ESPN’s ‘The Captain’ Tries To Unpack Derek Jeter, The Iconic Yankee Who Would Rather Say Nothing At All


ESPN's new docuseries says it's difficult to crack its subject as it approaches the fifth episode. Jeter was perhaps the best shortstop ever and, like the Yankees themselves, had a meteoric rise and waning career that reflected the dynastic growth of his team. Despite this, he is an extremely careful (read: boring) interviewer, according to both him and the many frustrated journalists unable to get past his surface.

In a genuine grin, Jeter confirms on camera that that is by design. For the planned seven-episode docuseries about his life (which premieres July 18 after the Home Run Derby) he even states that "there are still things I won't talk about." In Randy Wilkins' documentary "The Captain," Jeter can delve only as far as he is willing to go.


Based on Jeter's own words, the early episodes paint a picture of a consummate professional, working hard, earning success, and avoiding distractions at all costs. In general, Jeter does not divulge any personal information other than acknowledging how much growing up biracial in Kalamazoo, Michigan shaped his mentality. This fact is highlighted by interviews with Jeter's Black father, white mother, and biracial sister, illustrating that white journalists were mistaken when they described Jeter as "colorless", which was a direct quote from a Yankees beat reporter in a later episode.


As can be expected from a series with Spike Lee as an executive producer, the discussion about the perception of Jeter as a star and as a Black athlete makes for particularly fascinating viewing. After several episodes, the series is about to examine what made Jeter such a phenomenon - which feels far too late to keep casual ESPN viewers engaged when they otherwise might've switched channels when race is mentioned.

Whenever he speaks about baseball, Jeter sticks to his career standard by keeping it straightforward. In juxtaposed reminiscences of grievances past, Jeter's differences with Alex Rodriguez, who is more bombastic and more aggressive, could not be more apparent than in his expression of horror about putting his foot in his mouth. The Captain gives much less insight into Jeter than other interviews in the series, thus becoming more of a deep dive into the Yankees as a cultural juggernaut of the early 1990s and early 2000s, while maintaining Jeter as an anchor to the narrative.


This is an excellent read if you're a baseball fan or just aware of the Yankees' dominance at the turn of the century. In addition to A-Rod, Jeter is joined by Daryl Strawberry, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Joe Torre, and Dave Winfield (Jeter's personal favorite player). Occasionally, sports writers from New York during the Yankees' heyday and Jeter's peak provide context about how and why these teams and players achieved what they did. "The Captain" fails to delve deeply enough into the details of what made the Yankees so good - or, when they lost to teams like the 2004 Boston Red Sox, so frustrating - to be truly satisfying. If you were looking for Jeter's opinion on A-Rod versus Jason Varitek, don't bother.

Therefore, the series sometimes struggles to say much more about Jeter than what we already know, since he is always on alert for giving away too much. It is also this reluctance that allows him to reveal so much more when he cracks, even just a little. Despite Jeter's best efforts, "The Captain" becomes all the more compelling when he allows himself to be petty, smug, or a sore loser than his carefully gracious postmatch interviews would suggest.