I come here not to bury Derek Jeter, but to praise him.
In these, the final weeks of the Yankee legend's career, it's fashionable to mock him for being a shadow of his former self (his .230/.270/.293 post all-star break slash lines are a particularly cruel reminder that time always wins, and those are boosted by four consecutive 2-hit games through yesterday). I confess that I've jumped on the bandwagon myself, with help from the skipper of the Tampa Bay Rays.
I can't speak for others, but my insignificant jab was aimed at the Cult of Derek Jeter rather than the man himself. For as much as I've long rolled my eyes at the former, the latter is indisputably the Red Sox opponent I most feared and respected over the course of his career.
Derek Jeter is inarguably an all-time great, even as the confluence of his good fortune to play in New York when he did, the quality of his teammates, and his uber-professional approach led to the creation of a narrative to which no player's actual achievements could truly measure up. But even so, his measurables, at least at the plate, really do argue for his inclusion on list of the legends. He's first all-time among shortstops in hits, second in runs, and in the top ten in OPS, OPS+, HR, RBI, 2B, and - despite the often-accurate criticisms of the Fire Joe Morgan crowd - WAR (which combines offense and defense). I know that counting stats have their flaws, but there's something to be said for sustaining a level of play long enough to compile as many as has Jeter. He's not the greatest shortstop ever, but he's in the discussion.
(As an aside, I really miss Fire Joe Morgan. That link is a really cool remembrance by the site's main writers.)
You really can't find a more fitting representation of the difference between Derek Jeter and the Cult of Derek Jeter than this really well done homage from Gatorade and the attendant fawning over the ad.
The ad is terrific, for sure, as is Jeter. But when people, even respectable journalists like Rob Neyer, say shit like this:
Well, that's the kind of stuff that makes a fella want to start hating all over again. Here to praise, though. Here to praise.
One of the strengths of that ad is how well it depicts Yankee fans' feelings about Jeter. But Yankee fans are supposed to get verklempt in the presence of the Captain; they've been programmed to do so by his sustained reallygoodness and a willing media for 20 years now. The measure of Jeter's impact might be more accurately captured by his standing with fans of his biggest rivals.
When Jeter came to bat against the Red Sox, even as I knew he wasn't as dangerous as, say, Gary Sheffield with his menacing bat waggle, or Robinson Cano or Alex Rodriguez, even then, I was always afraid. Here comes another hands-inside rifle to right to score a runner from second. And, dammit, there it came.
In 2004, when the Sox trailed the Yankees, 3-1, in the ALCS, their hopes were dashed when Jeter drilled an opposite-field double to clear the bases in the top of the 6th of Game 5. I'd begun writing their obituary, because that's how it was supposed to end, with Derek Fucking Jeter beating them.
And when that incredible, impossible, still-goosebump-inducing series came to an end, when the Sox thumped the Yankees, 10-3, in Game 7, it wasn't the images of the stricken, befuddled Yankee fans that let me know it was really, truly over (though they were the best, weren't they?). No, it was the anger and then the resignation on Jeter's face as he raged against the dying of the Curse.
So, as Jeter finishes more Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield than John Elway on top of the world, he still deserves the accolades he's receiving. I respect him as much as any player I've ever rooted against. He is, as much as it pains me, one of sport's great winners, even though his calm-eyed Captain Intangibles creation myth is just so much happy horseshit.
In the final analysis, I'm happy to see him go, because he can't beat my team any more.