Impressive as they are, mere numbers don't do Jeter's game justice. Assessing his talent is like describing Lucille Ball's comic timing: Everything he does, from his cutoff throw to his home run trot, is unerringly smooth. And Jeter, a first-round draft pick out of Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High in 1992, keeps refining his game.
"He's the best player I've ever played with, and I think a lot of people in this clubhouse are going to say that before he's done," says Paul O'Neill, the Yankees' 36-year-old rightfielder. "What sets him apart is the number of ways he can affect a game."
Jeter's increased patience at the plate and his improved power have created a quandary for pitchers. "You can throw him inside as much as you want, and he can still fist the ball off," says Baltimore Orioles veteran reliever Jesse Orosco. "You can throw the ball low and away, and he can hit with power the other way. We have pitchers' meetings, and he's one of those guys where you just stay on the subject for a while. What do you do?"
Jeter's personality is as polished as his game. The Yankees have been captainless since Don Mattingly retired after the '95 season. Jeter, at least unofficially, has emerged as Mattingly's successor. "In some ways he already is the captain," says veteran righthander David Cone. "He's very mature and grounded."
As a rookie Jeter earned instant respect in the clubhouse by playing hard and keeping his mouth shut, but now he is more vocal with his off-key singing and his in-your-face teasing. He has attempted to fill the void left by the departure of veteran outfielder Tim Raines, whose ebullience helped keep the Yankees loose. But Jeter can also speak sternly, as he did last September to lefthander David Wells (now with the Toronto Blue Jays) after Wells gestured angrily when Jeter and two other players allowed a pop-up to fall among them. Recalls Jeter, "I told him, 'We're out here trying to help you win a game. We don't show you up, so don't do it to us.' I'm not afraid to speak my mind. There have been a lot of other instances, but I don't think the media needs to know about them."
Because Jeter has impeccable manners, he's a role model even to his elders. Who else could inspire George Steinbrenner and Darryl Strawberry to say, "He's the kind of guy you hope your son can grow up to be"? Strawberry, who's on administrative leave from baseball after pleading no contest to charges of cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute in Florida, says that Jeter "has a great deal of respect for everyone he encounters. That's what sets him apart."
All this explains Jeter's immense popularity among his peers, but it can't account for the screams that fill Yankee Stadium when his name is announced or for the female fans who paint I LOVE DJ on their faces—the Jeterettes, as the New York Daily News dubbed them. Even if he were merely a baseball-loving stockbroker, the 6'3" 195-pounder with the café au lait complexion would be a chick magnet. "Hanging out with him sucks," says Chili Davis, his 39-year-old teammate, "because all the women flock to him. Let's see, he's been on the cover of GQ, is rich and famous, hits for average and power and is a helluva nice guy."
If he wanted, Jeter could have a little black book the size of the Yellow Pages. "Every time he steps into a room, all eyes start turning to him—that even goes for women who are with their dates," says Raines, now with the Oakland A's. "Usually the guys don't mind because they're staring at him too."
"I call him a movie star because he runs the town," says Rodriguez, a highly eligible bachelor himself. "But the thing that impresses me most about him is that he's so selective—not just with girls, but with people in general."
Unless you're a teammate, family member or close friend, expect Jeter to put up a wall when you approach him. That's partly because of his natural reticence and partly because he feels he has been burned by spiced-up tabloid tales of his gallivanting. At the ballpark Jeter prides himself on being unfailingly cordial and cooperative with the media. "I don't agree with people who, when they're playing well, walk around with their chests puffed out and wait for reporters at their locker, but who hide in the training room as soon as things go bad," he says. Get Jeter away from the ballpark and ask about his social life, though, and he's as uneasy as a batter facing Randy Johnson with an 0-and-2 count.