Derek Jeter has officially played his last game as a professional baseball player. Jeter announced that he will forego the final series vs. the Red Sox to preserve the final memories of his last game at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is being heralded as an all-time great and a once-in-a-generation player. Are these claims valid? There is no denying that Jeter will be a first-ballot hall of famer one day, but where he stands in history is up for debate. Let’s take a look at why everyone loves Jeter so much, but why he might overrated.
Part 1: Why We Love Him
One Team, One Love
As sports fans, we gravitate to players that spend their entire careers with one team. MJ and Kobe highlight the group of athletes that have remained with the team that drafted them, while Lebron shows what kind of scrutiny those that leave their team can face. The circumstances can dictate players being allowed to walk without consequence (think Favre and Manning, who were forced out the door), but most fans frown upon leaving your initial team, especially after a player has been there for several years. This is especially true when you play for an iconic franchise. Jeter has always been and will forever be known as a New York Yankee. Jeter never had a viable reason to leave, but we still love that he was with the team for 20 precious years.
No Marriage (or Steroids), No Problems
Jeter’s romantic escapades have been well-documented as demonstrated through his most impressive “accomplishments” in the form of a baseball diamond (shown below). Jeter has taken full advantage of his good looks and fame as the “King of New York” to date some of the most beautiful women in the world. Other men might have been criticized for such behavior, but Jeter rarely received any flack for his personal life. He seemed to maintain a balance between his work and personal life, so no one ever questioned him. Jeter also avoided the spotlight by staying clean and avoiding the steroid allegations that many in his time faced. Had he ever been accused or proven to take steroids, his legacy might look more like Arod’s instead of his untarnished one.
One thing cannot be questioned about Jeter, he shined in the biggest moments. This was evident during his final game at Yankee stadium, when he delivered a walk-off single to opposite field in vintage Jeter fashion. Arguably Jeter’s most famous moment came in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS series, when he saved a run by instinctively relaying the offline throw with a backhand flip (although it sure looks like he was safe. If they had replay back then, we might not remember this play so fondly). If “The Flip” was his #1 moment, then the “Mr. November” moment would be #1b. His walkoff homer run in the 2001 World Series (which was in November due to 9/11 pushing everything back) tied the series at 2-2, which they eventually went on to win. the series. His post-season numbers were almost identical or better than his regular season numbers, which is particularly impressive because of the better competition and higher-stress situations in the post-season.
Part 2: Is Jeter Overrated?
WAR stands for Wins above replacement, which is a fancy way of saying how valuable a player is to his team. The formula accounts for both offensive and defensive production, and measures how many wins in a season the player was worth to his team compared to an average player at his position. Good players are anything above a 3.0, All-Stars above a 5.0, and elite production anything above a 6.0. So what was Jeter’s WAR over the course of his 20 seasons in the majors? 71.7. That comes out to 3.58 per season. Even if you remove the seasons in which he didn’t play more than 17 games (1995 & 2013), it still comes out to less than 4.0. That’s somewhere between a good player and an All-Star player. His 71.7 WAR ranks 88th all-time. I’m not saying the numbers are anything to scoff at, but not “all-time great” numbers.
Defense Wins Championships?
Although it doesn’t really win championships, defense is an underrated portion of baseball. Jeter is widely praised for several impressive defensive plays that he made in the postseason, but Jeter was a below-average defender throughout his career. I mentioned earlier that WAR accounting for both offensive and defensive production. Jeter’s defensive WAR was positive just three times during his 20 seasons in the majors, meaning that the average shortstop was better defensively than Jeter in 17 seasons. Although he had some epic defensive moments (the “Jump Throw” and the relay play as shown above), he cost his team more runs defensively than he saved through the years.
Awards and Accolades
If Derek Jeter is going to be remembered as one of the greatest players of all-time, then surely he was one the best player for a season multiple times during his illustrious career, right? MLB gives out two MVP awards each year, one to the best player from the National and American leagues. So it is twice as likely that a great player will win MVPs versus other sports like the NBA. Trivia question, how many times did Derek Jeter finish first in the AL MVP voting? ZERO. Ok, Jeter played with and against some elite players in his day so we will forgive him for not taking down any MVP trophies. But did he come close? Next trivia question. How many times did Jeter finish in the Top 5 in AL MVP voting? Five times. That’s not very many times for someone who played as long as Jeter. The argument is often made that some players are ignored because their team is in a small market or had losing records. The Yankees are the largest franchise in baseball history and the team never had a losing record while Jeter was there. So all the usual excuses can’t be applied here. Jeter was never voted the best player in any given season, so it’s difficult to say he’s the best of his generation.
So where does Jeter rank all-time? Statistically speaking, he was a consistently productive, but not elite producer. He always hit for a high average, but never had tremendous power numbers. His defense was clearly below average other than some occasional spectacular plays. Where Jeter stands out is in the intangibles. His leadership ability was unquestioned. His knack for coming up big on the brightest stage was uncanny. He was a winner in all facets of the game. As far as where he ranks among Yankee greats of all-time, you almost have to put him behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra. You could argue for Mattingly or Rivera in front of him too, but we’ll give the nod to Jeter here, which places him as the 6th greatest Yankee of all-time. Clearly, he is one of the greatest players of this generation, but not a once in a generation player like some claim. Enjoy your ride into the sunset captain, you deserve it. Nothing but RE2SPECT.