Sunday night’s KayRod Cast alternate Sunday Night Baseball broadcast on ESPN2 with Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez drew a lot of attention in advance for having Derek Jeter as a guest. Much of the discussion ahead of the broadcast was about what might happen between Jeter and Rodriguez, as this came shortly after Jeter admitted publicly for the first time (in his ESPN docuseries The Captain) that Rodriguez’s infamous 2001 Esquire comments criticizing his play “bothered me.” But the actual conflict that happened was around a different magazine’s editorial decision, also from more than two decades ago.
Back in 1997, Sports Illustrated ran a Tom Verducci story on the resurgence of shortstops. The actual magazine cover, on “the finest group of shortstops since World War II,” featured Jeter and Rodriguez in their standard Yankees’ and Mariners’ uniforms respectively. But a photo with the story inside drew much more attention. That, from famed photographer Walter Iooss Jr., had five shortstops (Jeter, Rodriguez, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez and Rey Ordóñez) all posing shirtless with gold chains on a Miami Beach rooftop. And it led to quite a discussion Sunday night when Jeter appeared on the KayRod Cast alongside Rodriguez Sunday. Here’s a clip of the almost two minutes of that:
The "shirtless shortstop" discussion on Sunday's KayRod Cast went from Derek Jeter saying "If I was worried about my image, you think I would have done that photoshoot, taking my shirt off?" to him saying "This will be my last visit here" after the broadcast showed the photo. pic.twitter.com/l8cpZzdQSl
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) August 15, 2022
Kay starts that by bringing up how Rodriguez and Jeter viewed their personal images, saying “You both were very aware of your image growing up. Derek, you guarded it, and we explained it. But I sit back and I look at you both now: you guys took your shirt off for Sports Illustrated. Who thought that was a good idea?” Rodriguez breaks out laughing, and Jeter chuckles and then says “Well, see, two things. First, I’m glad you brought it up. You mention, first, you say image. Image is what you want people to view you as, character is who you are. If I was worried about my image, you think I would have done that photoshoot, taking my shirt off?”
Rodriguez cackles and Kay says “Excellent point.” Then Jeter says “You know what I’m saying? That photoshoot was in Miami, and, please don’t put it on screen. That photoshoot was in Miami, and you remember, it was the last shot that we had of the day. Everyone was willing to do it, and I was the last holdout.” Rodriguez says “That’s true.” And Jeter says “Everyone was like ‘Let’s go, let’s go, so we can get out of here. I shouldn’t have done it.” Rodriguez says “Now here’s where Derek and I are opposites. I liked it so much that…” and Kay says “You went on a rock in Central Park,” and Rodriguez says “Yeah, Central Park. I did my own, and it was great.”
They all chuckle, and then Kay says “You’ve actually scared our producer, Joe McCoy. He had that thing locked and loaded, and he never put it up.” Jeter says “Yeah, please don’t. This will be my last visit here.” Kay and Rodriguez break out in laughter, and Jeter chuckles, then Kay calls a pitch. Then they do show the photo (actually, a cropped version of it that takes out Gonzalez), and Jeter looks very unamused, then says deadpan “This is my last time here.” Rodriguez pats him on the knee and says with a laugh “Well, it was nice having you!” and Jeter says with a bit of a laugh “This is my last time here, yeah, yeah. Thanks for having me, guys.”
Kay then says “You’ve got to put up Alex’s rock picture then too. I mean, let’s be fair.” Rodriguez says “Oh gosh, please not.” Then, after Kay calls the inning-ending play, Rodriguez says “All right, commercials, beautiful.” Kay says “Yeah, that will do it. We’ll come back, and I assume we’re going to be finishing things up with Derek Jeter when we get back.”
It’s unclear if Jeter was actually really annoyed here, and if he was serious about never coming back. He did stay for another five minutes or so after the commercial break, and any irritation he did have over the shirtless photo display seemed to have passed at that point. But Jeter’s reaction here, and the “Please don’t put it on screen” and “This will be my last visit here” in particular, did seem a little over-the-top.
And for his part, Rodriguez seems much more on board with the broadcast showing maybe-embarrassing clips from his past. That happened on a KayRod Cast on June 26, where McCoy showed footage contrasting Trea Turner’s graceful slides with some very ungraceful ones from Rodriguez, who laughed about it and said he had “The grace of an elephant.”
So, given his greater willingness to laugh at himself, it’s probably a good thing Rodriguez is the regular co-host here and not Jeter. But even if Jeter wasn’t thrilled with the “shirtless shortstops” photo display, it was interesting to hear that photo discussed, and to hear how Jeter wasn’t really on board with it even at the time. It’s the 25th anniversary of that photo, and Matt Monagan did an excellent story on it at MLB.com earlier this year, including commentary from Iooss, Verducci, and more. Some highlights:
“Well, it’s certainly not top 5,” Iooss said with a laugh over a recent phone call. “Certainly not top 10. Maybe top 2 shirtless pictures.”
…”I’m pretty sure it was nothing scripted,” Verducci said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, let’s think about pictures we’d like to get and, hey, why don’t we get a picture of all these guys shirtless?’ I was definitely not aware of that. I think it was an impromptu shot.”
Iooss wasn’t sure if he asked the group to remove the shirts or someone just went ahead and did it. Either way, he seemed to hint at one particular person to de-shirt first.
“I’m sure A-Rod was the first to take it off,” he said. “Oh yeah, he was like Ronaldo or something.”
…”I remember there was a lot of buzz and I wasn’t really expecting it,” Verducci said. “I thought it was a cool story because, especially with Derek and Alex, it was a great class of shortstops. It was exactly the way I pictured it. But I didn’t anticipate that the picture would supersede the story in terms of just the buzz factor.”
And 25 years later, that picture is still superseding the story, and creating new stories of its own.