Commentary

Wait! Derek Jeter has a human side?

He gave us a glimpse of it at last week's press conference. We'd like to see more.

Originally Published: December 17, 2010
By Roy S. Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

Derek JeterStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAre there real emotions buried somewhere beneath Derek Jeter's cool, calm exterior? We hope so.

Derek Jeter is mad.

Ponder that sentence for a moment.

It doesn't read: Derek Jeter is …

… rich.

… handsome.

… a Yankees icon.

… a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Al Bello/Getty ImagesWhat makes Jeter laugh? What makes him cry? We don't really know.

… dating (fill-the-blank with the name of the hottest babe you stand no chance of ever going out with).

Or any other of the myriad facts we read about the Yankees shortstop. But it says a lot more than we knew.

It says he's human.

It says Derek Jeter gets ticked. Just like the rest of us!

Standing behind a podium last week -- looking just too dapper for words, by the way -- to announce his new three-year, $51 million contract with the Yankees, the captain uncharacteristically told the world that he was "angry" at the team for its tactics and leaks during negotiations.

"I know they said I had an ego," he began. "People said I'm greedy … I think it all started with my 'salary demands,' which still cracks me up. What position do I have to demand a salary? … Where am I going? … I was pretty angry about it, but I've let that be known … To hear the organization tell me to go shop it when I just told you I wasn't going to -- yeah, if I'm going to be honest with you, I was pretty angry about it."

I initially thought his reaction smacked of multimillionaire whining. I tweeted that I'd like to be "angry like Jeter," adding #quitwhiningonwaytobankvault.

In hindsight, though, I'm changing my tone. In fact, I want more. Much more. More of Jeter being "honest" with us. More of whatever mad, passionate, giddy streaks he really has beneath the pinstriped cardboard cutout of his public persona.

And though Jeter is that dude who has everything, I think it'll actually do him some good to let us see them.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIs he playing baseball or hailing a cab? Hard to tell sometimes, the way he keeps his emotions in check.

Truth is, time is running out for the popular Jeter to show us he's more than One of The Greatest Yankees of All Time, more than just his five championship rings, more than just a guy with a bevy of Hollywood beauties among his iPhone faves.

Like Brett Favre, Jeter eventually will be forced to lay down his tools someday and become an observer of the game in which he was perhaps the seminal face for a generation. Even if that happens tomorrow, no fan could complain about being short-changed. (At least, no fan whose name isn't Steinbrenner.) But what would be unfulfilling is that we don't really know squat about Derek Jeter, the guy.

We know almost nothing about him that doesn't involve a bat, ball or glove. Or starlet.

At least now, we know the guy who's been unflappable for seemingly every moment of his sterling career (including putting on an Emmy-worthy performance while not being hit by a pitch) can actually get peeved. And that's great.

But I also want to know what makes him laugh and cry, what (and who) inspires and motivates him, how he feels about the way his life unfolded.

I want to know his fears -- those moments when beneath that veneer of confidence he might actually wonder if he is really good enough.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesEven back in 1996, his first full season, he rarely lost his composure.

I want to know what challenges he overcame, what obstacles he conquered en route to greatness -- what came easy and what was really, really hard.

Yes, I want to know how he really feels about A-Rod.

I want to know how he feels about his performance last season, when he slipped precipitously in just about every category that matters -- batting average (from .334 in 2009 to .270 in '10), OBP (.406 to .340), slugging percentage (.465 to .370) and put-outs (206 to 182).

I want to know how he felt when the whispers grew louder that he is no longer even the best shortstop on the Yankees, and that his range has diminished.

How does he feel seeing the word "decline" included in almost every story that mentions his name?

I want to know: Does it hurt?

I want to know how he feels about The End. Has he pondered it? Has he thought about how he'll walk away from the game? Will he insist that they'll have to pry the glove from his cold, dead fingers?!

Wouldn't you love to hear him say that?

Or even tweet it?! If he was on Twitter. He's not, alas.

We need only scan our PDAs these days to learn more than we really want to know about most athletes. It's great that Chad Ochocinco (@ochocinco), Terrell Owens (@terrellowens), Shaquille O'Neal (@the_real_shaq) and Nate Robinson (@nate_robinson), along with LeBron James (@kingjames), Tiger Woods (@tigerwoods), Natalie Gulbis (@natalie_gulbis), Apolo Ohno (@apoloohno) and hundreds of other pros share their lives with us with the flick of their thumbs. (Although I'm not sure how much it advances society to find out what their cousins are eating or that they're off to practice.)

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWe can learn from his experience … if he'll let us.

We probably know more about our greatest performers now than any previous generation has known about its stars, and we should. We should want to know not just because of our voyeuristic nature, not because we're just so damn nosy.

We should want to know because we can learn. Because our children can learn.

We can learn from Jeter's greatness and from his failings. And we can learn even more from everything in between, from the journey.

With his new deal, whether he remains in uniform for another three or four years (or longer or shorter), Jeter has an opportunity to share his journey, openly and honestly.

He has a chance to add color to the canvas that will be his legacy before he drifts into Monument Park and, of course, the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He has a chance now for us to get to know him, and to show us that he's like us more than we know.

I hope the fire he showed at that press conference is a sign that he's willing to do so.

Roy S. Johnson, a veteran sports journalist and media consultant, is the editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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Roy S. Johnson

Contributing writer, ESPN.com

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