Saturday, September 15, 2012

Derek Jeter: the Captain, the record breaker, and a baseball icon


Surpassing the legendary Willie Mays in any category is astounding, and Derek Jeter did just that on September 14 at Yankee Stadium. The Yankee great passed Mays for 10th most career hits all-time. Think about that for a second… Only nine players in the history of baseball have gotten more hits than DJ in their career. Needless to say, this is another huge accomplishment that the Yankee shortstop has accumulated over the course of his 18-year career.

Now before we delve any further into Jeter’s career and accomplishments, take into account that this perspective is coming from someone who is a Giants and Red Sox fan. You would think that I would be the last person to give Jeter credit for his accomplishments. Even though I am not particularly thrilled as a Giants fan to see Mays drop in the record books, Jeter has earned every one of his 3,284 hits.

No explanation is necessary for the hatred lack of affection that Red Sox fans like myself have for the so-called “Evil Empire.”  The fact is, Jeter has five World Series championship titles to his name and is in good position to make a run at number six. The Red Sox, on the other hand, won their first World Series in 86 years less than a decade ago (2004). Regardless, here is why I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Yankee captain.

In an era riddled by steroids, Jeter’s name has never been in the PED discussion. He has not been a prolific home run hitter but found a way to get the job done at a high level without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Ironically, Jeter has won more championships than the trio of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco combined. Granted, the Steinbrenner ownernship has outspent every MLB team since 1999 and the 2011 Yankees payroll on Opening Day was over five times greater than the Kansas City Royals.

Jeter’s individual achievements in one of the largest spotlights in all of sports are nothing short of sensational: 13-time All Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and a career average well above .300. He is indubitably one of the top shortstops of all time and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Perhaps my conviction on Barry Bonds’ lack of Hall of Fame-worthiness has garnered Jeter more respect with me. You can argue the length of a baseball season whether or not Bonds and PED athletes deserve a spot in Cooperstown but one thing is certain: they tarnished the game and nearly a decade of baseball.

Jeter is the bright spot that shows steroids are not necessary to perform at a high level; talent can combine with a strong work ethic to get more than just mediocre results. Take for example the increase in no-hitters over the past couple years, something invariably connected to the fact that hitters are not ‘roided up. What does that say? Pitchers have always been good, but PEDs powered their 95 MPH fastballs over the fence much more than they should have been. However, Jeter has been steady before, during, and after the era, hitting .320 and above consistently throughout his career. Take this season for example: at age 38, Jeter has posted a .323 average and is nearing his eighth season of 200-plus hits.

Jeter’s on-the-field heroics have been coupled with a model attitude off-the-field, as well. “The Captain” is always one to preach the team concept, play through injuries, and commend his teammates before himself. It is very difficult not to appreciate his attitude, even as a fan of a rival team.

Not only that, but baseball has become more of a “business,” leading to lessened loyalty between a player and his team. Back in the days of Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, players consistently spent nearly their entire career with one team. Even today, Albert Pujols had been considered such a player…until he left St. Louis for the nice beaches and large paycheck in Los Angeles. Yet Jeter has remained a Yankee (although that is at least in part due to career salary earnings of $220 million—second most among all MLB players since 1985).

To the chagrin of the rest of baseball, each and every time that Derek Jeter has stepped in between the white lines, he has donned the Yankee pinstripes. The one time in his career that Jeter’s contract negotiations did becomes public, Jeter was “angry about it…the negotiations were supposed to be private.”

He respects and has certainly done his part to maintain the integrity of the game to its players and fans. As baseball’s darker hour begins to drift away, baseball still needs players like Jeter at least as much as players like Jeter need baseball.  

The reality is that the kid who was drafted by New York as a teenager has embodied everything that baseball is supposed to be. You will not catch me rooting for the guy come the playoffs, but I can say without question that I respect everything about the Yankee shortstop.

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