillette, Jeter did a Gatorade spot at Angels Stadium. As Jeter and Jack Tiernan, one of his agents at the Creative Artists Agency, walked toward an SUV for their ride to the stadium, Jeter snickered at a stretch limo parked next to the SUV. "Somebody going to the prom?" he joked. As Jeter went to enter the SUV, its driver waved him off, pointed to the limo and said, "That's yours." Jeter was disappointed. The transportation company had tried too hard.
Watching Jeter shoot a commercial is like watching him play for the Yankees: He exudes a down-to-earth charm and boyish enthusiasm that make him a star without acting like one, but he is out to win. "One moment he can be joking with somebody in the stands while on deck," says Casey Close, his primary agent, "asking them, 'What do you think they're going to throw me here?' And then it's like with a snap of his fingers, he gets lost in the moment of the at bat and his focus is incredible. One of the most impressive things about him is a calm sense of self, a complete confidence in exactly who he is."