The locker next to Derek Jeter's in the New York Yankees' home clubhouse throbs with his unopened mail. It piles up in feet. Spills onto the carpet. Gives off odd smells. Aches to be opened. So I asked him if I could open it all. He said yes. Here's what I found in 261 pieces of mail.
Despite pleas of URGENT! and IMPORTANT! and TAPE THIS ASAP TO DEREK JETER'S LOCKER! on the envelopes, most of the letter writers wanted only his autograph—141 to be exact, including 52 on Jeter photos they sent, 13 on baseballs they sent, the rest on all kinds of stuff, like a book report and a baby photo. To aid their cause, eight people even sent pens. One, seeking an autograph for her sailor husband, wrote, "Think of the publicity you'll get!" Tonight on the 11 o'clock news: Derek Jeter signs autograph for sailor!
Jeter is one of the rare athletes who tries to respond to all his mail himself, but he admitted, "I'm a couple road trips behind." It's no wonder. Reading his mail for one day is more depressing than watching the NASDAQ Composite. Most requests came from people who "wouldn't normally ask for something like this," except that they were hearing-impaired; had lost a grandfather, a best friend or their appendix; had a brain tumor, an aneurysm, a breach baby, essential tremor disease, breast cancer, colitis, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or colon cancer; had gone through a rough divorce or fallen off a bike; were abandoned or unloved.
One hopelessly doomed woman needed an autograph because she had "lost four close friends, a father-in-law and almost an alcoholic father, had an apartment fire, had a miscarriage of twins and has to take care of my loser husband." Lady, you don't need an autograph; you need a telethon.
There were three out-and-out come-ons from women, including one jaw-dropper that would make a dead man straighten his tie. She included her photo and her phone number "as a long shot that you might call me." Jeter wasn't going to. "I never date anybody that way," he said. (However, I am selling the number on eBay, beginning on Tuesday.)
People really needed Jeter at their movie premieres (3), auctions (6), Playboy Mansion party, Eagle Scout ceremony, third-grade play, backyard BBQ ("and bring all your teammates"), boat ride and birthday parties (3, including one in Tampa from a boy who wrote, "Make sure you bring your swimsuit").
There were four pitches from real estate agents—including a man who was standing by "for all your real estate needs in the greater Akron area"—and two people begging for money. One guy wanted $20,000. "That's only .002 of your income," he wrote, for "a small addition on our house...a car loan and...upgrading the musical equipment I have." Well, as long as it's an emergency!
Too bad Jeter doesn't have any money. Otherwise, why would MasterCard have sent a letter that read, "We regret to inform you that we are unable to approve your application at this time"? Jeter's average salary is only $19 million a year. Perhaps he should try for a debit card. Luckily, there was also a notice from an insurance group informing him that he might be "eligible for worker's comp benefits under Florida statute 440." Not only that, but he was entitled to "29 cents a mile" for doctor's visits.
It would mean "so, so much" if Jeter would accept people's gifts of bubble gum, poems (2), cookies (by the 100s), audio letters (2), shoes (wrong size), needlepoint, novels (2), rambling seven-page essays about Pok�mon (6, all from the same woman) and a dead woman's favorite Yankees T-shirt and shorts, which, after three weeks in a plastic bag, stank to wherever she is now. "It was her final wish," wrote her daughter. "I'm hoping they bring you luck."
Nearly every request came with the phrase, "It'll only take a minute," except for the one from the kid who wanted Jeter to send a lot of baseball tips and the one from the mother who instructed Jeter to "write a brief, encouraging letter" to her Little Leaguer. What, no song?