By Jason Keidel
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I was all set to pound the Knicks for duping New York into thinking that Carmelo is the messiah, as his team sputters toward a .500 record under his command, while the Denver Nuggets are 8-2 since the were allegedly gutted by the trade. And for this poor return on his investment, James Dolan is rewarding you by spiking the price of your tickets by 49 percent.
(Look forward to more on the Knickerbockers soon.)
Then I saw this silly Siena College poll crowning Derek Jeter as Jesus, the most beloved athlete in New York’s wondrous history, better than Babe Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Namath, Frazier, and Seaver.
This poll was clearly conducted and condoned by the key demo, the under 25 crowd who clearly never watched Lawrence Taylor. Kids who call LaDainian Tomlinson by his initials don’t realize there’s only one LT in New York, and he never played for the Jets. Taylor is the best player I’ve ever seen in a New York jersey. And it’s not even close.
I wish the poll differentiated between “favorite” and “greatest,” because you could argue that in his fine fifteen years Jeter was never the best player on his own team. Mariano Rivera – the best since Babe – has held that distinction for over a decade. David Justice, when he was a Yankee, accurately asserted that the Braves would be the Yankees had the immortal Mariano closed games for Atlanta’s sterling starting rotation of the 1990s.
Jeter handled his career and personal life with almost unprecedented nobility. He was a regular on the back page without a whisper on Page Six. And while we all longed for a little more candor with press, and a little less of the synthetic, rehearsed responses to questions, the fact that his rep remained intact is quite a feat. We wanted him to be a bit of a character, but we can’t question his character. In that regard, he has no modern peer.
But if it’s not about performance, then why is Ruth a part of the poll? None of us saw him play, so Ruth has no inherent pull with the living fan. And comparing Jeter to Ruth as players is as absurd as comparing Amar’e Stoudemire to Wilt Chamberlain.
So maybe he’s your favorite for the intangibles. The tangible – the numbers – point to many New York icons before you finger should point at No. 2, who is No. 1 in your heart. The mind is another matter.
My first vivid memory of New York baseball was a dream sequence where Reggie Jackson swatted three homers on three pitches from three pitchers. Playing stickball, I swung the broom handle with cardiac abandon, winded after each swing, striking out on balls that weren’t even pitched. (We just dropped the Spalding and swung at the sponge ball after the first bounce.)
But I don’t think, for a second, that Reggie was better than Roberto Clemente. My sense of nostalgia ends where logic begins. No doubt we’re all wed to the heroes of our youth, but as adults we should have the ability to separate fantasy from fact.
If there are two outs in the ninth inning and I need a hit, Jeter might be the first hitter I want in the batter’s box before any player over the last twenty years. But that doesn’t make him the best. It makes him clutch.
I cleared space on my hard drive, bracing for the invectives. My inbox will bubble with profane remarks about my intelligence, manhood, ancestry, and sanity. That’s fine. But before your fingers pound the keyboard, list the ten best Yankees of all-time, and tell me where Jeter ranks. Of all his single-digit predecessors who have been bronzed in Monument Park, Jeter doesn’t dent the top five.
And you know it.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
Is Keidel spot-on? Give us your comments on NY’s all-time favorite athlete below…