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The Toast of the Town
Tom Verducci
November 06, 2000
After leading the Yankees to another World Series title, cool yet fiercely competitive Derek Jeter owns Yankee Stadium—and the rest of New York City—the way no player since Joe DiMaggio has
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November 06, 2000

The Toast Of The Town

After leading the Yankees to another World Series title, cool yet fiercely competitive Derek Jeter owns Yankee Stadium—and the rest of New York City—the way no player since Joe DiMaggio has

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After showering, Jeter puts on a silvery gray, windowpane suit with a gray silk T-shirt underneath. The man is impervious to wrinkles. He walks out of the clubhouse and down a long, curved hallway that empties into the visitors' bullpen in leftfield, where New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is playing catch on the back mound and tenor Pl�cido Domingo is dodging manure deposited by horses of the mounted police. Domingo excitedly greets Jeter. "I called it! Your home run!" says Domingo, who keeps stride with Jeter as the shortstop walks along the warning track toward an open gate in the centerfield fence. "I turned to the mayor's son, Andy, just before you hit it. I said, 'Derek's going to hit a home run!' I did! I called it!"

"Wish I knew" Jeter says, smiling.

"Watch the manure!" yells a security official. "You might want to stay off the track. There's a ton of it."

"Nah. No problem," Jeter says.

As he walks out the gate, Jeter is saluted with a polite ovation from several laborers who are taking apart scaffolding. One of them yells, "Derek, you're spoiling us!"

There, behind the giant black centerfield background for hitters, Jeter slips into a white stretch limo that whisks him to a private party at One51, a Manhattan club. The club has velvet ropes and bouncers behind them. The place is an elbow-to-elbow hothouse of smoke, body heat and music so loud you can feel your heart quake. Hardly anyone dances, though. Jeter is ensconced in the inner sanctum, a raised area next to the dance floor. Almost everyone is turned toward him in a kind of homage that spookily resembles idolatry. Women try to push and lie their way past the no-necked, square-headed keepers of the last velvet rope.

Teammates David Justice, Denny Neagle and Luis Polonia are there too, but nobody pays them much notice. When Jeter walks across the dance floor to the raised area on the other side, the simple act takes on the complexity of a military maneuver. The men without necks part the room, either commanding people to move out of the way or just shoving women. But, hey, what's a little humiliation in the name of idolatry? One woman, drinking her money's worth, boasts that she paid $12,000 to reserve one of the few tables in the inner sanctum.

Jeter is a wallflower, a bit uncomfortable with the size of the crowd but enjoying the beat of the music and the company of close friends. Mostly, while standing on a long sofa against the wall, he chats with his sister, Sharlee, and his steady, Lara Dutta, who hails from Bangalore, India, and who happens to be Miss Universe. Others, including Justice, also lean against the wall, the better to survey the room. Friends come and go with their congratulations. Jeter offers them flutes of champagne, though he takes none for himself. It will be 5 a.m. by the time he leaves, with television cameras still waiting out front to get a glimpse of him and the other Yankees.

This is the night Jeter's status as a baseball icon has become official. Never mind One51. An athlete can play no bigger room than the domain of Yankees baseball. Right now Jeter owns the room.

Once upon a time there was a man named DiMaggio who played baseball with such graceful ease that people swore they'd never see his like again. DiMaggio was, above all, a winner. His Yankees—and, yes, the New York teams from 1936 to '41, the Clipper's first six seasons in the major leagues, were known as DiMaggio's Yankees—won 598 games, approaching 100 a year, and failed to win the World Series only once.

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