July 18, 2011
I’ve got to preface this by saying I’m not a New York Yankees fan. The Yankees play by the rules, but to me, George Steinbrenner made them the perfect team to hate. As a baseball fan, that makes this all the harder to say.
Derek Jeter is the most symbolic baseball icon of our generation.
Note that I didn’t call him the best player. In my opinion, that title belongs to Ken Griffey, Jr., who is one of the few major stars not to be linked to steroids in any significant way. He was a Gold Glove centerfielder and if The Kid could have stayed injury-free over his career, he may have ended it as the all-time home run champion.
Still, when we look back on this era in baseball, Derek Jeter should be the first name to come to mind.
In case you’ve been stranded with Bob Denver and Alan Hale on a deserted island, Jeter had his 3,000th career hit this past week, becoming only the 28th player in history to do so. He did it in grand style with a 5-5 performance and crushing a home run with the historic hit. Along with Cal Ripken, he also helped change the perception that shortstops can’t hit for power, slugging at least 15 home runs in eight different seasons.
But the 12-time All-Star has done more than rack up a ton of hits.
Jeter will perhaps be remembered the most for being a flat out winner. He led the Yankees to five World Series championships (so far) and countless postseason appearances over his storied career. He hasn’t merely gone along for the ride, either. In 147 career playoff games, Jeter has hit 20 home runs and has a career .309 average.
He’s also been extremely durable, having played in more than 110 games in each season since his rookie year in 1996. Jeter hasn’t had a major breakdown since he’s been playing and the stability he’s been able to provide at shortstop is a big reason the Yankees have been a contender throughout his career.
And he was more than an offensive threat, too. He accumulated five Gold Gloves at shortstop – possibly the most difficult position to play on the diamond. Not only was he a threat with the bat, but he was one of the best defensive players in his era.
Another reason Jeter will be remembered as an icon is that he avoided the steroid speculation that’s plagued many of the stars of the 1990s and 2000s. He hasn’t been linked to the drug in any serious way and 20-30 years from now, will stand out among many of his contemporaries.
Lastly, Jeter’s a lifer as a Yankee … well, at least so far. Should he finish his career in Yankee pinstripes, he’ll be one of the few current MLB players to remain with the same team for the duration of his career. Many of the stars of this era can’t say the same thing. The aforementioned Griffey, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas, and Greg Maddux all played for more than one team.
Can anyone catch Jeter for the title of ‘Biggest Icon’ of our generation? The obvious answer is St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols. Pujols could end up as one of the most dominant MLB players of all-time by the time it’s all said and done.
But for now, the pick is Jeter. Add it all up, and there’s no better candidate as the definitive player in our generation.