Even if you aren’t particularly thrilled about watching the Yankees face the Phillies in the World Series, which has been one of the most viewed series in the history of the game (although largely in part because the series is between two teams between two huge television markets), you at least have to respect the fact that we may be watching two of the game’s all-time greats at their respective positions/roles.
Mariano Rivera in my mind is the game’s greatest closer. I don’t even know if it’s close. Trevor Hoffman may have more career saves than Rivera, and the closers role has changed throughout the years to make it somewhat difficult to compare him to the likes of Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. However, Rivera’s dominance throughout his career has been nearly unmatched, carrying his consistent effectiveness into the postseason as well.
However, he hasn’t been the one I’m most interested in watching during this year’s Fall Classic, since I’ve believed that Rivera is and has been the game’s greatest closer for a few years.
Derek Jeter on the other hand is starting to make me believe that I may be watching the game’s greatest shortstop ever, and at 35 years old, he is one win away from claiming his fifth World Series championship.
This year he passed Lou Gehrig to become the Yankees all-time hit king. That alone is a pretty impressive feat, although I was a little surprised to learn, haven never thought about it before, that the Yankees haven’t produced a single player to surpass 3,000 hits. That should come for Jeter some time early in the 2011 season as long as his amazing run of consistency continues.
Consistency is what separates the good players from the great ones, and Jeter hasn’t slowed down since he became the Yankees’ everyday shortstop at the beginning of the 1996 season at 21 years of age. He has played in at least 148 games in all but one of his 14 full seasons. He has amassed 200 hits in seven of those 14 seasons, and at least 100 runs in 12 of those years. He has hit atop the Yankees dangerous lineup, either batting second or leadoff, almost his entire career.
At 35 years of age, you would think his productivity is going to decline at some point in the near future, however he is coming off of one of his best seasons in his career. If he plays until he’s 40 years old and keeps his productivity over the next five years relatively consistent, he may have around 3,700 hits and 2,100 runs at the end of the 2014 season.
The 3,700 hits would place him fourth all-time, ahead of Stan Musial’s 3,630 and behind Hank Aaron’s 3,771.
The 2,100 runs would put him seventh all-time, just behind both Aaron and Babe Ruth (2,174) and Pete Rose (2,165).
Overall, he is a career .317 hitter, always showing good patience at the plate (.388 on-base percentage) with pretty good pop for a shortstop (.459 slugging percentage). His defense has come in question frequently during his career, with defensive metrics indicating that he is a below average player, something those that have watched his entire career would vehemently argue against. His presence at the Yankees’ shortstop (and captain) forced Alex Rodriguez, who could have left the game not only as the greatest player ever (minus his tarnished reputation due to steroids), but also the greatest shortstop, to slide over to third base.
Cal Ripken and Honus Wagner are Jeter’s most notable competitors in the greatest shortstop debate. Ripken’s own consistency of course was remarkable, and he along with players such as Robin Yount re-defined the position in the 1980s. Wagner is one of the game’s all-time greatest players, and one of the first five players elected into the Hall of Fame. It’s difficult to compare any modern player to Wagner or any players of that era given how different the game was prior to Babe Ruth.
Jeter doesn’t have one MVP award, much less the two that both Ripken and Yount possess, although Yount collected one of those as a center-fielder, as he didn’t play shortstop past the age of 28. Ernie Banks, who frequently is brought up as one of the game’s greatest shortstops, also has two MVP awards, both when he played shortstop, something he didn’t do past the age of 30.
Ozzie Smith of course is known for his defense and his unmatched enthusiasm for the game. Alan Trammel and Barry Larkin were among the best of their respective eras, but didn’t enjoy the lasting success to put them in the conversation among the all-time greats. The same goes for other players that were considered among the best when they played the game such as Phil Rizzuto, Arky Vaughan and Maury Wills.
If Jeter were viewed like an NFL quarterback, where Super Bowl championships are used to help determine the best ever, Jeter would already run away with the top honor at the position. As noted, he already has four rings and is one game away from his fifth for a Yankees team that may be positioned to make another run of dominance similar to the one they made in the late 1990s into the turn of the new millenium.
On top of all of that, if you go and talk to the young players like the ones that attend the numerous Perfect Game and WWBA events and ask them who their favorite player is, Derek Jeter is going to receive more mentions than any other player not named Albert Pujols.
Jeter has personified success his entire career, and quietly is stacking up some pretty impressive overall offensive numbers. Anytime you put yourself on a list among players such as Aaron, Musial and Ruth you have to be considered an all-time great. Doing so while playing arguably the most crucial position on the field puts you in a whole different discussion of greatness.
I know it’s easy to root against the Yankees since they can quite simply out-spend every other team in baseball. They bolstered their roster over and over this last offseason by going out and offering three U.S. mints to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, all three of whom have played huge parts of the Yankees success this season.
I’m not here to argue that point, but I do want to point out that both Jeter and Rivera, the game’s all-time greats at their respective positions, were procured entirely from within the Yankees’ system. Rivera was an international free agent from Panama, while Jeter was the sixth overall pick in the 1992 draft.
Andy Pettitte (who recently set the all-time mark for playoff victories) and Jorge Posada were also procured entirely from within the Yankees organization and have been huge parts of their lasting success. They still spend a lot of their seemingly endless financial resources on the draft and on the international free agent market, already considered the front-runner for Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, but their success and subsequent activity on the free agent market has taken away premium draft picks from their internal, domestic scouting efforts. That means they haven’t been able to develop as many players internally, increasing the need for them to buy their star power elsewhere.
Regardless of your take on their success, it’s obvious that you can’t just buy championships, otherwise the Yankees would have had a few more to their credit between their last one in the year 2000 and today (losing to teams with much more modest payrolls in the Diamondbacks and the Marlins in 2001 and 2003 respectively).
Winning consistently and winning big, no matter how it is achieved, is never easy.
The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.