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:

Is Keidel spot-on? Give us your comments on NY’s all-time favorite athlete below…

Comments (11)
  1. Kurt Spitzner says:

    Why do people post here for the sole purpose of arguing a point that was never made by the author of this article?He clearly said and I quote,”I wish the poll differentiated between “favorite” and “greatest”,and then went on to qualify himself and quite nicely I might add!
    In response to the man with a daughter,I have kids too and my youngest is a girl,but I will never use ANY athlete as a role model because that is my job.Whenever my kids see people who do not live in what I refer to as the “real world” my wife and I are always sure to make them understand that the way those people often do things is not something to be proud of and should not be followed or duplicated.I understand your concern but hardly think that this author intended to turn this piece into an argument over the morals of sports figures today,he was merely pointing out that the recent poll reflects the obvious demographic of those involved which in turn explains the outcome!Derek Jeter is a very good ball player and seems to be a model citizen as well but hes not the best player ever in NY,PERIOD!
    Sorry,but that the truth!

  2. HUGO says:

    Jeter is and always will be NY’s MVP.

  3. JK says:

    Taylor was convicted of sexual misconduct and soliciting a prostitute. Calling him a rapist is your right, but legally inaccurate. And he’s still the best linebacker ever to play football, if not the best defensive player overall.

    And then you might address DiMaggio, Mantle, Mariano, and Ruth, and not distill an entire column into a pet peeve. Jeter is not one of the five best Yankees of all time, let alone the greatest New York athlete. Perhaps you’re not interested in the real debate.

    1. JB says:

      Who’s trying to distill an entire column into a pet peeve? I’m just saying I’m sick of Lawrence Taylor adulation. And I’m especially sick of people saying that there can only be one LT in New York. To defend his athletic prowess is one thing. To claim some kind of ownership on his nickname, that someone else can’t also be “LT”, would be silly even if he WAS a good guy. “There can be only one LT in New York.” That’s the kind of argument you make for someone you love, or at least respect.

      As to the rest of your column, I actually agree with a lot of what you say. Overall, I think the issue is a lot more simple than how you portray it. Jeter is the most popular current player in NY. There’s no denying he’s not the best. But there’s also no denying that he’s the most popular current player. So that’s why the Sienna College Poll came out that way. 30 years from now, when he’s no longer current, he won’t still be the most popular.

      My question to YOU is: Why does our favorite player have to be the best player? Can’t we, as sports fans, root for guys for more than what they do on the field? I’ll tell you one thing, as a father of two young girls (thus the LT gripe, by the way) ready to learn about baseball, who do you think I’m going to use as the prime example for how to play the game? A-Rod?

      1. JK says:

        LT is a moniker, and thus I think there can be only one handle per star. It would be like calling another Laker “Magic.” Just my opinion. And I don’t defend Taylor’s behavior, which is often appalling.

        If Jeter is the most popular, good for him. He deserves it. My goal was merely to distinguish between popularity and achievement. If you say he’s the most popular current player, and that’s the lone criterion, then why was Ruth included? I see a contradiction.

        As the father of two girls, clearly Derek Jeter is the more dignified template for you to present as a role model. My beef was based solely on athletic performance, where I think Jeter falls far short of five Yankees – DiMaggio, Mantle, Mariano, Ruth, and Gehrig. Maybe six if we include Yogi.

        Perhaps we’re simpatico and don’t realize it.

      2. JB says:

        “Perhaps we’re simpatico and don’t realize it.” Most definitely. Two quick points:

        (1) I think when athletes endear themselves to us in all the right ways, we can feel passionate about the nicknames they earn. Once they prove themselves to be nothing but criminals, we ought to let go of all sentimentality. Anyway I don’t consider ‘LT’ a moniker. L & T are just initials. “Magic”, ‘Mr. October”, “Mr. Baseball” — THOSE are monikers.

        (2) You want to separate achievement from popularity. I agree that they are not always one and the same. But I think it’s worth debating what we mean by achievement. A-Rod, for example, has got Jeter pretty well beat in the stats category. (The guy was certainly unconscious during the playoffs in ’09.) But there’s something to be said for memorable individual plays. Jeter’s got “the flip”, “the over the wall catch”, “the Mr. November home run”, “the Derek Cheater home run” … and of course the “jump-throw” trademark move. What does A-Rod have? A better bat than Jeter, a better arm than Jeter, and one unconscious post-season. But no memorable plays — aside from his more bush-league moments, of course (“the yell”, “the slap”). These are the things that fans remember about players, not stats. I would argue that A-Rod has better stats, but Jeter has achieved more. A-Rod is better at baseball than Jeter, but Jeter has been the better baseball player.

        P.S.: You think there should be only one moniker per star? Now THAT would be a funny article. Which Boomer is the real Boomer? Which Rocket is the real Rocket? You could settle those and other common sports nicknames for us once and for all. Regarding “Boomer”, my vote is for Esiason to be the one and only. David Wells talks too much! (c:

  4. JB says:

    Correction: There USED to be only one LT in this town. But then that LT turned out to be a rapist. Not for nothing, but I’m happy to call the new LT, “LT”. Lawrence Taylor doesn’t deserve to be called anything, let alone a great New Yorker. Honestly, enough of this “there’s only one LT in this town” nonsense. Rapists don’t deserve to be called legends. And they certainly don’t deserve to be treated as such.

  5. Joe Pastore says:

    Keidel is right; let’s not confuse greatest wih favorite. The greatest in the history of professional sports anywhere was Jackie Robinson;.No one did what he did with his hands tied no less! On top of this, his personal integrity was above reproach. And for sure, one could classify the country into 2 classifications, before Jackie Robinson and after Jackie Robinson. He was and always will be the only professional athlete bigger that the sport itself.

    I’d bet Defek Jeter would agree!

    1. JK says:

      Thank you, sir. At least some see the difference. Statistically, he doesn’t compare to a cadre of former Yankees. I didn’t even mention Yogi.

  6. Kurt Spitzner says:

    To some the truth may hurt but in the end it is still the truth.And truth be told,Jeter has been a great ball player but as this author properly stated,not even the best player in his own teams history!There can only be one GREATEST and unfortunately Jeter is not it,a great player but NOT the BEST of this generation or any from the past!

    1. JK says:

      That’s all I’m saying. Jeter is great, just not the greatest. We confused popularity with productivity. For instance, look at DiMaggio’s numbers in his prime and put them next to Jeter’s. Not even close.

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