By The Numbers: Is Derek Jeter The Greatest Yankee Ever?

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?

Comments

One Comment

  1. RICHIE says:

    THE GREATEST EVER …..NO! IS HE AMONG THE ELITE YES OF COURSE. HE HAS 5 CHAMPIONSHIPS IN HIS TENURE, AND GREAT IN THE BIG SPOT. WHEN THE MOMENT GOT BIG SO DID JETER. HE IS DEFINITELY THE QUIENTESSINTIAL PLAYER. BUT AS FOR HIM BEING THE GREATEST EVER NO. JUST BECAUSE HE WAS THE 1ST YANKEE EVER TO REACH 3000 HITS DOSENT MAKE HIM BETTER THAN RUTH OR GERHIG. I’M HAPPY FOR HIM AND THE FRANCHISE INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT IT AS A MONEY MAKER WHICH WE KNOW THEY WILL DO. I LOOK AT IT AS HOW LUCKY ARE WE THAT WE GOT TO SEE 5 CHAMPIONSHIPS, OUT OF WHAT 7APPEARENCES WE AS YANKEES FANS CAN ONLY DREAM OF THIS EVER HAPPENING AGAIN. . THE CORE 4 ARE DWINDELING PRETTY SOON ITS GONNA BE THE 80’S ALL OVER AGAIN. SO JUST ENJOY IT AND REMEMBER THE GREAT TIMES WE HAD. GO YANKEES.

  2. Dale Auburn says:

    Going “by the numbers” is irrelevant.

    Things like All-Star status and being “named” MVP are written into players’ contracts long in advance. If Jeter’s contract requires that he be called the “greatest ever,” then Yankees management and the media will call him that. Period.

  3. littlestar says:

    Also… Rivera is ” greater ” than Jeter. The guy is a diety as far as I’m concerned.

  4. littlestar says:

    I was suprised to see how many more times Jeter struck out compared to Gehrig at age 35….. of course Gehrig was a power hitter and they strike out more frequently.

  5. Paul D says:

    Sorry Father, but these are the titans of the game you would compare him to. He falls short of their lofty accomplishn\ments.

    1. tont says:

      Not even close to m v p he is good but not great average single hitter nothing great

  6. Steve says:

    Jeter’s undoubtedly been a great player, but at the top of the Yankee pantheon sit Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio and Mantle, with Jeter and the others on the writer’s list behind them. And some still don’t understand the magnitude of Ruth’s accomplishments. Just the fact that he was an outstanding pitcher and then became the hitter he did should itself place him at the top.

    1. littlstar says:

      HaIl Ruth ! ! !

  7. Paul says:

    Finally…someone giving Mariano his just due! Mariano is a top ten all-time great Yankee.

    While Jeter is a great player, he cannot compare to Ruth, Gerhig, Mantle, and DiMaggio. Accordingly, it would be almost impossible to compare any player with Ruth.

    I do like the writer’s idea of “stratification” because Berra was an all-time great Yankee too.

  8. Stevis says:

    JETER IS A GREAT YANKEE…. BUT SORRY NOT THE GREATEST AND NOT EVEN CLOSE
    RUTH,GEHRIG,MANTLE ,DIMAGGIO,BERRA …NOW THOSE ARE THE GREATEST OF ALLLLLL TIME!

  9. Serious Or Delirious says:

    Comparing Jeter to Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Berra, Mantle?
    Can I please have some of that Kool-Aid that you’ve been drinking? I haven’t had any good hallies in awhile.

  10. mike says:

    A really good and fair analysis. I agree with Ruth being on his own level and with Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle being one down. It’s tough to put Mariano Rivera there with them, despite his sheer greatness, because I don’t think a closer can help a team as much as a player who plays every game and every inning, not just the last one, or in post season 2, of close victories. i think that the Berra-Jeter link is very strong. Yogi had good though not great statistics, but like Jeter he was the key offensive and defensive figure in many great teams that didn’t have a true super star (in Berra’s case, after DiMag’s prime and before Mantle’s when the Yanks ran off 5 straight WS championships).Anyway, I enjoyed reading something here that didn’t carp on Derek’s few flaws and painted the whole picture of his fantastic career.

    1. Bob Fowler says:

      I will give you one great reason why Mariano fits on the line with Gehrig, DiMaggio, an Mantle…

      In all of baseball history, has any pitcher, ever achieved the level of dominance, over so long a career, as Rivera? Year in and year out, the premier player at his position. All that, while everyone in the world knows what pitch he is going to throw, and where he is going to throw it.

      The Hall of Fame has many borderline inductees (Tony Perez, Don Sutton…). Mariano will belong in the room with the truly legendary (Ruth, Williams, Johnson…).

  11. Daniel S. Toma says:

    For starters, you can’t compare everyday players like Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, and Ruth with the best closer of all time – Mariano Rivera. There’s a reason why there’s a separate award (Cy Young) for pitchers. This is also why it’s difficult to compare, say, Joe Montana with Lawrence Taylor. Both were great at their respective positions, but how do you say one is better than the other? We need to recognize that the pitcher is a unique position and deserves its own categorization. This is also why I don’t understand when a pitcher wins the MVP in addition to the Cy Young, but that’s another story.

    3,000 hits notwithstanding, Jeter is not the greatest Yankee ever. He’s the greatest Yankee shortstop ever, but that’s an easy one. I don’t know how Joe DiMaggio landed in someone’s 2nd tier, when he was the complete ball player. Maybe it’s because he only played 13 seasons, and didn’t have the sheer numbers (other than the .325 lifetime BA) that other “greats” have. However, Joe DiMaggio played the game as well as, if not better than, anyone who ever lived, Yankee or otherwise. Lou Gehrig was every bit as good as Ruth, but couldn’t play as many years so he didn’t amass similar stats. However, it’s also difficult to compare players from the 20s and 30s with players of this generation. Then there’s Donnie Baseball. He was darn good, too, but also couldn’t play very long because of injuries. I think Mattingly was well on his way to becoming the greatest Yankee of modern times, when his injuries finally brought him down.

    All that said, Jeter is one of the greatest Yankees ever, but there’s simply not enough to say, unequivocally, that he is the absolute greatest.

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