“Shit, I have trust problems… I have trust issues,” says Derek Jeter, echoing the words of a fellow biracial superstar. “I have issues trusting people from the get-go.”
In The Captain, a new seven-part ESPN docuseries premiering July 18, the Yankee legend shares that his famously guarded nature stems from an incident in high school where he was betrayed by someone close to him.
“I remember I had a good friend of mine that was in high school, and after I graduated from high school, I had found out that he had mentioned he doesn’t like to see interracial marriages,” Jeter recalls. “And I’m like, ‘This is somebody I hung out with. I trusted this person.’ It’s been there for a while, but I think it’s been magnified a little bit as my career developed over time.”
After making his MLB debut in 1995 at the age of 20, Jeter would go on to win Rookie of the Year and help lead the Yankees to a World Series championship in 1996, thus breaking an 18-year title drought and cementing his status as New York City’s Chosen One. And The Captain boasts a chorus of voices—from his parents Charles and Dorothy, to Yankee teammates like Tino Martinez and Roger Clemens, to Michael Jordan and Jadakiss—who all recount the Kalamazoo native’s rise from scrawny shortstop to baseball icon. It is his The Last Dance, and the tight-lipped athlete spills the tea like never before.
Perhaps the most compelling thread in the first five episodes provided to press—rumored gift bags notwithstanding—is the disintegration of Jeter and Alex Rodriguez’s friendship, which began way back in high school when they met at a Michigan-University of Miami football game. The two phenoms gradually became close, hanging out during spring training, crashing at each other’s places, conducting joint interviews with the press, and even spending a few New Year’s Eves together.
According to Alan Schwarz, a sportswriter for Baseball America, it was during one of those joint interviews in 1997 that Rodriguez first revealed how jealous he was of his pal.
“I’m walking with Alex and he said, ‘Alan, I think this is going to be the last interview that I do with Derek together… I love the guy, he’s my friend, he’s a great player,” Schwarz says in the film. “But do you remember the cover of Sports Illustrated? I was sitting and Derek was standing above me. It gives the impression that I was just sort of below him… I’m sorry, but I’m the better player.” (Rodriguez denies this exchange occurred.)
Things began to go south when Rodriguez called in to The Dan Patrick Show in 2000, just after signing a record $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers—and following Jeter leading the Yankees to four World Series championships in five years—and bragged that his buddy could never land such a seismic sum.
“Even a guy like Derek, it’s going to be hard for him to break that because he just doesn’t do the power numbers and defensively, he doesn’t do all those things,” said Rodriguez. “So, he might not break the 252. He might get 180. I don’t know what he’s going to get. 150? I’m not sure.”
This understandably irked Jeter, because Rodriguez wasn’t just taking shots at Jeter’s playing ability but messing with his bag.
“The Dan Patrick interview, he was talking about a comparison between me and him on the field. In my mind, he got his contract, so you’re trying to diminish what I’m doing maybe to justify why you got paid? Because I think, look, when you talk about statistics, my statistics never compared to Alex’s statistics. I’m not blind. I understand. But we won,” says Jeter.
“You can say whatever you want about me as a player. That’s fine,” Jeter continues. “But then it goes back to the trust and the loyalty. ‘This is how the guy feels? He’s not a true friend,’ is how I felt. Because I would not do that to a friend.”
And then A-Rod, in his infinite egotism, did it again.
In an interview with Esquire in April of 2001, audio of which is played in The Captain, Rodriguez trashed Jeter’s leadership and hitting ability.
“Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him, so he’s never had to lead. He doesn’t have to. He can just go and play and have fun, and hit second,” Rodriguez told Esquire. “I mean—you know, hitting second is totally different than hitting third or fourth in a lineup because you go into New York trying to stop Bernie [Williams] and [Paul] O’Neill and everybody. You never say, ‘Don’t let Derek beat you.’ That’s never your concern.”
Jeter viewed it as an act of betrayal.
“Those comments bothered me because, like I said, I’m very, very loyal. As a friend, I’m loyal. And I just looked at it as, I wouldn’t have done it,” Jeter says in the film. “And then it was the media—the constant hammer to the nail. They just kept hammering it in. It just became noise, which frustrated me. It was just constant noise.”
Rodriguez maintains in the doc that he “felt really bad about it” before eliding the clear insults that were lobbed his friend’s way.
“I said exactly what I said,” offers Rodriguez. “Again, I think it was a comment that I stand behind today. It was a complete tsunami—it was one of the greatest teams ever—and to say that you don’t have to focus on just one player I think is totally fair.”
He says he attempted to mend their relationship by meeting with Jeter and apologizing, stressing that his comments weren’t “said to hurt you or penalize you or slight you in any way.” And Jeter accepted the mea culpa, but the damage had been done.
“I believed he was very sincere in his apology,” says Jeter. “Now, I think if it was a stand-alone incident, hey, you move on man, people make mistakes. But there’s a second time it happened.”
“We were young. I was 26 years old. People make mistakes, I get it,” he adds. “They make mistakes. Some mistakes bigger than others. What I expect of you, you should expect the same of me. I wouldn’t treat you that way. And, once again, that’s fine. I’m still going to be cordial. But you crossed the line, and I won’t let you in again.”
Rodriguez, for his part, does take some ownership in the film over the fracturing of their bond, though comes short of a full apology.
“I think early on I was in that circle of trust. I mean, you have to be if I’m sleeping at his apartment and he’s sleeping at mine,” he says. “I think that changed in where I said some things that he didn’t like, and that, for him, broke the trust. And I think from that moment on it was never quite the same ever again.”
The slugger would join the Yankees in 2004 with Jeter’s blessing, and provided he moved to third base. They won a World Series championship together in 2009. But like A-Rod said, when it came to Jeter, he remained on the outside looking in.
“If someone doubts me, OK, I hear you. But now I’m gonna turn that off, because I don’t want to think about it,” says Jeter early on in The Captain. “I didn’t talk about it. Didn’t tell people about it. But I have a list in my head of people who doubted. I remember exactly what you said, when you said it, and what you were wearing when you said it.”