When Derek Jeter speaks in Cooperstown Wednesday, most will see the résumé: A Hall of Famer, five-time World Series champion, and 14-time All-Star who owns the postseason records for career games, plate appearances, and hits, and who was on the field for more October wins than any other player in baseball history.
Red Sox infield coordinator Andy Fox will see all of that, of course. But he also will see the skinny teenager who somehow remained determined after making 77 errors in his first 183 professional games, a quietly confident kid who became known in the minors as a beloved teammate with no thought that his ascent might set the stage for a big league supernova.
“People always ask me about Derek Jeter,” said Fox. “He’s just a regular guy who just happens to be Derek Jeter. To me, he’s Derek. He’s Jeets. It’s just cool to say you played with a Hall of Famer who, in the beginning stages, you watched how he worked and went about his business.”
Fox is in his 11th season as a minor league infield coordinator; he has temporarily joined the big league staff with quality-control coach Ramón Vázquez sidelined after a COVID-19 infection. As he helps young Red Sox players improve their defense, one of the most powerful reference points he has is the work Jeter did following his pro debut in 1992, when he made 21 errors in 57 games, which was followed by a 56-error season over 126 contests as a 19-year-old in A ball in 1993.
Fox was drafted in 1989 by the Yankees; he was a few years older than Jeter when New York made him its first-round selection in 1992. He met the athletic but raw shortstop from Michigan in instructional league and spent time with him the following year, after that 56-error season.
Certain gifts — foremost athleticism and an offensive approach — were obvious. Still, Jeter’s openness to working through a year of defensive miscues that would have swallowed many young players proved particularly noteworthy.
“He trusted the process and didn’t cave into results,” said Fox. “Sometimes younger players tend to go kind of Dow Jones — up and down a little bit. But he was always even-keeled with kind of a quiet intensity.
“You would have never thought he made 50 errors. He knew what he needed to work on. He always took pride in everything he did, even the defense from an early age.”
Fox watched on the back fields at spring training as Jeter — with a major assist from former Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield, then a Yankees minor league manager — transformed himself from a shortstop who made routine errors to one with reliable fundamentals that allowed his baseball acumen to impact games.
Fox then saw how quickly Jeter’s abilities coalesced to put him on a fast track. Fox, then, 23, opened 1994 in Double A Albany. While Jeter started that season in High A Tampa, he moved up to Double A in midseason. There, as a 20-year-old, Jeter hit .377/.446/.516 in a 34-game stopover before he zoomed up to Triple A for the final month.
“It was just ridiculous what he could do with the bat, his ability to get the barrel on just about anything,” said Fox.
The two were again teammates for much of 1995 in Triple A Columbus. Fox, who moved around the infield as he moved up through the minors, understood the lay of the land.
“I’d see him and be like, ‘OK, I guess you’re playing short today and I’ll play someplace else,’ ” said Fox. “I always make the joke, ‘I think I really pushed him.’ ”
It was Jeter who reached the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 1995, but both broke camp in the big leagues in 1996. They were the two rookies on a veteran-laden team that kick-started a mini-dynasty. But while their service time was roughly equal, Fox recalls with amusement that there was a pecking order.
Jeter overcame a slow start to hit .314/.370/.430 and win Rookie of the Year on a championship team. Fox was a versatile, glove-first reserve who hit .196/.276/.265.
“We were the only two rookies on that team in ‘96 that spent the whole year in the big leagues,” said Fox. “I had to do all the rookie stuff. Since he was playing every day, they kind of left him alone. They would give him some crap, but I was the bring-the-beer-on-the-bus guy.
“But [that team] helped him and me. It was a veteran group. It was all about winning and playing the game the right way, getting to the big leagues and seeing the sense of urgency to win every day with an older group to kind of show you the ropes. It really helped set the foundation for his career, and ultimately mine.”
Fox remained with the Yankees in 1997, and was fascinated to see Jeter’s profile explode. He was becoming a megastar whose face was plastered in Times Square, yet behind the scenes, he remained the same teammate he’d been in Albany and Columbus — something that Fox says remains true to this day.
“He never carries himself like you would think Derek Jeter would,” said Fox. “Playing in that market, he’s kind of larger than life with all the winning that he did, but I think that’s what makes him him. He’s very grounded, very authentic, and takes his time with people.”
Fox’s experience around Jeter remains a teaching tool. It allows him not only to be patient while watching young minor leaguers struggle but to offer them encouragement. For instance, when Fox worked with Xander Bogaerts as he made his way through the Red Sox system from 2011-13 – with plenty of questions about whether he could stay at shortstop — Fox could offer reassurance drawn from his former teammate.
“They’re different people, but there are a lot of similarities as far as their track, their path,” said Fox. “In all honesty, it was helpful for me. I’m sure there was a time I dropped a comment on Xander over the years being like, ‘Hey, don’t get all bent out of shape about this. There’s a guy in New York who is playing shortstop who made some errors, too. So, trust in the process.’ ”
For Fox, it is that process that comes to mind on the day of Jeter’s long-awaited induction into the Hall of Fame.
“When I do tell stories to the players, I’ll tell them, ‘This guy worked his [tail] off. He went through the grind, just like everybody else,’ ” said Fox. “He was a little bit quicker [getting to the big leagues] and more successful [than most].
“But I think, to me, that’s the cool part. You watched him get better. He was there to work and he definitely had a purpose in everything he did.”
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.