Retired New York Yankees Captain and current Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter was a creature of habit on the baseball field. During every at-bat, he looked pitches all the way into the catcher’s mitt. He leaned in or away to seemingly influence the umpire’s call. He also adjusted his batting helmet religiously between pitches. I once asked him if he went through any pre-game rituals before taking the field. He responded: “Yes, I always eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Jeter retired following the 2014 MLB season. His 20-year career in pinstripes was nothing short of brilliant. He posted a lifetime batting average of .310, earned five World Series rings and collected more hits (3,465) than any Yankee in history. With hit No. 2,722, which he recorded on Sept. 11, 2009, he passed the legendary Lou Gehrig at the top of the team’s all-time hits list. Technically it was Jeter’s 15th season in the bigs, having been brought up for a cup of coffee (15 games) in ’95. In 2011, he became the first Yankee to eclipse the 3,000-hit mark.
But above everything else, what Jeter brought to the game and to Yankee Stadium every day was consistency. The same can be said about No. 2’s signature. Since 1995, the season in which he collected his first MLB hit, his tightly crafted cursive has remained largely the same. Unique and some might say almost illegible, Jeter’s signature is as steady as it is discernible.
“There are different Jeter variants that pre-date his rookie year. However, his signature style has remained remarkably consistent since 1995,” said PSA’s Principal Autograph Authenticator Kevin Keating. “Owing to his popularity and the value of his autograph, he remains one of the most widely forged of all modern sports icons, along with Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods and Mike Trout.”
Practice helps establish a reliable delivery, which is true with Jeter’s autograph. But it wasn’t always that way.
THE EARLY YEARS
In 1992, as a 17-year-old shortstop at Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jeter was a sought-after commodity. The Yankees drafted the lanky, 6’ 3” shortstop with the sixth pick overall in that year’s MLB Amateur Draft. He quickly appeared in Classic’s 1992 Four Sport Draft Pick Collection set sporting his high school uniform. His signature at that time was a work in progress as he employed a wide flowing “D” to start his scrawl and then punctuated it with a high-arcing, lower-cased “k” and upper-cased “J” to separate his first and last names. Certainly, his last name seemed to be an easier read at the time. As his star began to rise and he progressed through the Yankees farm system, Jeter would get his call-up soon.
He wasted little time in making a favorable first impression. After his brief visit in ’95, Jeter blossomed as a true rookie. He batted .314 in ’96, helped the Yankees win their first World Series title since ’78, and was named A.L. Rookie of the Year. A multi-year contract with New York-based Steiner Sports Memorabilia followed and the penmanship practice of the team’s future captain was underway. He was signing everything from baseballs and photos to bats and jerseys.
Since his rise to stardom came so quickly and large numbers of autographs were signed by the Yankee favorite, early signatures such as those he signed in high school through his first year at the MLB level, tend to sell for a premium.
As his signing frequency increased for Steiner Sports as well as adoring fans at the ballpark, his signature became more polished. Even the pressure applied to each letter appeared equal throughout the length of the autograph. He mastered the sweet spot on baseballs with ballpoint pens, and his use of Sharpies on photos and Staedtler pens on trading cards helped turn more and more baseball fans into autograph seekers. His popularity skyrocketed and his signature became ingrained in the minds of Yankee worshipers worldwide. Fame comes at a price, however. A quick glance at the Sports Market Report price guide shows premium prices for Jeter’s John Hancock on a variety of surfaces: 3″ x 5″ index cards ($100); trading cards ($125); photos ($150); baseballs ($400) and bats ($500). Jeter-signed jerseys command even more.
While his signing activities have undoubtedly slowed in retirement, the former Yankee captain will be back in the spotlight in 2020 as his Hall of Fame eligibility enters its first year. In what should surely be a shoo-in induction for No. 2 will also spell newfound interest in his signature and higher prices to go along with it.