A blog providing news and commentary on baseball's biggest stories from a lifelong fan.
Today, I saw my childhood idol play in person for the last time. It was the first time I saw him play since his injury in game 1 of the 2012 ALCS that essentially brought about an end to a remarkable career. It was great to see him, in front of a packed Yankee Stadium crowd (which has been hard to come by the past few years) and it was even better to see him do what he’s done for a couple decades: come up big in the clutch.
He doubled down the line, adding a key insurance run to a struggling offense. Jeter’s final season will go down as forgettable, and I’ll be the first to say that the amount of fanfare that has gone on with his retirement has gotten way out of hand, but I do think it’s important to remember all of what he has done for the game.
I don’t think anyone has done more for the game since Cal Ripken and it’s tough to think of anyone who has meant more to a franchise since maybe Pete Rose or Hank Aaron. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. In his incredible career, he’s arguably never even been the best player on his team on any given season, but his consistency, poise, and ability to produce in the clutch have been constants.
Maybe some of you are a little younger than me and don’t remember the Yankee dynasty of the late ’90s to early ’00s. To be honest, I don’t really remember 2000. Maybe to you, Jeter has been a constantly overrated player who just happens to have been on a great team for the vast majority of his career.
Maybe you’re older than me and remember players like Ripken, Tony Gwynn, or Johnny Bench. Maybe you’ve seen better players and don’t understand what the big deal is with Jeter.
You’re not wrong to think these things, though I would certainly argue with you. He’s sixth all time in hits, and were it not for the injury from 2012 and the complications in 2013, he would probably be fifth or fourth. He has the most hits of anyone since Pete Rose, and for a good amount of his career, it looked like he may be baseball’s only shot at breaking it.
While his defense has come under scrutiny recently, he has five Gold Glove awards. While many statistics aren’t kind to him, I don’t think it could possibly fair to question his arm or his ability and range toward the hole by third base. His jump throw has become the stuff of legends and he’s a big reason why many of the best athletes in the game coming up are at shortstop. He revolutionized the position (along with others such as Larkin, Ripken, A-Rod, Garciaparra, and Tejada) as to not only a position of speed and surehandedness on defense, but to where one of your best offensive weapons could play. Maybe it’s been a while since he’s hit for considerable power, but he has 260 career home runs, three times eclipsing 20 in a season and nine times hitting at least 15.
Jeter has meant the world to New York. Now I know most of you probably hate the Yankees and certainly the Yankees fans and for the most part, you’re completely justified in doing so. But just look at how much those fans in the Bronx love their shortstop, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s become an obnoxious (though relatively true) saying that all Yankees fans care about is what you do in the postseason, and Jeter is a big reason why that phrase exists. Playing on an absolutely stacked team most of his career, it was more or less a given that they’d be in the playoffs (despite strong competition from Baltimore in the beginning, Tampa at the end, and Boston throughout his career). Jeter is one of the great postseason hitters of all time, hence why they love him. With the most hits in playoff history, he has a .308 average, and 111 runs scored against some of the best pitching in the game. He is the 2000 World Series MVP, a five time world champion, and his miraculous flip play in game 3 of the 2001 ALDS preserved the hopes of a city devastated by terrorism. It is easy to see why Jeter is and forever will be loved.
He’s also loved all over the country. Many fans in Boston will at least admit respect for him, which is as strong a compliment as a Steinbrenner-era Yankee can get. He’s played in the biggest market, the media capital of the world, and he’s taken full advantage of it. With baseball somewhat struggling to market itself despite its superstars such as Trout, Kershaw, and Miguel Cabrera, baseball has lost one its most recognizable and marketable face in the Internet era. He ought to be missed by all of baseball, even if you hate the Yankees or are sick of hearing about him.