Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 18

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 27, 2009

Derek Jeter has become a perennial All Star, New York icon, and hero to kids. He has also become the face of the New York Yankees.


Jeter was drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 1992 amateur draft as the sixth pick overall. He would spend most of four seasons in the minors and collect praise and awards.


In 1993, Jeter was chosen as the Most Outstanding Major League Prospect.


He hit .344 in 1994 for Triple-A Columbus and was picked by Baseball America, The Sporting News, USA Today, and Topps as the Minor League Player of the Year.


Jeter made his major league debut on May 29, 2005 in the Kingdome in Seattle.


The next day, filling in for injured shortstop, Tony Fernandez, Jeter would get his first big-league hit. When Fernandez came off the DL, Jeter returned to Triple-A Columbus before returning briefly at the end of the ’95 season.


In 1996, Jeter would start at short for the Yankees. Many doubted that a team could compete for a championship with a rookie at shortstop. But Jeter quickly hushed his critics winning Rookie of the Year and leading the Yankees into postseason play.


Jeter played 157 games in his freshman year and hit .314. In postseason play, he was even better, hitting .412 in the division series against Texas and .417 in the league championship set against Baltimore.


He cooled off a little in his first World Series but the Yankees came from behind to beat the Atlanta Braves and win their first crown in 18 seasons.


By 1997, nobody was questioning Jeter’s ability to play shortstop or hit in the bigs. The Yankees didn’t make it to the Fall Classic in his second year. But Jeter and the Yankees were only getting started.


In 1998, Jeter hit .324 as the Yankees had one of the finest seasons ever recorded. With 114 regular season wins some called this version of the Bronx Bombers the best team in major league history.


They would go on to win their second championship in Jeter’s first three seasons by sweeping the Padres in four games.


The Yankees would repeat in 1999 and 2000 as Jeter continued his spectacular play. He hit .349 in ’99 which placed him second in the AL in hitting. In 2000, he hit .329. He made the American League All-Star team in all three championship seasons and by 2000, he started in the midsummer classic.


In 2001, Jeter still hit .311 for the regular season in 150 games but slumped in the ALCS and World Series after a blistering division series against Oakland. But in the third game of that series played on the West Coast Jeter made a defensive play that will be remembered for ever.


In a close game, Jeremy Giambi rounded the bases on a ball hit to Shane Spencer in right field. Spencer’s throw to the plate was off target up the first base line in foul territory. But out of nowhere came the Yankee shortstop to backhand the ball and shovel it to catcher, Jorge Posada, who tagged Giambi out at home.


The Fox Sports announcer yelled into the microphone: “That is one of the most unbelievable plays you will ever see by a shortstop.” And so it will always be remembered.


The Yankees returned to the Series in the tragic fall of 2001. After suffering the worst terrorist attack on American soil, New York hosted the World Series, but the Yankees fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games.


2003 started badly for Jeter when he was injured sliding into third base in Toronto. Blue Jays catcher, Ken Huckaby raced up the line to cover third and slammed his shin guard into Jeter’s shoulder.


The shoulder was separated and after attempting to put it back in place on the field, Jeter was removed to the locker room. He had not played fewer than 148 games in his first seven seasons in the bigs, but now Jeter would be on the DL for six weeks. He would bounce back to hit .324 in 119 games.


New York made it to the Series again but lost to the Florida Marlins. The 2003 season would be the last time to date that the Yankees would appear in the World Series.


But that could not be blamed on the shortstop. Jeter would continue to play at least 150 games each of the past five years, would hit under .300 only once.


In 2006, Jeter was spectacular finishing second in the batting title with a .343 average, the second highest of his career. He would also win his third consecutive Gold Glove award at shortstop.


In 2007, Jeter hit .322 and led the Yankees back to the post season for the twelfth straight year. But the Yankees would disappoint with an exit in the division series and 2008 would be even worse when the Yankees failed to make the playoffs and finished third in the Eastern Division.


But by this time, Jeter was the accepted leader of the Yankees. George Steinbrenner had even gone so far as to name Jeter the Yankees tenth captain in June 2003. Jeter has accepted the mantle quietly, refusing to wear a “C” on his jersey as many other team captains do.


Instead he has chosen to lead by example, which is what he did in a game at the Stadium on July 1, 2004.


In another hot division race with arch rival, Boston, the game was close throughout. In the top of the twelfth the game was tied at three apiece when Trot Nixon hit a pop up down the third-base line.


Jeter raced to the ball, caught it at a dead run, and then launched himself into the stands. He hung onto the ball, but came up cut and bruised. He stayed in the game and despite his injuries, returned to play the very next day.


By comparison, Boston shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, had sat out the game because of a “sore” leg. Jeter has consistently played through injuries, almost never takes himself out of a game and gives full effort every day.


This play exemplified Derek Jeter, how he competes and what he means to his team. He is great with the fans, always available for the media, and is apparently respected by his teammates. It is very common to see Jeter talking to fans as he waits in the on deck circle to hit next.


He has also been the choice of the Yankees to represent them in special ceremonies and was even chosen to make the “Farewell Address” at Yankee Stadium when the last game was played there on Sept. 21, 2008.


Jeter has a career average of .319, has an OPS of .845 and an OPS+ of 120. Through the 2008 season he has 2535 hits in 13 full seasons in the majors. He has been an All Star in every year except 2003, when he missed so much time with injuries.


Jeter will be 35 years old in June 2009. There has been no indication that he has slowed dramatically. At one point, it appeared that he might have an outside chance to approach Pete Rose’s all time hits record of 4256.


That does not seem realistic at this point. He would have to play more than eight full seasons and collect almost 200 hits each year to reach that plateau. He would then be 43 years old.


But Jeter has already established marks that will take him to Cooperstown. He has played with grace, style, and class while winning fans and championships. Nothing more could be asked of a player.


When his career is over, he will be celebrated as one of the greatest Yankees ever and his “No. 2” will hang on the wall in Monument Park in the New Yankee Stadium.


For fans who have watched Jeter throughout his brilliant career two images will exist in their minds even more powerfully than a plaque hanging in Monument Park.


One is Jeter using his "patented inside out" swing to drive a ball into right field.


The other is Jeter racing into short left field to make a back hand stab of a ground ball and then leaping high and turning at the same time to throw a runner out at first.


Derek Jeter is one of the reasons the New York Yankees are the greatest team in the history of baseball.


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