Derek Jeter the GOAT

By Tom Barton

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Derek Jeter has been elected to the Hall of Fame and somehow one man left Jeter off of his ballot. One out of the 397 ballots. While this was a clear call for attention by a desperate writer, it's not unheard of. In recent memory three men left Ken Griffey off of their ballots. In the past 11 men left off Babe Ruth. Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle all were left off of double digit ballots. It took Yogi two years to get elected in and Joe D didn't get in until his 4th try. So Derek, don't worry you are in good company with the games greats. But how great was Jeter. 

Repeat after me. Derek Jeter is the greats shortstop to ever live. Ouch, I know that hurts up in Boston and I'm sure to many other haters out there. The same people who hate guys like Brady and used to hate Montana. The same who try and discredit Bill Russell and find faults in Ric Flair will always find holes in winners games. You've heard the arguments. So and so is a "better athlete" or "better pure ...". The reality is Derek Jeter is the best that has ever lived. The end. 
So let's see why I am so definitive on this. Shortstop is the most important position in baseball. This is the team leader, the quarterback, dare I say the captain's position. So when we look at the history of major league baseball we have to look at who fits that criteria. Longevity means something. The idiots in Boston will bring up No-mah. But the reality is Nomar didn't play long enough or well enough to matter here. Miguel Tejada had a nice run also, a nice steroid aided run, but also didn't get enough games and grew out of the position. That is something many shortstops have their fate become. As you get older the grind of the position combined with advanced age and weight usually leads men to play around the diamond. 19 men have ever played 2,000 games at short. Nineteen that is all. 
Barry Larkin has a compelling case. He is in the top 10 all time but head to head he falls short nearly everywhere compared to Jeter and it's not really fair to pit them head to head but i wanted to give him a nod here. Ozzie Smith was a defensive genius as was Omar Vizquel. Ozzie had the back flip and Cardinals fans hearts but 28 career home runs and a .262 average just aren't close to being in Jeter's league. Vizquel is much of the same with his 80 career bombs and .272 average. Defense gets you only so far. Ernie Banks is a popular name and likeable guy but Mr. Cub was all power and little else. Sure, the 500 homers gets him inside the top 10 list but a .274 average with no speed and no postseason success hurt but not as much as the fact after his 30th birthday Banks never finished higher than 13th in the MVP race. In his last 11 seasons he only played in 5 All Star games and placed in the top 20 in MVP voting 3 times. 
So, let's move onto the serious arguments. But before we do let's get the silly one out of the way first. People that don't understand the sport will bring up Arod. Rodriguez was tremendous in his prime but there are so many layers to ARod to automatically disqualify him. First, the steroid use (which allegations go back as far as high school with him) have to be a separator here. Even if your bleeding heart can forgive his cheating heart there are other factors. First of all Alex Rodriguez played more games at third base than at shortstop and even played DH at the end of his career. To quiet the critics of the "he was the best SS on his team when he was traded" nonsense. ARod's body type would never have allowed him to play short into his 30's and that's one of the reasons the Yankees didn't have any hesitation moving him from there for Jeter. ARod played at 6'3" and 230+ pounds. Rumors were he ballooned to 240 during his mid 30's. There has never been a successful big man at short in that capacity to ever play the position long term. Next, ARod's skills diminished fast into his 30's. He won the MVP at 31 years old. After turning 31 years old Rodriguez finished once inside the top 10 in the MVP race, his age 32 season. That same season Jeter finished 3rd. ARod never saw his average go over .286 again and never topped 35 homers in the next 8 years. Jeter after age 30 went on top finish in the top 15 in the MVP race 6 times, in the top 3 two more times and at age 38 finished 7th. He led the league in hits, plate appearances twice in his late 30's and hit over .300 six more times, all in his 30's. Durability and reliability at short is what makes this argument null and void. 
On to the next common discussion ... Cal Ripken. I have Cal at #3 overall all time so it's not that I don't like Cal and durability certainly won't be the difference maker here. Cal has one of the greatest years on record for a shortstop ever and he had some great peak years, but with those peaks also come long valleys. Cal was a better defender, but a lot of Jeter's negative defensive play came later in life. Not because of errors but because of lack of range, the exact same reason Cal was moved to third base and by many peoples estimations years late. So let's look at what does push the needle to Jeter. More hits, more runs, a better OPS and more steals certainly are easy enough to see. In Cal's corner though is the power. That though can be debated. Sure, Cal has the home runs. No debate there. But with all those power numbers that Cal has did you realize that Jeter's slugging percentage is nearly identical to the "much more power" Ripken? .440 to .447. Cal played in about 254 more games than Jeter. He has 59 more doubles and 257 more total bases. You could argue that Jeter and Cal have similar power numbers as well. Now let's look at the postseason ... actually let's not because Cal had only one shot, a small sample but batting .167 just ends this debate. Jeter was the better offensive player in nearly every aspect and has the postseason success to rival what Cal did in defensively. Remember Jeter does have 5 Gold Gloves and was above league average defensively. So that ends that. 
That leaves us with one man and I will be honest I thought I would come up short here, yes the pun is intended. Honus Wagner has long been considered the greatest shortstop of all time. Wagner's baseball card alone gives him bigger than life recognition but his stats are eye popping. Wagner has a .328 lifetime average, he led the league in average eight times. He also led the league in slugging percentage six times and OPS eight times. And boy could he run with over 700 career steals the man is a legit threat to my argument. But here goes ... Jeter and Wagner have about the same at bats. With Wagner having just 51 more. Here is where we get to numbers. Jeter has a career lifetime batting average of .310, Wagner .328. We know that the generations are much different now and Jeter's .310 means more but that's a check mark for Honus, but it's not some huge win. Steals again Wagner but Jeter's 358 are very good in the new generation way of playing, but I'll say another check mark for Wagner. So, I am giving Wagner check marks for a style of baseball that is no longer played yet Jeter stayed competitive in those categories. Now let's glance at how Wagner does against Jeter in the "new age" columns. Wagner's 101 home runs pales in comparison to Jeter's modest 260. (remember is you screamed about Arod and Cal's power being their big difference maker you can't now take away Jeter's edge here). Jeter finished his career with almost 200 more runs while Wagner has him in RBI. Derek has more hits but it's by a thin margin of just 45 and he gets him by a little over 100 walks. This is as close as it gets. It's shocking when you use time adjusted ratios with regards to the deadball era and now how these two players are a paper thin margin apart. I did tell you I'd struggle here to put Jeter on top but I did find the cherry and well, it's pretty obvious. 
Honus Wagner played in two World Series (9 game series back then). He had 67 at bats and played in 15 games. His .275 average is a massive disappointment as is his 0 home runs, 3 doubles, 9 RBI, and just 6 runs scored. He was the best player in the league when he failed his team both years of the World Series. 
On the other hand ... Jeter's postseason success reads like a continuation of his career. In fact he actually got better. His .308 career postseason average in 158 games (basically a full season) in as close as you can get to his career .310 mark. His 111 runs, 200 hits, 20 home runs, 18 steals, and .838 OPS read like an MVP season ... except this is when it mattered most. 
Derek Jeter played in the toughest city in the world, with the most media scrutiny of all time and he stepped up time and time again. He was durable, reliable and let's face it just downright great. The question of the greatest ever always has many layers and most people's opinions will never change. But baseball is a game of numbers and statistics. It's also a game of stories and the eye test. Jeter stacks up in every measurable way with the greatest of all time. Did I convince you he's the greatest? Probably not, baseball will recognize him as just that. I am just happy I can tell my kids I saw the greatest shortstop of all time perform, and boy was it a pleasure. 
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