Only Derek Jeter, one of only a few active players with five championships, with more “I don’t believe it!” moments than any player of this generation, could celebrate his introduction into the elite 3000 hit club in this majestic of style. Only Jeter, the player with the most hits in postseason history, could, unimaginably for his age of 37, pick up five hits. Only Derek Jeter, the first player to hit a home run in the month of November, could join Wade Boggs as the only other of the 28 total players to have his 3000th hit be a home run. Appropriately, it happened right at 2 PM, to match his soon-to-be-retired uniform number. Only Derek Jeter, a man who is obsessed with winning as much as the franchise he plays for, could win the game.
By now, we have all heard the cliches about Jeter’s life and career. How he grew up as a Yankee fan and by the age of five years old was predicting that he would grow up to be the starting shortstop for baseball’s most decorated franchise. How as a player at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan, Jeter’s play was good enough to earn him National High School Player of the Year honors in 1992. How he inexplicably fell to 6th in the Amateur Player Draft and right into the waiting arms of the Yankees, and history. How in his first full season as a Yankee, 1996, he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and helped lead the Yankees to their first World Championship in 18 years, on his way to winning a championship four out of his first five years.
How his postseason career is colored with unforgettable moments when his team needed him the most. 12 year old Jeffery Maier gave him a hand with that in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, turning an out into a late-inning game tying home run that the Baltimore Orioles would never recover from. How he continually put up postseason series averages of .300 or better, which Jeter has done in 18 out of 30 postseason series. How he, regardless of offensive or defensive situation, manages to turn an October game around. His “Flip Play” in the 7th inning of Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS to barely get Jeremy Giambi out at home plate and preserve a 1-0 lead, stands as arguably one of the best defensive plays in postseason history.
But for as accomplished as he is, Derek Jeter continues to be disrespected as one of the all-time greats. He has finished at the top of polls conducted by Sports Illustrated asking MLB player who they thought was the most overrated player in baseball, multiple times. Sabremetrics argue that Jeter’s defensive range points out a glaring weakness that he is an inferior shortstop. But just ask Sabremetric guru and Oakland Athletic general manager (and on the short end of Jeter’s “Flip Play” result), and he’ll tell you to throw out those numbers in Jeter’s case.
Jeter is the master of what can’t be measured. Although he has never won an MVP award, he has finished in the top 10, six times. He is not an indomitable army in the makes of the Spartans or the Romans. He is a Patton, a Caesar, a leader who is not afraid of doing whatever it takes to win the game. And perhaps that is why teams never plans for Jeter, who has contributed to more postseason rallies than any other player, to be the one that beats them – because you are never sure how he will do it.
Of course, Jeter is human, and not without faults. After his extraordinary start to his career, Jeter did not win a championship for the next 9 seasons – an eternity in the Yankee Universe. During the same time, the Boston Red Sox snapped their 86 year championship drought by winning two championships, at the hands of Jeter’s Yankees in 2004. Though more often than not, it was not his fault. Jeter hit .400 or better in four postseason series from 2001-2007.
Derek Jeter could have done a better job in making former best friend, Alex Rodriguez, feel comfortable in the Bronx when the Yankees traded for the superstar shortstop-turned-third baseman in February of 2004. When Rodriguez struggled through the 2006 season, Jeter did not publicly support A-Rod as he had done with teammates Chuck Knoblauch and Jason Giambi in similar circumstances.
But let’s not forget the context in which Jeter is playing. Even forgetting about the egotistical athletes that have overpopulated today’s world, Jeter is a special player. He played most of his career in the “Steroid Era”. In the age in which players such as Bonds, Sosa and McGwire were inflating their personal power statistics with home runs and HGH (and without championship rings), Jeter has never had any rumors, whispers or allegations of performance enhancing drug use. His teammate, Alex Rodriguez, which many regard as the most talented player of the generation, admitted to steroid use in 2009. His rivals, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who knocked Jeter off the baseball throne with their three games to none comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, were on a list of players that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in a random testing in 2003, before usage was deemed punishable by suspension or public knowledge. After today, Jeter has had 3003 hits, all of them earned on hard work.
In 2007, Jeter hit into three doubleplays in the Yankees three games to one playoff loss to the Cleveland Indians, including one in the middle-innings of their season ending loss, killing instead of creating a Yankee rally with the tying run on-deck. The following season was one of Jeter’s worst, in which he battled through a wrist injury and barely hitting above .300. The Yankees also missed the postseason, the first time in Jeter’s history, fueling speculation that the 34 year old shortstop was losing it.
But Jeter responded with one of his strongest years. Jeter batted .334 and saw he defensive numbers, even his sabremetric numbers, improve drastically from 2008. On the way to winning the World Series for a fifth time, Jeter and Rodriguez led the offensive. When the Yankees fell behind the Minnesota Twins in the 3rd inning of Game of in the ALDS, with questions and nerves abound over the Yankees not having won a postseason series since 2004, Jeter silenced those fears by crushing a two-run home run to left field. Jeter hit another two home runs in the Yankees six game ALCS win over the Angels, the Yankee postseason nemesis of the post-dynasty Yankees. To wrap it up, Jeter hit .407 in the World Series against Philadelphia.
When Derek Jeter hit his third home run of the year, his first at Yankee Stadium in over a year, he became the first Yankee out of a pantheon of greats, to pick up his 3000th in a Yankee uniform. Going 5-5 was icing on the cake for Jeter, who at 37, is not the player he used to be. His power numbers, which even at his peak years were modest, have declined. Groundballs which used to be fielder’s choices are turning into automatic doubleplays. But for one beautiful day in the Bronx, Jeter made everyone remember the glory days of the Yankee Empire, when Jeter constantly blasted game-changing doubles, such as the one he hit in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, prompting his team to rally from three runs down with five outs to go, and later, a pennant victory.
The most admirable aspect of Jeter’s game is that he would not have cared if he went 1-5 instead of 5-5. Just as long as the one hit was with Eduardo Nunez on third base as the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jeter would be happy. At his core, Derek Jeter is a ballplayer that puts winning before everything else.