Jack Curry had a good article on the Yankees' Captain Clutch, Derek Jeter yesterday in The Times. Jeter may not be as great as Nomar Garciaparra or Alex Rodriguez, but he is one of the best big game performers of his generation:
"Jeter is the most relaxed person that I've seen in the postseason," Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Famer, said in a telephone interview. "I would relate him to the way Ron Guidry approached it or Catfish Hunter or Mariano Rivera. There's a relaxed way to go about playing. At the same time, there's tension. You have to be mentally and physically alert. Jeter is always ready."
When the calendar turns to October, Jeter embraces the enhanced atmosphere and the brighter spotlight. Jeter's 107 postseason hits are a major league record. Jackson, who has advised Jeter about the power of believing - that you are supposed to succeed in pressure situations because you have done it before - said Jeter thrives because he has the talent and because he has the mental makeup to remain placid in precarious spots.
"The postseason is not just another game so you're not going to play it the same way," Jackson said. "You're going to be nervous. There are going to be butterflies. But Jeter understands how to control the butterflies by getting them in the right formation. He does that very well."
Once again, I am reminded of a bit that Tom Boswell once wrote:
Baseball has a name for the player who, in the eyes of his peers, is well attuned to the demands of his discipline; he is called "a gamer." The gamer does not drool, or pant, before the cry of "Play ball." Quite the opposite. He is the player, like George Brett or Pete Rose, who is neither too intense, nor too lax, neither lulled into carelessness in a dull August doubleheader nor wired too tight in an October play-off game. The gamer may scream and curse when his mates show the first hints of laziness, but he makes jokes and laugs naturally in the seventh game of the Series.
Above all, this Ideal which exists only in abstraction seems to have an internal tuning fork which gives him perfect emotional pitch. Strike that fork before each game, and the player vibrates with just the proper energy and spark, just the right relaxation and steadiness, which the game has always required. In other words, baseball's highest value--at least during those hours on the field--is the ability to achieve a blend of intensity and underlying serenity which, in daily life, we might call mental health.
My brother has always said that the reason Jeter is a great player has more to do with good parenting than anything else. He may not be the best talent, but he is mentally well-adjusted. Jeter's personality is perfected tuned to what he's doing; he's confident without being brash, secure without being flashy. He is a true leader.
"When you look across the room and you see No. 2 on your team, you know he's going to be ready," Jackson said. "You know he's going to be calm. Everyone sees that and it makes them calm, too. The leader of all of this is Jeter. I put him on a high level as a postseason player."