Friday, October 3, 2014


Is he the greatest hitter of all time? No.

Is he the greatest shortstop of all time? No.

Is he the greatest Yankee ever? Some say yes, and some say no.

Is any of that important in considering the career of Derek Jeter?

Absolutely not.

Does the Yankee marketing of Jeter's 'farewell season' diminish his contributions to the sport and the team?

Hell no. That's marketing hype, and a real fan ignores that stuff.

Derek Jeter has been the Yankee shortstop for twenty years. In that time, he made the All-Star team 14 times, won 5 World Series rings, 5 Gold Gloves, and 5 Silver Slugger awards. He became the only Yankee to have as many as 3000 hits, and he climbed all the way to 6th on the all-time hit list at 3465. He hit .300 or better 12 times, and his career batting average is .310.

For a little historical perspective, take a look at one statistic: in the history of baseball, only six men have as many as 3465 hits:

1. Pete Rose
2. Ty Cobb
3. Hank Aaron
4. Stan Musial
5. Tris Speaker

Who is number 6?

"Now batting for the New York Yankees," booms the voice of the late Bob Sheppard. "The shortstop, number two – Derek Jeter, number two."

Yes, that is Jeter at number 6. And except for Pete Rose, every other man in the top 20 all-time in hits is a member of the Hall of Fame. If that does not strike you as proof that Jeter deserves to be named among the greatest that ever played the game, then I don't think I have enough words to convince you.

Jeter has been a fan favorite since he broke into the Major Leagues when he was Rookie of the Year in 1996. He made an immediate impact that season when he batted .314 with 183 hits and 104 runs in 157 games, helping the Yankees to a World Series victory over Atlanta (the Yankees first WS appearance since 1981, and their first championship since 1978). It was only the beginning of an incredible career.

What Jeter has done since then for the New York Yankees is provide leadership on and off the field, he has been a model of consistency and durability for 20 years, and he has contributed in a big way to the success of the Yankees (never a losing season in Jeter's tenure). He is an example of what it means to be all in; that is, to risk life and limb to play baseball to the best of his ability. There are many examples of Jeter's drive to play all out all the time, the most notable being the 'dive' into the stands, and the flip play.

In a game at Yankee Stadium in July 2004 against the Red Sox, Jeter made a tremendous play on a pop fly hit near the foul line behind third base. As he ran full speed towards the ball and made the catch, with no chance to stop, Jeter dove into the stands. He emerged bloodied and bruised, with the ball in his glove.

During the third game of the 2001 ALDS in Oakland, Jeter made one of the greatest plays any of us had ever seen. He took a throw from the right fielder as he ran across the first base foul line – far from his position, in a place no one ever expects to see a shortstop – and flipped the ball backhanded to Posada, who tagged Jeremy Giambi for the out. That play kept the Yankees ahead 1-0, and is likely the turning point in that series as the Yankees went on to win that game after losing the first two in New York. They won the next two games, and advanced to the ALCS.

Part of what makes Jeter an icon is the fact that he survived twenty years in the glaring spotlight of New York City and Yankee Stadium without exhibiting behavior that would cast him in a negative light.

Howard Bryant of ESPN the Magazine, wrote in May 2013 in 'True Story':

"He became the signature player for the game's signature team when it returned to power, and in an era of drugs and cynicism and ruined reputations, he never embarrassed the sport, his team or, most important, his family name."

"You can dislike him immensely," wrote former pitcher Curt Schilling in September 2009 in his blog '38 Pitches', "and much of that is due to the pinstripes, but there is nothing we know of that would give pause, rhyme or reason to not having immense respect for what he’s done on and off the field."

Without really trying to, with his behavior and his ability as a baseball player, Jeter carved out a spot that sets him apart.

"For me, I'm happy to be known as a Yankee - that's all I ever wanted to be, the shortstop for the New York Yankees - and I had the opportunity to do that for parts of 20 years," Jeter said in a press conference following his final game. "To be remembered as a Yankee is good enough for me."

"I love the way he has carried himself and constructed his legacy," said former Boston Celtic's player, Hall of Famer John Havlicek in 'Derek Jeter also impresses fellow icons', by Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan on September 28, 2014, Jeter's last day in uniform.

"I think every player learned how they can conduct themselves watching Jeter," said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins in Paul White's USA Today piece 'Why Derek Jeter remains admired after so many years'.

"He is one of the faces, if not THE face of baseball," said Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona in White's article.

"But what set him apart in my mind was being a single guy and celebrity athlete for 20 years in the biggest city in the world and he never lost his focus or had a hint of scandal about him," said Don Zimmer, former Yankee coach, several months before he died in June 2014, in 'Classy Yankees captain Derek Jeter our own Joe DiMaggio', by Bill Madden of the New York Daily News.

"He’s humble and polite, which sets him apart from way too many stars in too many sports," wrote John Steigerwald of The Daily Caller on September 28, 2014 in 'Derek Jeter And Just Watching The Game'.

"There's Jeter ... and then everyone else," wrote Tim Kurkjian in ESPN the Magazine in June 2005.

Is Jeter better known because he is a Yankee, playing in the media capital of the world, New York City? Perhaps. At the same time Jeter was driving in his final run in Boston, back in New York in a game against the Mets, Houston 2nd baseman Jose Altuve was quietly winning the first batting championship in Astros history. Even if Jeter hadn't been playing his last game that day, no one other than Astros fans would have noticed Altuve's accomplishment. Even Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmerman's no-hitter that day took a back seat to Jeter.

In Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium on September 25, there was talk that he might be taken out of the game early with the Yankees leading 5-2. Then the Orioles tied the game in the top of the ninth. A fitting end would, of course, have Jeter driving in the walk-off winning run in the bottom of the 9th. Storybook endings rarely happen, but of course, that is exactly what happened. Jeter ripped a single to right field, the winning run scored, and Jeter leaped triumphantly to his feet as 48,000 Yankee fans went crazy.

You don't have to be a Yankee fan to appreciate that.

A few days later, after a memorable tribute from the Red Sox and Boston sports legends including Carl Yastrzemski and Bobby Orr, and with the unlikely occurrence of the Fenway Park faithful chanting his name as though he was a hometown guy, Jeter came through for the Yankees yet again. He hit a high chopper to third, an infield single, driving in a run - the final hit and RBI of his incredible career. Moments later, Jeter exited the game for a pinch runner, again to the cheers of Red Sox fans.

It was a fitting end to the Captain's career.

For public figures like Derek Jeter, there will always be doubters and haters. It's too bad those people missed the point. Whether you like Jeter or not, he earned his place among the greats of baseball with his personal conduct, his public demeanor, and his athletic ability. He's not a god – he's a man worthy of admiration because of the way he carried himself as a highly public figure for 20 years.

Any baseball fan can 'RE2PECT' that.

© 2014 Larry Manch

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