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Jeter Punches His Ticket To Cooperstown
July 9, 2011 - John Whittaker
We ditch today's regular format to bring you this special, timely message on the day Derek Jeter officially punched his ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
I don't want to know how many of Derek Jeter's 3,000 hits I've seen over the last 15 years. I just know that it's a lot.
Just be warned that anyone who has enjoyed watching Jeter's consistent approach to baseball for the last 17 years has a two-day window before the overrated, over the hill talk starts again. I, for one will be enjoying the break, though I have one question — how, exactly, can a guy who has 3,000 hits, five World Championships and countless All-Star Games under his belt be overrated, exactly?
How can people go on national television and say, with a straight face, that Derek Jeter has been anything but good for baseball? How is it possible to have amassed 3,000 hits and still have people disrespecting you in millions of homes, every day? I'm just some schmoe in Jamestown, but that entire debate boggles my mind.
Here's what the Jemele Hills and Skip Baylesses of the world forget — I lived through the Wayne Tolleson/Paul Zuvella/Dale Berra/Bobby Meacham/Rafael Santana years. I've seen horrible shortstop play. When Alvaro Espinoza came along, I was amazed that the Yankees had a shortstop who could hit .275 and not spike himself fielding a routine groundball. When you see enough crap floating around the left side of the infield, you truly appreciate greatness. I hadn't seen a shortstop be able to hit over .300, make great defensive plays, hit with some power and be a genuine leader on the field. I think it was no coincidence that the Yankees started winning when Jeter became a starter. I think it's no coincidence they've never had a losing record and had one year in which they missed the playoffs with Jeter as shortstop.
I think enough has been written about Jeter's career and what makes it special — if you need a refresher, click on http://bit.ly/oMMN2I or http://es.pn/oIuaNn or even http://es.pn/nm3SZ9. What's amazing is what he hasn't done, a list I'm glad to be able to jot down for my loyal readers.
1. Derek Jeter was never an embarassment. I've come to appreciate Alex Rodriguez, but other than his bevy of model/actress/singer girlfriends, Derek Jeter never did anything that would embarass himself, his teammates or his organization. Maybe it means he gives boring quotes to newspaper reporters, but you'd never see Jeter try to slap the ball out of a guy's mitt, show up the opposition or badmouth his teammates to the press. Even when he wasn't getting along with A-Rod, Jeter never mouthed off about it. When he was disappointed with some of his teammates, all you'd get out of him was "We have to play better." If there was a better model of how to be a superstar in the 21st century, I haven't seen it.
2. Derek Jeter played hard every day. Even when Jeter began losing range and not getting to balls he reached 10 years before, you couldn't say Jeter wasn't trying to get to every ball. It's never been about effort. He runs hard to first base more than any player I've ever seen except maybe Pete Rose. He plays when he was probably too beat up to be effective. When things were going poorly, you didn't see Jeter beg out of the lineup or come up with a mysterious injury. Every day, for better or worse, Jeter was in the lineup doing his best.
3. Derek Jeter will never, ever be tied to steroids or performance enhancing drugs. Given the day and age in which we live, this borders on the remarkable. Jeter's body has never changed. He's never had a season in which he all of a sudden bulked up and started drilling home runs. It's nice to know a guy you spent nearly half your life rooting for did it the right way. It's like a nice, fuzzy blanket on a cold winter night.
4. I know there is no way to prove whether a guy is clutch or not, but Jeter had tons of memorable moments. Starting from the home run to help beat Cleveland in the first game of his rookie season to the Jeffery Maier home run in the 1996 ALCS to the flip play against Oakland and even into the Mr. November home run in the 2001 World Series to hammering a home run for his 3,000th hit, Jeter has been a guy who seems to do well in big spots. I can't even come through with the bases loaded in a slow-pitch softball game, and this guy has the cojones to come through time after time after time in World Series, playoff games and tight spots like he was playing in a beer-league game at Bergman Park. If they do an autopsy on Jeter and find out he has robot wiring instead of internal organs, I won't be surprised.
I've written a few times about how Jeter became my favorite current Yankee and won't go into it again, but, I will say I'm already dreading the day Jeter retires. Donnie Baseball will always be my favorite player, but I've seen so much of Jeter, spent so much of my time rooting for Jeter and actually seen Jeter play in person that his retirement will be a dusty day in the New Guy's house. Hopefully, since he has a contract through 2013, that day is a few years off, because Derek and I have a few more milestones to celebrate.
Someday, I look forward, hopefullly, to the day when I'm bouncing my 2-year-old on my knee with the Yankees game on TV so I could tell him someday he had watched the best Yankee daddy had ever seen play, just like my granddad did with me when he talked about Dimaggio and Gehrig. It'd be the icing on the cake if I could take my little boy to Cooperstown for Jeter's induction, sometime in between 7 and 9 years, depending on when Jeter retires.
So, on Tuesday, Skip, Jemele and the rest of the dolts can say what they will about Jeter. That's fine.
I've got 15 years of fond memories to fall back on - and hopefully many, many more to make, too.
Congrats, Jeet - it's been a blast, my man.
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New York Yankees Derek Jeter waves to the cheers of the crowd after he hit a solo home run, his 3, 000th career hit off of Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price in the third inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)