With no other knowledge of Derek Jeter at your disposal than the soundtrack of his farewell tour, you could easily discern that this man the whole world seems to be feting has done something right. “The Right Way,” in fact, may be the most frequently used phrase to describe Jeter, the Yankee captain who yesterday in Boston played the final game of his Major League career. It was a moment to which he arrived after a summer of having standards like My Way, Respect, and the theme from The Natural all played with complete sincerity in his honor, often in stadiums where he habitually led the dashing of hometown hopes and dreams.
Sounds as singular as Aretha Franklin, as classic as Frank Sinatra, and as stirring as the crack of Roy Hobbs’ ‘Wonder Boy’ make it easy to recognize “The Right Way” when you hear it. But what does it look like? Could you tell it if walked up and shook your hand?
In the summer of 2010 I interviewed Derek Jeter for NFL Films. By that point in my career I had directed crews on interviews and film shoots with Super Bowl winning players and coaches, famous writers, musicians, photographers, even a swimsuit cover model. During the course of the commute, arrival, and set-up in an auxiliary locker room at Yankee Stadium, it struck me that our crew on this day seemed to grow quieter than usual. We were all accustomed to working around football players ; many of our camera operators are on a first name basis with the NFL’s biggest stars. But none of us had spent much time in the baseball world, let alone met The Yankee Captain.
When he entered the locker room, each member of our four person crew shot up, and from our spots on the set began to wave hello. Before we could finish, Jeter had made his way around the room, shook each person’s hand, and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Derek.” Such a start told me this would be a painless experience ; what made it memorable, though, was how the whole thing ended.
We’d come to talk to Jeter about his views on what made Tom Brady one of the NFL’s all-time greatest players. When the conversation was over, with the commitment he’d made to us fulfilled, Jeter did something I’ve never seen another superstar do: he stood up, walked around the room to where each of our crew members was standing, shook all our hands a second time, and thanked us for coming.
In my professional life perhaps no smaller an act has made a bigger impression on me than Number 2’s distribution of two hand shakes-plus two greetings-times four people that afternoon. If we’re the only crew he ever did that for (which I doubt) then I applaud his approaching an atypical audience – the football people – with a fresh perspective ; if we’re one in the long line of crews he greeted that way, than I marvel at his diligence – especially in such an advanced stage of his iconic career — in treating newcomers to his house with courtesy and respect. Or rather, in treating us the right way.
Over time, doing the right thing the right way yields far more than it costs. For proof of that, look no further than the record of the last summer Derek Jeter played baseball. Some people did the job as well as he did, a few people even did it better. But the right way is the reason that perhaps no one in history exited the game as Jeter did. Through a promenade of praise piled higher than the famous facade at Yankee Stadium, to which he responded as he had after all the big hits and post-season heroics: by humbly tipping a cap to all those whose hearts he’d filled with song.