Being a fan of professional sports since 1975, I have four all time favorites and they cover all four major sports. Raymond Bourque, Larry Bird, Dwight Evans and Dan Fouts. As the years went on, Bourque morphed into my all time favorite player. I found it absolutely silly that it took 20 years and a trade to the Colorado Avalanche for media and fans to finally recognize how great of a player Ray was. Second best defenseman of all time great, behind Bobby Orr. After he won the Stanley Cup, in his second to last year, I started to really think about his career and how “perfect” he was. I used factors like career statistics, Hall of Fame, length with original team, leadership and how a player acted as a human being. I would argue, biasedly of course, that Raymond Bourque was one of, if not the most perfect player that ever played. In any sport.
With Derek Jeter approaching 3,000 hits, I started to think about that unofficial statistic I created years back. The perfect player award that I had so fondly handed out to Bourque. The only thing I could think of was Derek Jeter. I remember seeing him play as a rookie in 1995. Even though I was a Sox fan, I watched Yankee games all the time. For two reasons. I lived in Western NY and my second favorite team in baseball was the team who was playing New York that day. I was with a friend watching the Yankees game one evening, drinking a few beers and this rookie shortstop made a great defensive play, then followed it the next half inning with a game winning hit. My friend slaps me on the shoulder and tells me, “this kid is going to be a Hall of Famer, you watch!”. Um, ok. I just laughed in his face. This rookie was batting .250 with zero home runs. Yeah, Next Mickey Mantle alright. Just another biased, over board Yankee fan commentary I thought to myself. 15 games and the season ended, along with this rookies career. A .250 hitter with no power won’t cut it in the major leagues, especially in NY. Hope you enjoyed your cup of coffee kid, now back to the International League!
The following year, that kid now has a name. It’s Derek Jeter. He wins the 1996 AL Rookie of the year award and the Yankees go on to win their first World Series title in 18 years. Ok, Ok. Big deal. Then the Yankees win another and another World Series. Even after clutch after clutch play in the field and at the plate in the postseason, I kept telling myself, “It’s not him, he is just part of a great team”. Then the Yanks win a fourth World Series in 2000, Derek Jeter being named World Series MVP. Now I start to think to myself, “maybe this kid is a decent player after all”. Maybe?
Early on in his career, Jeter was part of the “Big 3” at short stop, a group that consisted of Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. The other two were always considered better than Derek. Out of the three, Jeter outlasted them all at short. he did it by a long margin and he did it naturally. A-Rod has since admitted to steroid use and you would have to be as naive as a prom date to think that Nomar wasn’t part of the steroid era too. Although never linked to PED use, Garciaparra was ripped with muscle and his career ended in typical PED user fashion. Big numbers for years, enter the Mitchell Report, statistical numbers crash. Career suddenly over.
As hard as I tried to hate him, I couldn’t. As much as I wanted to see him fail, he never did. He kept chugging along, year after year, .300 average, 200 hits. Like clockwork. Never in trouble off the field. How could a great looking, single guy, who just happened to live in NY City, play professional baseball for the New York Yankees, in the “get into trouble” capitol of the world and not have one single blemish on his record? Impossible right? Not for Derek Jeter.
I was listening to a local sports talk show on the radio the other day and I wanted to reach through my radio and choke the talk host. The topic: “Would you consider Derek Jeter an All Time Great?”. Now I get talk radio. They like to infuriate people in an attempt to receive angry callers, which in turn produces a juicy 3-4 hours of radio. I could not believe how many callers agreed with the host and were on the fence about whether or not Jeter is an All Time Great! All I kept hearing was how Jeter can’t play defense anymore or how he is half the hitter at the plate now. As I’m listening to all this non sense, I kept thinking to myself, “He is 37 years old and has played professional baseball since 1995!” What did these people expect? As if the last season and a half of declined production erases the prior 14 and a half?
Most households have, on average, 4 devices hooked up to the internet. A simple “net” search would show you that every great player in any sport, declines in their later years. Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan. All players, widely considered the best that every played in their respective sport. They all had sub par final seasons. Look it up. Another thing that made me want to rip the last remaining hairs from my scalp was this comment: “Well Jeter was surrounded by great players, that’s why he won so many World Series”. Of course he was and so surrounded was Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle. Gretzky had no less than 6 Hall of Famers on his Stanley Cup winning teams in Edmonton. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams were not champions simply because of him. Besides MJ, 40% of the starting 5, consisted of Hall of Fame players in Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Does being surrounded by great players, make you less great? Reverse it. Maybe, just maybe, those other “surrounding” players were great because of Ruth, Gretzky and Jordan. Maybe Derek Jeter wasn’t just along for the ride on those great Yankee teams of the 90’s. If you think he was, look at where Derek Jeter sits among these MLB all time postseason rankings, then think again.
Runs Scored: 1st – 101 / Hits: 1st – 185 / Total Bases: 1st – 283 / Doubles: 1st – 30 / Triples: 2nd – 4 / Home Runs: 3rd – 20 / RBI: 4th – 57 / Walks: 6th – 63 / Stolen Bases: 6th – 17
I know you’re thinking it, so go ahead and tell me that Jeter is so high in all these rankings because he has played in more games than anyone in history, because you would be right. He is number one in that ranking also but he showed up in every postseason and has a career .309 average in the playoffs, .330 in World Series games.
Folks, I’m here to tell you that Derek Jeter is not only among the best that has ever played baseball, he is Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, among Yankee lore. We just don’t realize it yet. It will take time, just like his 3,000 hits took 16 seasons. Just like it took me more time than it should to realize, “this kid is really, really good”. After all is said and done, Derek Jeter will finish his career with a lifetime average over .300, with approximately 3,300 hits, 2,000 runs scored, 550 doubles, 250 home runs, 1,300 rbi, 350 stolen bases, 1,100 walks and 4,600 total bases. He will have been in at least 12 All-Star games, with an MVP award in 2000. He has won a Rookie of the Year award, a Babe Ruth Award, a Roberto Clemente Award, 2 Hank Aaron Awards, 4 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers and has 5 World Series rings, including the World Series MVP in 2000. You can also add a first ballot Hall of Fame induction to that list, which I can guarantee you, will bring the biggest crowd that Cooperstown has ever witnessed.
Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten all worked up over that radio show. To consider Derek Jeter to be among the greats of all time might be wrong to do. Maybe we shouldn’t lump him in with all the legends. That wouldn’t be fair. Not fair to Derek Jeter that is, since he is more perfect than almost every one of them.