For showing us all how to act in the public eye.
We talk about it all the time in the world of public relations – your public image is a direct extension of yourself, so you really need to treat it right. You only have one public face, one opportunity to define yourself to your audience(s). And you better do it right, lest you wind up being defined by them.
Sunday night was Derek Jeter Night at Yankee Stadium, a night where his iconic Number 2 was retired and he was honored by adoring Yankee fans for a great career. And on that night we saw once more what made him so special.
Derek Jeter played shortstop for the New York Yankees from 1995 through 2014. He was 20 years old when he started, someone barely out of his teens playing in the withering spotlight of New York City professional sports. There really is no tougher audience in this country for a young athlete looking to make himself a success.
When Jeter first came onto the scene he was a skinny kid with world given talent, an effervescent smile that made it seem like every second he was on the baseball field was fun, and a future that held enormous promise if he was able to handle it and live up to the considerable hype.
When he retired in 2014, the skinny kid was long gone. He was a 40-year-old man who, while his world-class skills had slipped, could now do something that his 20-year-old self could have only dreamed of – he was able to look back on a legendary career that had made him one of the greatest, most likable and most popular players in the esteemed New York Yankee history.
And that smile that lit up the city? It was still there. Bright and fresh as ever.
How did Jeter do it? His baseball talents took care of themselves, as did his penchant for coming through in the clutch, right up through his final Yankee Stadium at bat. His personal records and the team records speak overwhelmingly to that – five World Series titles, seven trips to the Fall Classic, 17 trips to the postseason, 14 All-Star Games and more hits, stolen bases and games played than any Yankee in history. His entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame when eligible for the first time in 2020 is a certainty.
But beyond his greatness on the field, there was an ease and grace with which Derek Jeter carried himself that made him more than just a great player, but someone to be admired. He became team captain, with leadership skills most players only dream about. He was there to talk to the media about every success and, yes, every failing, as stand-up a player as has ever worn the Yankee pinstripes. He hustled and played all-out every single time he took the field, whether he was hurting or not. He never gave up or begged out of a game. His on-field attitude evoked a famous line the Great DiMaggio once uttered when asked why he never eased up in the field: “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best.”
Off the field, again in that intense glare of the New York City media, Jeter was guarded and almost religiously cautious about what he said and what he did. He was single, superstar athlete in the greatest city in the world, but it’s very difficult to recall one scandal or questionable issue that ever surrounded him. He knew the value of his public image and he protected it, in a way so many people in the public eye likely wished they could have done.
When Derek Jeter was in public, what you got was always the same. He was friendly and engaging. He was charitable (his Turn 2 Foundation he and his family run has become a major success). He asked for respect and received respect in turn, mostly because he carried himself as someone who respected others as much as he did himself.
Jeter became a giant in the sports world for reasons that exceeded his Hall of Fame abilities and performance. To put it simply, he knew how valued he was by the public, and made it a priority to value the world around him just as much. He played his career as a living, breathing lesson in good public relations, and from what we saw Sunday night, he plans to continue to live his life that way.
Thank you, Captain. See you in Cooperstown.