Yankees legend Don Mattingly. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Pizac/AP/USA Today Sports

From One Captain To Another

Shortly after New York Yankees legend and captain Don Mattingly retired, his phone rang one day. On the other end of the line was the man who was tougher on his players and had higher expectations than anyone: George Steinbrenner. The call wasn’t of a social nature, nor was it to try and talk Donnie Baseball out of retirement, but to question the outgoing Yankees’ team leader about what to do with a young shortstop named Derek Jeter. Mattingly and Jeter had been teammates for 15 whole games at the end of the 1995 season, one in which Mattingly’s final opportunity for that elusive World Series ring went up in smoke at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in a heartbreaking 5-game defeat.

Mattingly gave Steinbrenner some of the best advice that a selfless, former legend could give to an owner who traded every prospect of any consequence, and hired and fired managers so often, Mattingly probably couldn’t recall in what order they all came and went. Mattingly told the Boss:

If you take him, you have to leave him at short every day and let him go. You have to let him learn. Don’t yo-yo him up and down…If you take him, live with him there, if you think he is going to be great.

And with that, the legend of Derek Jeter was allowed to develop, flourish and become the face of the Yankees’ franchise for the next two decades. A few years into Jeter’s career, he took over the captaincy left vacant by the retired Mattingly. Donnie Baseball recalled a conversation he had with the young shortstop during his brief call-up during Mattingly’s final season in 1995 about how to improve his throwing. He noted that Jeter immediately accepted the advice, and Mattingly witnessed the special qualities that made Jeter who he was then, and who he is today:

If the ball was hit right at him or in the hole, I felt every play at first base was bang-bang…I felt like every guy was going to be safe. Everything was late, like he was taking too long. I talked to Derek about Alan Trammell and other guys, and said if you watch them, their feet are ready. As soon as they catch it they are throwing it. It’s not like another step.

After all these years, Mattingly, who is now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, still takes pride that George Steinbrenner listened to his advice: “Yeah, I feel good about that one.” While Jeter was able to fulfill what Mattingly never could during his playing career, he remains proud of what Jeter has accomplished, watching he and the Yankees return to glory, winning five World Series titles since Mattingly’s retirement. It’s probably one of the only times during his ownership of the Yankees, that the Boss actually kept his mouth shut and did what was in the long term best interest of the organization.

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