Jeter recalls Steinbrenner as friend most of all
Yankees captain says the two enjoyed a 'great relationship'
ANAHEIM -- The day Derek Jeter was named captain of the Yankees, the team was in Cincinnati for an Interleague series against the Reds, and there was a message waiting for the shortstop. George Steinbrenner wanted to talk.
"I got a phone call, saying that The Boss wanted to talk to me, and figured I was in trouble again," Jeter recalled Tuesday. "And I called him, and he was saying how much respect he had for me and that he wanted to name me captain."
The urgent question Steinbrenner needed to get to his star shortstop that day in 2003 was: Will you accept this role? Of course, Jeter did, representing the franchise for an owner he was proud to call not only his employer, but also a friend.
"It's a memory I always cherish, not only because I thought I was getting in trouble, but I realized what that title meant to him and to this Yankee organization," Jeter said.
Arguably nobody who has worn the pinstripes in recent years had the opportunity to get to know Steinbrenner better than Jeter, who said he enjoyed a "great relationship" with the owner.
"I think he's a father figure to everyone that was in our organization in the past or present, because he really took care of his players," Jeter said. "Whether it was a player that's on the team now or someone that played for a week 30 years ago, he really went out of his way to take care of the players.
"Most people know him as being this vocal owner, but if you really got an opportunity to know him, you got to realize not only the great things he did with the community but with the past players and current players."
As a fellow resident of Tampa, Fla., Jeter often wandered to Steinbrenner's house during the offseasons to trade bets on Ohio State-Michigan football games.
In Jeter's wilder days, they once filmed a credit card commercial together in Steinbrenner's office, lampooning the times that Steinbrenner had called Jeter into his office to discuss tabloid reports of late nights on the town.
There was also the time, Jeter recalled, when he'd been admonished by Steinbrenner in the clubhouse early in his career for being doubled off third base on a line drive -- after a Yankees win.
"We won the game, but he expected perfection," Jeter said. "And that rubbed off. Whether it was the players, the front office, the people working at the stadium, it didn't make a difference -- he expected perfection."
Jeter said he had even planned to try to see the Boss this week, after the conclusion of the All-Star Game in Anaheim.
"I've known him since I was 18 years old," Jeter said. "Obviously there's a respect factor because he's the owner, and I work for him, but we were more friends than anything. ... It's tough, because he's more than just an owner to me. He's a friend of mine. He will be deeply missed."
Jeter said he learned of Steinbrenner's passing on Tuesday morning, when he woke up and was shocked to find his cell phone filled with new messages.
On Tuesday, Jeter was asked to recall the first time he encountered Steinbrenner. It was as an 18-year-old, when Jeter -- the Yankees' first-round Draft pick in 1992 -- had reported to the Gulf Coast League, and Steinbrenner was stalking around the Yankees' complex.
"He was this figure that's larger than life," Jeter said. "I was a Yankee fan, so I was well aware of him and his reputation. He came up to me and talked to me by name. I was more shocked that he knew who I was, but I guess because he gave me some of his money, he had to know who I was.
"Right from that day, he said, 'We expect big things from you.' I'll always remember that, because first impressions, you never forget."
Jeter also will not forget his last time speaking with The Boss. It was at this year's home opener, when Jeter and Yankees manager Joe Girardi took the elevator ride up to Steinbrenner's private suite at Yankee Stadium, presenting him with his 2009 World Series ring.
With general manager Brian Cashman, COO Lonn Trost and team president Randy Levine also present, Steinbrenner sat in silence that day as he looked at the ring. Jeter broke the tension in the room by kidding Steinbrenner about needing to remove his Ohio State ring, and Steinbrenner refused.
"It was a great experience. It was fun," Jeter said. "And I got a chance to tease him. Those are the memories that you remember, those intimate moments."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.