‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Reaching 3,000 hits isn’t a prerequisite for baseball greatness. After all, how important can it be if a lifetime member of the most successful team in the history of the sport, the New York Yankees, hasn’t yet eclipsed the mark? Derek Jeter will eventually become the first player who spent his career exclusively in pinstripes to reach the 3,000 hit plateau but really… it doesn’t change how we view Jeter’s legacy in the slightest way.
Baseball may be a more statistically-driven sport than any other, but true greatness isn’t measured by numbers. After all, the great Babe Ruth didn’t reach 3,000 hits in his lifetime and Hank Aaron never totaled 50 home runs in a single season. Rafael Palmeiro finished with more career home runs than Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams but nobody would call Palmeiro a better power hitter than any of the trio with a straight face.
The most famous Yankee of all, Ruth himself, said: “If I’d just tried for them dinky singles I could’ve batted around .600.” Of course, ‘The Great Bambino’ was exaggerating at the time but his point is still valid today as statistics aren’t the be all and end all. Ruth’s ambition was to captivate the fans with his prolific strokes of might as he sent balls further than any ballplayer previously.
You couldn’t find two players on more opposite sides of the spectrum than Ruth and Jeter. ‘The Sultan of Swat’ was a boisterous, cocky personality who reveled in his own fame. After being the first major leaguer to reach 60 home runs he exclaimed to reporters, “Sixty, count ‘em, sixty! Let’s see some other son of a (expletive) match that!” Jeter on the other hand is a reserved personality who never takes much delight in his own accomplishments, no matter how outstanding they might be.
His focus is simply on team accomplishments along with carrying the torch of Yankees captain with pride, and making sure teammates wear their pinstripes with dignity. Sure, Jeter’s marketing success can be compared to Ruth’s legendary popularity but his persona echoes the class of Lou Gehrig. What Jeter wants to be remembered as is simply someone who played the game the right way, had an unquestioned desire to win and thought of as a good teammate.
If a reporter asked Jeter where he stands in baseball history he would probably say that Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith were two shortstops he idolized growing up but wouldn’t go as far as comparing himself to either of their careers. Jeter never possessed the power of Ripken or the ability to make dazzlingly plays in the field like Smith but as an overall package, he’ll likely be remembered as the greatest all-around shortstop of the modern era. His teammate Alex Rodriguez only spent eight full seasons at the position before his switch to third base and could be debated along with Mike Schmidt as the best ever to play the ‘hot corner.’
Whether or not you personally consider Jeter to be superior to Ripken, Smith or an immortal like Honus Wagner is immaterial. We all know that Jeter is an automatic first-ballot Hall of Famer and an outstanding shortstop of his generation. Jeter already holds the all-time Yankee hit record to go along with singles and stole bases. Once he completes 40 more games, he will pass Mantle in games played in franchise history but again… understanding Jeter has little to do with personal statistics and numbers.
Jeter’s true legacy will be one similar to Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio as he was an indispensable member during a dynasty era in Yankee history. Though he trails Berra by five World Series rings, his winning accomplishments may actually be superior to the legendary Yankee backstop.
In the modern era of baseball, there are now 30 teams compared to 16 in the era that Berra played in. Berra’s time was even before the introduction of the League Championship Series as the respective first place teams in the American and National Leagues would automatically face each other in the World Series. It was much easier then to capture a World Series ring than it is now with three playoff rounds.
My definition of Jeter is simply: the greatest winner in the history of baseball. Although I consider Mariano Rivera to be a superior player at his position over Jeter, he isn’t an everyday player, so he wasn’t able to have as large of an impact on the recent Yankee dynasty. Jorge Posada played a part-time role until the year 2000. Taking nothing away from their accomplishments, it is Jeter who stands as the ultimate winner of the modern era — and is therefore the most triumphant player in baseball history.
How will Jeter be remembered in your own personal baseball history book? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.