What, did you think I was going to let the face of baseball reach one of the game’s most significant milestones without commenting on it? And make no mistake about it, Derek Jeter is—and has been for quite some time—the face of Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees shortstop, now just two hits shy of 3,000, is also the answer to the following questions:
Which major leaguer do parents want their little leaguers to imitate?
Who was shot in the leg by Mark Wahlberg’s character in the movie The Other Guys?
Who, at times, is the most overrated player in baseball?
The reason Jeter is the answer to the final question is largely because he is the most scrutinized player in baseball—possibly in the history of the game. Nobody gets riled up if Adam Jones wins a Gold Glove he didn’t deserve or if Shane Victorino receives some extra praise from announcers. Not so with Jeter. He has played shortstop and batted at the top of the lineup for the most popular (and most hated) baseball franchise of all time. Over-analysis comes with the territory.
Yet Jeter never flinches. The Captain always says and does the right thing on and off the field, which is a minor miracle given the city and media market in which he plays. That is why it was surprising when Jeter’s contract dispute went public this past offseason.
While a blind resume would not have netted Jeter the three-year, $51-million contract (with a complex fourth year option) he ultimately received, Jeter has always been about more than the raw numbers. Considering the money the Yankees throw around, they could afford a little “waste” to retain a franchise icon.
|Jeter for President? (Credit: Martyna Borkowski/Rubenstein)
When the Subway Series was in its infancy, I remember my friend’s dad, a Met fan, reminding us he hated the Yankees but saying he’d love to have Jeter on his team. (I begged to differ: Who needed Jeter when we had Rey Ordonez?) That is a constant throughout Jeter’s career: respect. From opposing fans and opposing players. His most controversial on-field moment came in the The Jeffrey Maier Game, something Jeter had no control over. After all, how could a fan watch Jeter and not want to help him out should the opportunity present itself?
My estimate is Jeter would still be around 2,500 hits if it weren’t for his annual battles with the Mets, though the official statistics tell me he’d have only 122 fewer hits. With 326 total hits in interleague play, Jeter is the all-time leader in that category. In other words, no matter who you root for, Jeter has likely done well against your favorite team.
It was during last year’s Subway Series that I started to notice Jeter’s decline, in particular the frequency he was swinging at—and missing—the first pitch. My theory was that he no longer trusted himself to hit from behind in the count. The numbers prove he wasn’t swinging at the first pitch any more often last year than at other points of his career, but that’s sort of the point: Even those who only watch Jeter for a handful of games each year have an opinion of him.
In discussing Jeter with my friends the other day, I noted that Jeter and Ken Griffey, Jr. were the only two positions players that, if it was revealed they took steroids, would surprise me. Even as Jeter’s skills fade, he remains a class act, a role model for young players.
That being said, I won’t be celebrating Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Why should I? He’s an overrated bum.