What may be the earliest known baseball signed by Derek Jeter as a professional is coming to auction, an iconic ball that has been cherished for 28 years by the batboy of the 1992 high school all-star game Jeter played in as a teenager in Michigan.
The batboy–a 10-year old little leaguer who’s uncle coached the local varsity baseball team—was gifted the ball after the game which also includes other players who starred in the game. Nearly three decades later, the owner says he is “ready to pass it on to the next person to add to their collection.”
It’ll be among the items in the Fall Sports Collectibles catalog at Heritage Auctions and is expected to sell for $15,000 or more.
Jeter’s autograph appears on the sweet spot, a desirable feature for any Jeter collector interested in the item. It also showcases the teenager’s early penmanship, as his signature would evolve into a very different looking, cursive-style autograph with several distinct loops for the letters in his name as early as 1993. A PSA/DNA certfied Jeter ball currently listed on eBay illustrates how his signature changed early on in his pro career.
The ball at Heritage is also inscribed with the score of the game (17-10 West defeated the East) and dated June 18, 1992. This was not in Jeter’s hand, but provides evidence of this ball being the earliest known version of his signature.
A ball authenticated by PSA/DNA that is autographed by Jeter is currently on eBay and states that it is “earliest known” Jeter signed baseball. It was signed during his ’92 stint in the Gulf Coast League, but does not include a date. With Heritage bringing the 1992 ball from his high school all-star game to auction, Jeter collectors will be competing for an item that predates anything available on the market. Six years ago, Heritage actually sold a ball signed by the Hall of Famer long before either one of those. A ball inked by an eight-year-old Jeter and his youth baseball teammates went off the board at $36,000.
An Inauspicious Start
For a Yankee legend who amassed 3,000 hits, won five World Series and was a 14-time MLB All-Star—Jeter’s pro career was a classic example of how it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
His first game in the minors as a highly regarded first round pick likely left most spectators that day wondering if the Yankees had missed the mark. Jeter went 0-for-7 in a doubleheader, struck out five times, and made a throwing error that cost his team one of the games.
In 1993, Jeter set an infamous record by committing 56 errors at the shortstop position for the Class A Greensboro Hornets. He hit a respectable .295, but his fielding woes prompted teammate R.D. Long to remark “he looked like a right-fielder playing shortstop…every way you can make an error, he made it.”
After committing another 51 errors in his second season as a pro, it wasn’t only his teammates who were starting to question whether the first-round pick was cut out to play shortstop.
Undeterred, Jeter kept improving. While members of the organization started to grumble behind doors about Jeter possibly moving to the outfield, others convinced the team they should stick with the youngster from Kalamazoo as their shortstop.
Yankees’ coach Brian Butterfield began working with Jeter after that offseason and was an instrumental piece in helping Jeter cut his errors to 25 in 1994. The rest of Jeter’s game began to blossom as well that summer, as he hit .344 and stole 50 bases for Class A Advanced Tampa Bay as a 20-year-old.
One year later, in 1995, Jeter was making his debut for the New York Yankees and never looked back. He won five Gold Gloves at the MLB level, and was known for his intuitive instincts that always seemed to put him in the right place at the right time.
The “flip play” in 2001 is a classic example, one where Jeter was backing up a double-cut and recognized the ball was not going to make it to home plate in time to get the runner Jeremy Giambi. Generally, it’s the first baseman and second baseman who form a double cut on an extra base hit to right field, but on that fateful day Jeter’s instincts led him to the ball and helped lead the Yankees to a series comeback against the Oakland A’s.
The Yankees would once again appear in the Fall Classic that year, thanks in large part to Jeter’s timely flip to Jorge Posada. Heritage also has a signed baseball from Jeter from that World Series up for auction.
Bidding will open November 19 with the auction set to close over several days in December.