In 1996, I was watching ABC local news, waiting for the sports edition. It finally came on and they talked about the new crop of shortstops in hitting New York in the coming baseball season. They highlighted the next Ozzie Smith in Rey Ordonez and some kid from Michigan called Derek Jeter. Jeter was an afterthought and Ordonez was to be one of the greatest shortstops for the Mets. 18 years later, Jeter can be considered one of if not the greatest at his position and will be retiring to a heroes send off. And in my opinion it is well deserved.
He was a skinny tall kid from Michigan that all the scouts said had the upside. He had good range, but not as much as the average shortstops in the game. They said he was an ok hitter but he would likely be overwhelmed by big league pitching. They said he had a decent arm but not a strong one in the whole. The Yankees had just made their first post season appearance in over 10 years and in that time had quite a few shortstops (the last being Mike Gallego). But he was considered maybe the 4th best young shortstop behind the powerful Alex Rodriguez, Ordonez, and talented Nomar Garciaparra. But they all said Jeter had something however that put him in a different class, he wasn’t better but just had something. Jeter showed us all he was always able to rise to the occasion and that the moment was never too big for him. His first game in Cleveland on opening day, he hit a homer on the first at bat (I skipped school to watch that game). Jeter rode the wave to a ‘Rookie of the Year’ campaign and in the 1996 ALCS he hit the ‘home run’ to push the Yankees back to the center of the universe. He’s had big at bats all throughout his career and never was bigger than when it counted most.
The stats speak for itself, over 2,600 game played at shortstop with 3,316 hits, 8 seasons with over 200 hits, and career .312 average. He is without question a first ballot Hall of Famer when the vote comes around in 5 years. You can argue there where better shortstops; Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, Ernie Banks, and Alex Rodriguez. I can argue that Jeter has better stats than Smith. Ozzie was the Wizard without question, but he was a light hitter for his career. In the era he played, shortstops where considered a good hitter, they typically batted at the bottom of the order and had to be the best fielder on your team. It wasn’t until Cal Ripken came along where you could see the position become more offensive. Wagner played in a different era, but his offensive numbers are impressive. However when he played against better pitchers, his stats went down. You can see the splits in his seasons where his number just weren’t consistent at all. Now the other shortstops on the list might have better stats, but what they all have in common is that they switched positions. Cal and Alex moved to 3rd base and a Banks moved to first. Jeter played his whole career at short and his numbers never diminished. There is no question to me if one of those men played at short their whole career, they can be named the greatest and I wouldn’t argue it. You can argue that he did it for 18 years at a high level at one position, and that makes him a great.
In an age where the game was tainted with performance enhancing drugs, Jeter was one of the few that remained clean. Jeter likely had his chances to use PEDs but he stayed away, but he will unfairly be lumped into those talks. He will never be accused of using but you will always say allegedly and say you hope he never used. Jeter played the game the right way and never disrespected the game or the Yankees. He was one of the few ambassadors of the game. He was never in the papers for doing something to embarrass himself or his team. Jeter always tried to say the right things in the papers when pressed for a quote. He could be accused of not be vocal enough in the media against teammates and others in the league, but that wasn’t his way. He was looked upon so greatly that he was name Captain, and honor not given to many on the Yankees.
Jeter did it with class and every young player looked up to him. He can be looked at one of the few ambassadors of the game. When he became the all time hit leader for the Yankees, he didn’t want to celebrate. Jeter said he can look back and enjoy the accomplishment when his career is over. When he hit number 3,000 Jeter didn’t really want to attention but he did acknowledge the moment thanks to his family talking to him. Now with his retirement announcement, we as fans can say goodbye and tip our cap. This isn’t about the idea that Jeter wanted the same attention Mariano Rivera got last season; I think that idea is crazy. He knew he was finished and that he had no more left in the tank. He didn’t want to go through the whole season hiding it and answering the same question of will he won’t he.
I, like a lot of young Yankee fans, grew up with the man named Derek Jeter. We watched him grow up, hustle a ground ball to first, perfect the hop throw in the whole between short and third, win championships and never cheat the game. If you paid a ticket to see him play, you can never say he dogged it on the field. He always played the game hard and gave us as fans our money’s worth. It was a lesson the great Michael Jordan taught him about never cheating the fans because there is always one fan out there that never saw you play. We all got the pleasure to watch The Captain play the game and now we all can spend the year saying, ‘Thank You Derek’.