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By Sweeny Murti
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The better Derek Jeter plays, the more he brings out the haters and the defenders. It’s been like that his entire career it seems. Overrated or under-appreciated?
This week is just another chapter in the debate.
On one side is Skip Bayless, who wonders aloud if Jeter might be on something. On the other side is Robin Ventura, who thinks Jeter might be the greatest Yankee ever. As in… EVER!
This isn’t an uninformed opinion or an apologist either. This is Robin Ventura, manager of the Chicago White Sox. He played 16 years in the majors, including five seasons in New York (three with the Mets, and two with the Yankees where he played approximately 20 to 30 feet away from Jeter on the left side of the infield). He once spent spring training with Michael Jordan and once played with Bo Jackson. He’s rubbed elbows with some of this generation’s finest.
Earlier this week in Chicago, I spent a few minutes chatting with Ventura, who watched Jeter continue this phenomenal season by hitting a home run against his White Sox in three straight games. Ventura marveled at Jeter’s skill at age 38, having first-hand knowledge of what he looked like at 28.
“He can still play. That’s something that’s obvious,” Ventura said to me. “From playing with him, to now watching him from the other side, you still treat him as one of the better players in the league because he is that good. I know I don’t want to see him come up at the end of the game with anything on the line. That’s still how good he is.”
Ventura then suggested—given the multimedia pressures Jeter faces playing in New York on the biggest stage—that Jeter is the best to ever put on pinstripes.
Clearly, there is no arguing Jeter’s numbers against Babe Ruth’s or Joe DiMaggio’s, or Mickey Mantle’s. But Ventura’s point is more about how those players would hold up in today’s world. Every barroom incident involving Ruth or Mantle would be tweeted and picked up by TMZ and Deadspin instantly. DiMaggio’s need for privacy would be shattered in social conditions like this. Could they have played to the same level in this environment?
Ventura also told me about his admiration for Jeter’s evolution as a player, having to think more about hitting approach and defensive positioning. Making concessions to age have not taken away his ability to be an elite player.
“When you get older there’s times when you probably guess a little more and he has to be a little smarter about what he’s looking for and not just react. I think probably early in his career he reacted, now he’s a smart player, so he probably sits on stuff a little bit more than he has in the past.
“(Defensively) his range isn’t going to be as good as when he was 24, but for where he’s positioned himself and what he’s doing, he still does it as good as anybody. I don’t want it hit to him, I don’t want him to be up. All those things still apply to him.
“He’s always gonna be that guy, regardless. There is no greater clutch player in the game today than he is. And to be doing it at this age and where he does it and how he does it. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s that good. You can’t say any more.”
Where would you rank Jeter? Do you think he’s the greatest Yankee ever? Let us know in the comments below…