Derek Jeter: Yanks Iconic Shortstop Still Has Honus Wagner's Shoes to Fill

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Derek Jeter: Yanks Iconic Shortstop Still Has Honus Wagner's Shoes to Fill
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Last summer, long time Detroit News writer Jerry Green penned an editorial articulating that New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter falls short of being the greatest shortstop ever.

From Green, just a month shy of Jeter achieving his 3,000th hit:

The greatest shortstop in the history of baseball had bowed legs, a Superman chest, the speed of a gazelle -- and a list of accomplishments that placed him in the immortal company of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.

It is likely he never frequented the late-night joints of Manhattan and chased with the glitzy glamour set. He never was spied on by TMZ.

Tough for him -- Honus Wagner played shortstop in Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Reading Green's statement, along with the remainder of his editorial, I could sense a bit of bias against Jeter in support of Wagner. Looking at the big picture, I understand the source of his support for "The Flying Dutchman." Although, I do not agree Green's opinions entirely.

Now before proceeding, please let me caveat by saying that I comprehend the gravity of Wagner and Jeter playing in different times and in different playing conditions. I also understand that Wagner achieved unreal hitting feats that Jeter will never garner. Last, I know while Jeter only fielded one position the majority of his career, Wagner played every position—to include pitcher.

To many, Wagner is a heroic baseball figure. And rightly so. To not care entirely about the time, Wagner was an unbelievably gifted player.

But to be objective, Jeter is as well. And with each baseball game that passes, Jeter is slowly creeping toward Wagner in several offensive categories.

However, it is indisputable there are several offensive categories that Jeter will never catch Wagner in. No fault of Jeter's, this is a product of different eras each men played in.

Wanting to do a thorough breakdown, I compiled offensive and defensive statistics for Wagner and Jeter and matched them head-to-head. I will begin with offensive stats.

PLAYER GMS    AB    H AVG HR RBI    R   2B  3B XBH
 Wagner 2792 10430
3415
.327
101
1732
1736
 640  252
  993
      Jeter 2530 10309 3226
.313 248
1228
1830
 513
   65
  826
PLAYER  TB     BB   SO HBP SAC  SB OBP SLG OPS   PA
 Wagner 4862     963
  327
125  221  722 .391 .466
.857 11739
      Jeter 4613
  1021 1713
162
   87
346
.382 .448
.830
11632


Looking at the statistics above, some interesting things stand out.

Wagner had 101 home runs to Jeter's 248. Yet Wagner played during the dead-ball era, which makes his home run total impressive.

Wagner also had an incredible 252 triples to Jeter's 65. Of course, being the dead-ball era, the list of big league players with a boatload of triples is long. Wagner's gaudy number of triples is just third of all time behind Detroit Tigers' greats Ty Cobb (297) and Sam Crawford (309), per MLB.com.

Most impressively, Wagner struck out just 327 times in 10,430 career at-bats. This is unbelievable. As are Wagner's 722 stolen bases, which is an all-time 10th.

Putting everything in perspective, it becomes hard to argue that Jeter is better offensively.

But what about defensively?

Using Baseball Almanac, I pitted these two great men head-to-head at shortstop only.

PLAYER G TC PO A E FLD%
 Wagner 1887 11293 4576 6041 676 .940
     Jeter 2500 10062 3600 6223 239 .976


Looking at this matchup, Jeter whips Wagner. But baseball historians may be quick to point out Wagner also played over 900 games at eight other positions, as backed up by Baseball Almanac.

To counter, those who support Jeter may point to the Yankees shortstop's unworldly postseason performances.

To this, I say these people have a great point, though it would be illogical to ignore the fact Jeter played on much better teams than Wagner ever did.

But it's is not Jeter's fault that he was drafted by the most successful baseball team in major league history.

And on and on like a merry-go-round, the debate regarding who is the better shortstop could continue without any real  conclusion. Only when Jeter finally retires will people be able to fully compare his legacy with Wagner's.

Until then, looking at Wagner's overall body of work, Jeter still has big shoes to fill.

But I get the feeling Jeter is far from writing the final chapter of his storied career.

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