CINCINNATI (AP) Derek Jeter was at a loss to explain the timing for one of his greatest honors.
The shortstop who is synonymous with the New York Yankees' recent championship run was named their 11th team captain Tuesday before the start of a series in Cincinnati. The honorary title wasn't a surprise. The way it was bestowed, and where, was curious.
Instead of waiting for the Yankees to return home, owner George Steinbrenner informed Jeter of his decision during a telephone call Tuesday. Why not wait?
''You've got me, really,'' Jeter said. ''He just told me it's something he's been thinking about a lot lately and this is the right time.''
Steinbrenner is the only person in the organization who can name a captain, and he suggested in the offseason that Jeter wasn't ready to assume the title that had been vacant since Don Mattingly retired in 1995.
Steinbrenner also questioned Jeter's focus and work ethic, prompting the five-time All-Star to defend himself at the start of spring training.
''It was never brought up again,'' Jeter said Tuesday. ''It was pretty much over in spring training when I addressed it, and I didn't have any problems with the boss.''
Jeter was the obvious choice for a title that's been held by such Yankee greats as Babe Ruth (for six days in 1922), Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson. Manager Joe Torre noticed that even as a rookie, Jeter was a team leader.
''When he first came here, the other players seemed to gravitate toward him,'' Torre said. ''So I thought this day would come eventually.''
The question was when. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, has been MVP of the All-Star game and the World Series, and has won four World Series and five AL pennants in his six seasons.
Yet Steinbrenner had thought he wasn't ready to be captain.
''People have been asking me this question for the last few years,'' Jeter said. ''The boss is the only one who can appoint the captain, so I tried not to think about it too much.''
Steinbrenner broached the subject after the Yankees' second game in Detroit over the weekend, then made up his mind Monday night. He made it official in the phone call Tuesday.
The Yankees called a news conference at Great American Ball Park, hanging a blue New York banner over the red curtains in the interview room that was last used after Sammy Sosa hit his 500th home run.
The Yankees hadn't played a game in Cincinnati since they got swept by the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. Some of Jeter's teammates had not learned of the honor when the news conference began.
No matter. That's how the boss wanted it.
''The boss, this is something that was on his mind,'' general manager Brian Cashman said. ''And he decided now is the time, now is the place. I can't really answer it any further than that.''
Torre and Jeter concurred that it won't really change anything with the team.
''I'm like Derek. I'm not sure it's going to change anything we have in the clubhouse right now,'' Torre said. ''All we need to do is get a hold of things and start playing more consistently.''
Jeter, who was co-captain of his high school basketball team, said Steinbrenner didn't explain his decision or ask for any changes.
''He says he wants me to be a leader, like I have been,'' Jeter said. ''The impression I got is to continue doing what I've been doing.''
He won't wear a ''C'' on his uniform and won't get to take the field at Yankee Stadium as captain until next Tuesday.
''It doesn't really matter,'' he said. ''An honor is an honor, regardless of where you get it.''
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