Derek Jeter. The name alone just makes you want to clap, clap, and then quickly clap three more times after the initial first two claps. It's downright Pavlovian at this point. It's what happens when you spend the better part of two decades growing up watching a player of his caliber play the game of baseball. His legendary status will be cemented among the greatest that ever wore the Yankee pinstripes. It's fitting that his soon to be retired #2 will be the final single digit number that is retired in Monument Park, for there is no one on this roster more deserving of the honor than the Captain. Selfless to the letter and carrying himself to a higher standard than the majority of the players around the league do, the legacy of Derek Jeter will be one of dignity, honor, and respect.
Oh I'm sorry, did my high praise of Derek Jeter make you ill? Here, let me try another narrative.
Derek Jeter is the single most underrated player to ever walk the Earth. All he does is hit. Sure, maybe he'll beat out a grounder or two but look at all the facts. He is one of the worst shortstops to ever play the position. You don't even need to look at the stats, even though you should. If you watched him grow up around such great defensive shortstops like Omar Vizquel, the evidence is as plain as day. Unless you're blind as a bat, of course. Jeter selfishly didn't move to third base when Alex Rodriguez, a far superior shortstop, came to the Yankees. Now his bat is a liability and he won't move out of the 2-hole in the lineup for the good of the team. Maybe he'll be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but if you ask me he deserves to have his number retired in the jerk store.
Derek Jeter is the single most overrated player to ever walk the Earth. All he does is hit. Sure, maybe he'll beat out a grounder or two but look at all the facts. He is one of the worst shortstops to ever play the position. You don't even need to look at the stats, even though you should. If you watched him grow up around such great defensive shortstops like Omar Vizquel, the evidence is as plain as day. Unless you're blind as a bat, of course. Jeter selfishly didn't move to third base when Alex Rodriguez, a far superior shortstop, came to the Yankees. Now his bat is a liability and he won't move out of the 2-hole in the lineup for the good of the team. Maybe he'll be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but if you ask me he deserves to have his number retired in the jerk store.
Does all this seem familiar to you? What I've attempted to do here is boil down both of the Derek Jeter narratives that you are likely to constantly hear in the next month. His farewell tour is coming to an end and the frustration from both Yankee fans and non Yankee fans are coming to a head. Fans of other teams will complain about his farewell tour due to the pomp and circumstance of it. "Why should our team have to give him a gift? He never played for us." and "Oh no, it's filling our stadium with tons of Yankee fans." On the other side, you'll have Yankee fans stating such things as "Why did Jeter have to announce his retirement at the beginning of the year? Now it's going to be a distraction!" to the always hilarious "Derek Jeter has a clause in his contract that says he has to always hit in the 2-hole." (I'm still on record as that being the funniest thing anyone has said all year long). When discussing the matter, both sides tend to come off as petulant little children. Either Jeter is selfless saint or he's an egotistical jerk. Sports fans, amirite?
This virulent stream of praise and complaints is less about Derek Jeter, the man and more about Derek Jeter, the legend. The Yankees organization, as well as MLB as a whole, have spent the better part of his career building him up to be the face of baseball. Mind you, coming up from the farm and winning four World Series championships in five years definitely looks good on the resume. Jeter represents winning and greatness. This is not so much praise as much as it is a fact. Baseball was only a year removed from a strike and fans needed a reason to come back to the stadiums. Suddenly this young, fresh-faced, good looking, good hitting shortstop comes up from the farm and is a part of a chain of World Series victories that would last for five years.
It seems expected for a Yankee fan to bring the "ringz" into a Jeter discussion, but it has to be done. If you're a young baseball fan with a slight itch to play baseball it's kind of hard not to want to do what Derek Jeter did. The legend of Derek Jeter is the young baseball fan's dream of coming from the farm to the majors and instantly being a success story. There are players, really good players, that come up and have a fantastic career without once ever winning a World Series. Their careers are recognized, but usually after their baseball playing days are coming to a close. Derek Jeter came up and instantly helped the Yankees to win four in five years. That's damn near unheard of. Whether you think it was just that incredible of a team for that time frame or simply lucky that there were no major injuries, there's no denying what happened those years. There's also no denying what came afterwards: the Internet.
Around the time Jeter first started playing, I would hop on my computer and log onto AOL Baseball Chat to talk about the Yankees with some chatters named Seeknay, YanksRGreat and other total strangers who wanted to know my A/S/L. Now I'm writing articles about what is coming from the end of Jeter's amazing career. The Internet has changed everything, especially the flow of information and the speed at which one can convey said information.
Even though defensive statistics are supposedly not the most reliable, they show that Jeter was not really that great on defense. Normal eyesight can tell you that, but the math at least backs it up. Somehow, that information blew up into this huge narrative of how Jeter is overrated. On the flip side, you have a ton of people buying into all these stories of his selflessness, spreading the word of his "flip play" heroics to the point of making other fans sick. Thus, here we are at the crossroads of these two narratives. Selfless or egotistical? Iconic hero or jerk store? The fact is that at the end of the day, we really don't know too much about the man. We only know what he gives us to work with. So what did he give us to work with, besides playing baseball?
Nothing. Which is the greatest thing of all.
Derek Jeter never spoke out of turn. He never came off as brash, selfless, or egotistical. He is not an attention hog at all. Jeter simply did as he was asked to do, never causing a fuss about anything at all. Make no mistake, people were waiting for something, anything, bad to come out about Jeter. Nothing ever did and some people are still waiting. The closest we got to that was his contract negotiations a few years ago, and even that was pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Overall though, Jeter gave people nothing to work with. He just played baseball, which is all he ever wanted to do. He never put himself above the organization by asking to be moved to third base for A-Rod. He never put himself above the manager by asking to be moved down in the lineup. That's not his job, nor should it have been. He just played baseball and did what was asked of him. It's everyone else that spread the narratives around.
Sportswriters and broadcasters tell the tale of how Ron Washington told a rookie named Elvis Andrus how Derek Jeter was the player he should aspire to be like. Players from other teams talk about how they grew up idolizing him and wear #2 in honor of Jeter. Fans that grew up watching him play discuss their favorite Jeter moments, how clutch of a hitter he was, how much he hustled, and so on. A lot of these things could be said in many different ways about Yankee icons and baseball icons from the past. The only difference between then and now is the Internet. Information and word of mouth doesn't just travel fast anymore. It travels in an instant. We are just now starting to see the full scope of a society where communication and information are instantaneous with everyone. Let's just say that the "purple monkey dishwasher" aspects of playing a global, instant, constant game of the classic kids game Telephone is not always a good thing. As I stated in another article last week, imagine if SB Nation, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social sports media outlets existed during the Joe DiMaggio & Ted Williams debate. That sound you just heard was me violently shuddering from the mere thought of that net outrage.
So here we are in the final month of Derek Jeter's illustrious Yankee career. The narratives and the legend of Jeter will continue to spread like wild fire. He will be compared to Yankee greats of the past, and will be referred to as both the greatest Yankee of all time as well as the most overrated Yankee of all time. In the end, none of that really matters. What really matters is that a young kid had a dream to one day play shortstop for the New York Yankees. That's all he ever wanted to do, that's exactly what he did, and we had the pleasure, or dismay depending on what team you root for, of witnessing him play for the past two decades. Move past the selfless/egotistical narratives, the money, the entire legend of Jeter saga and simply focus on one simple fact.
Derek Jeter is a kid who just really wanted to play baseball. That's all he did. He just happened to do it really well And like he said to Mariano Rivera at his final game at Yankee Stadium last year, "time to go."
Note: If you actually read through all 1,600+ words of this, play the YouTube video below. You've earned that piece of Triforce!