By Father Gabe Costa
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Love them or hate them, everyone pretty much agrees that the Yankees are the most “storied” franchise in the history of baseball. Their dominance in the American League (40 pennants) and the World Series (27 championships) speaks for itself. The Pinstripes! The House that Ruth Built! Murderer’s Row! The Bronx Bombers!…and, yes, the Bronx Zoo!
What personalities have been associated with the Yankees: Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner…not to mention a guy by the name of Babe Ruth.
For sheer power, the Yankees can boast of Ruth and Mickey Mantle…for durability and consistency, we see the figure of Lou Gehrig…for grace in center field, we can still envision the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio…we recall the great hurlers ranging from Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt through Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing passing the baton to Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat and a young, blond left-hander by the name of Eddie Ford…to Ron Guidry…to Catfish Hunter…up to the imposing figure of CC Sabathia. And what team has ever had a closer as great as Mariano Rivera?
Behind the plate the Yankees have had Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.
And what a group of managers: Miller Huggins… Joe McCarthy…Casey Stengel…Joe Torre.
And now the spotlight is on Derek Jeter. The Captain recently became the first Yankee to collect 3000 hits, all as a member of the Bronx Bombers. In so many ways, he is the image and the “face” of the present day Yankees.
For some time now, various lists have been compiled ranking or rating the greatest of Yankees. In light of Jeter’s landmark accomplishment, we would like to look into where he ranks among the Yankee immortals. The reader may review Jeter’s statistics at baseball-reference.com.
Derek Jeter has more hits and more at-bats than any other Yankee in history. He will soon surpass Mickey Mantle’s total of 2401 games played as a Yankee, putting himself at the top of that category, as well. No doubt his Number 2 will be retired as soon as he stops playing and it difficult to imagine Jeter not being elected as a First Ballot Hall of Famer.
Derek Jeter has already left a number of “unforgettable” images is our minds like the “Flip Play” during an American League Divisional Series against the Oakland A’s. His coolness under pressure and virtually emotionless play reflects a confidence which can only help his teammates as they strive for victory. It seems, too, that the word “intangible” was invented for him.
And, most importantly, we find on the bottom line, that Derek Jeter has five Rings.
If Derek Jeter does not move from his defensive position of shortstop (as did Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez, to name a few), he may well be considered as the greatest shortstop ever. My own feeling is that while the Flying Dutchman, Honus Wagner, has held that title from time immemorial, there could very well be such a growing sentiment as time goes on and Jeter continues to play, that baseball fans could be arguing this issue for many years to come. Should it come to that, I suspect that when the dust settles, Wagner will still be Number One. We’ll see.
So where does Jeter rank in the Yankee Pantheon? By all accounts, he is clearly the greatest shortstop in the history of the franchise, easily beating out his closest competitor, Phil Rizzuto. His quiet demeanor is reminiscent of both Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio – stars of the first magnitude who led by example. He is a winner. He is a clutch player. And both teammates and rival players have often described him using that word again: intangible!
To say that he is respected by virtually all who come in contact with him is an understatement. After Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter is my favorite present day Yankee. His class, his work ethic and his records speak for themselves.
But to be the Greatest Player in the history of the New York Yankees necessarily implies more than winning…more than respect…even more than accumulating Hall of Fame numbers. There must be a transcendence. There must be a dominance. To be the greatest player in the greatest franchise must mean that a player was considered to be – at the very least – the best player at his position for at least part of his career. Even more: perhaps the best player ever at his position…and even more, perhaps the greatest player ever.
Early in his career Derek Jeter was often compared with Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter did not “dominate” with respect to these comparisons. Many observers felt that Garciaparra was the best pure hitter of the three stars and no one could argue with A-Rod’s power numbers (his future controversies notwithstanding).
While fielding is the most difficult facet of baseball to measure, it is difficult to imagine Derek Jeter “transcending” his shortstop position as, say, an Ozzie Smith did several decades ago.
Want domination? Consider the records of Lou Gehrig, especially his Runs-Batted-In totals. During his career, he more than matched the staggering numbers put up by Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. And this was the guy who batted clean-up behind that Ruth guy, a man who often cleared the bases, leaving the Iron Horse no one to drive in but himself.
Want transcendence? Consider Joe DiMaggio. In a relatively short career, his only real rival was the Thumper himself, Ted Williams.
Mickey Mantle? He was always compared with the great Willie Mays…and in some analyses, especially dealing with “peak performances”, the Commerce Comet bests the Say-Hey Kid.
Yogi Berra? He has ten Rings. And, like DiMaggio and Mantle, he also won three Most Valuable Player awards.
And there is really no need to bring up Babe Ruth.
I have “stratified” my own Yankee Pantheon, listing the eight greatest Yankees:
- Level 1: Babe Ruth
- Level 2: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera
- Level 3: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter is one of the all time great Yankees, but he’s not the greatest.
What does the reader think?