Why Derek Jeter Should Be Baseball's First Unanimous Hall of Fame Selection

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Why Derek Jeter Should Be Baseball's First Unanimous Hall of Fame Selection
Elsa/Getty Images
Derek Jeter's career is among the most well-rounded in MLB history.

Give me one good reason Derek Jeter shouldn't be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame.

It has to be a GOOD one, too; none of this, "If (Famous Player X) wasn't unanimously voted in, no one should be" nonsense.

That's the refuge of the kind of voter who grew up an ignored middle child or got picked on in high school; call it the Skip Bayless position. We're not aiming very high if we're voting out of spite.

Further, let's hear nothing about how playing for the Yankees gives him a publicity advantage. This excuse falls short for two reasons—first, this perceived bias is not his creation; it's a choice the media makes in the way they cover the sport, resulting from decades of Yankee success that Jeter had no involvement in. Blaming Jeter for a television company's content choice is absurd.

Second, TV coverage clearly doesn't correlate with Hall of Fame votes. George Brett spent his whole career in the media vacuum of Kansas City, pre-Internet and social media, yet polled higher with Hall voters than Babe Ruth—and Ruth was probably the most famous man in America while he played.

Of the top 25 players in Hall voting percentage, just four even played for the Yankees, and only Ruth and Reggie Jackson are "thought of" as Yankees (the others are Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs). So being a Yankee clearly guarantees nothing with the voters.

Instead, let's just look at the man's achievements, as recorded by Baseball Reference.

Now, his current contract runs through 2014 (including a player option for that season, which it seems certain Jeter will pick up). Given his current level of play, he seems likely to earn at least another two-year deal; thus, a total of four seasons beyond this one.

Jeter's effort will be remembered even more than his statistics.

The link above provides his seasonal averages beneath his career statistics. Adding to that my own very conservative projection of what he'll achieve over the next four years (I've figured out his per-game averages, lowered these across the board, then multiplied them by just 140 games per year), here is what we'll be looking at after 2016:

 

Second all-time: hits, plate appearances, at-bats

Third all-time: singles, home runs (among shortstops)

Fourth all-time: games, runs

Eighth all-time: total bases (as an average-at-best power hitter)

11th all-time: doubles

Add to that nearly 400 steals, and that he'll likely be in the top 60 in RBI despite hitting first or second in the lineup, and I still haven't begun to scratch the surface, because I haven't begun to talk about winning.

Well all know baseball is a team game, with playoff teams generally driven there by a core of solid starting pitchers.

But it's worth noting that from 1979 to 1995, the Yankees never won the World Series. Jeter then took center stage, and they promptly won four Series in five years. Ted Williams once said that the Yankee most responsible for his Red Sox teams' failures was not DiMaggio or Mantle, but the shortstop, Phil Rizzuto. The same is certainly true of Jeter and this era, because his penchant for winning—and contribution to it—is in many ways unparalleled.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jeter's character extends well beyond the baseball field.

As of this writing, the Yankees have won 1,545 games in which Jeter has played. This is 11th all-time, behind only 10 Hall of Famers and Pete Rose, who had a record 1,972.

Jeter averages winning 59.81% of the games he plays in; four more full seasons of that, and he'll be second only to Rose.

But it's how he contributes to those wins, especially in big games, that makes him unique. The Flip. The Dive 1 (Game 5 of The Flip series, when he tumbled into the stands for the 2nd out of the 9th inning with the tying run at the plate). The Dive 2 (the Bloody Face one against Boston). The Mr. November game. Game 4 of the 2000 World Series, when his first-pitch home run deflated the Mets.

Derek Jeter rises to the occasion as few have in baseball history, and nowhere is this more evident than in his playoff statistics.

 

I don't need any projections, here—Derek Jeter is already the career postseason leader in ALL of the following categories: games, plate appearances, at-bats, runs, hits, singles, doubles, and total bases. He's third in triples, home runs, and RBI. He's fifth in SB and walks.

Facing nothing but playoff-worthy pitching staffs, he has a higher slugging percentage and OPS than he does in the regular season, and nearly the same batting average and on-base percentage (six and eight points less, respectively).

His teams have won 94 of 152 postseason games (both records) for a .618 winning percentage (20 points better than in the regular season). They've won 21 playoff series, including an astounding 11 in a row from 1998-2001 (both all-time records).

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Jeter's career will be defined by winning.

In other words, we're talking about a once-in-a-generation regular-season performer instrumental in reviving a then-moribund franchise, but who gets better in the clutch and wins at historic levels—and I still haven't scratched the surface of what he means to the game at large. 

Derek Jeter played clean, and exceptionally, in one of the dirtiest eras of baseball's often-sordid history. He's lived and played under the most powerful media microscope in sports history, frequently inviting its lens via high-profile relationships, and avoided all but the smallest of controversies.

His jersey remains the game's hottest seller, and he was recently voted the man other players most want to pattern themselves after. His charitable foundation, which he founded at age 22, has raised millions for programs to combat drug and alcohol abuse in teenagers. He's won the Roberto Clemente Award, the most prestigious public-service award in the game.

So, what HASN'T he done to merit selection? Are the five championship rings and five Gold Gloves not enough? The 13 All-Star games? The seven times he's reached the top 10 in MVP voting? The four Silver Sluggers? The All-Star and World Series MVP awards? Please, enlighten me—what good reason is there for a Hall of Fame voter to oppose Derek Jeter? 

You can't give me one, because there IS no good reason. He's been uniquely successful on the field, and a leader both on and off of it. He's played with passion, but unlike a growing number of his peers, never sacrificed respect and class in the process. Above all, he has won, and he was won, and he has won. 

Having said that, I know that he will not be voted unanimously, but it will have nothing to do with him. It'll be so that some writer from Boston can brag in a bar that he voted against a Yankee. It'll be because some yokel from Kansas City or Oakland or Minnesota thinks national TV cameras make it easier to hit a curveball.

But know this—it will not be a referendum on Derek Jeter. It will simply be another mirror reflecting the human frailties of those who can't applaud success. 

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