It's in DiMaggio's footsteps that Jeter walks proudly and gracefully. The rare modern player who has never tried creatine or yearned for muscle mass, the 6'3", 195-pound Jeter has the smooth carriage and angular build of a baseball player from DiMaggio's era. Jeter, above all, is a winner too. His Yankees—and, yes, this dynasty will go down as Jeter's Yankees—have won 487 games, approaching 100 a year, and have failed to win the World Series only once. Over five postseasons they have played .754 baseball, going 46-15-Only one other team in history besides DiMaggio's Yankees (who won consecutive World Series from 1936 to '39) and Jeter's Yankees has won as many titles in a five-year span, and that club, the 1949 to '53 Yankees, did it while the torch passed from DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle in '51, midway through its unmatched run of five straight championships.
"I met him a couple of times when he came out to the Stadium," Jeter says of DiMaggio, "but I never had a conversation with him. I shook his hand, said hello, but I was too much in awe to talk to him."
Now Jeter is DiMaggio's worthy heir, in style and in numbers. In regular-season and World Series play, DiMaggio scored 625 runs through his fifth full season. Jeter scored 623. DiMaggio had 994 hits. Jeter had 1,034. DiMaggio played in 19 World Series games over his first five seasons; his Yankees went 16-3. Jeter played in 19 World Series games, too; his Yankees went 16-3. Jeter hit for a higher World Series batting average (.342) than did DiMaggio (.304), while producing more of New York's offense than Joltin' Joe: From 1936 to '39, DiMaggio scored or drove in 21 of the Yankees' 113 runs in the World Series, or 19%; from 1996 through 2000, Jeter was responsible for 22 of New York's 85 Series runs, or 26%.
Through five seasons the ring count is all even. Jeter keeps his rings locked away at his home in Tampa. Once after each season he will take them out to study them. "Each one tells a different story, like chapters in a book," he says. "Starting in November, when you begin to work out, through October you devote a whole year to do one thing: to win. That's all that matters. This is the way I've always looked at it: If you're going to play at all, you're out to win. Baseball, board games, playing along with Jeopardy! with my friends. I hate to lose."
Jeter seemed destined for greatness. He shares a birthday (June 26) with Abner Doubleday, the mythical inventor of baseball. On the day the Yankees' front office gathered to talk about its top pick of the 1992 draft, Jeter's name came up, and one of those present said, " Jeter? Isn't he going to Michigan?" There was a moment of silence. Then Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter, said, "No. He's going to Cooperstown."
Says Reggie Jackson, the original Mr. October, "In big games, the action slows down for him where it speeds up for others. I've told him, 'I'll trade my past for your future.' "
Jeter always has played with a cool assuredness beyond his years. In 1996, at 22 and in his first World Series, he told manager Joe Torre during a meeting on the mound in Game 4, when the Yankees trailed the Atlanta Braves 6-0, "Don't worry. We're going to win this game." The Yankees did, 8-6, the second of 14 straight World Series wins, a record that Mets manager Bobby Valentine last week said will stand longer than DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
"This kid, right now, the tougher the situation, the more fire he gets in his eyes," Torre said before Game 5. "You don't teach that. It's something you have to be born with. His parents are a big part of that."
Says Jeter, "I try not to change anything in the postseason. I don't like to say you focus more in the postseason, because that sounds like you're focusing less during the season. But in the postseason you are more focused. You can't help it. Every pitch, every grounder, every inning means more.
"Now, what I try to do is keep it simple, treat it like a regular-season game. Obviously you're going to have more butterflies. But I don't feel like I act any differently because it's the postseason. What I'm proud of is that I try to stay on an even keel. That is something I learned from my parents."