You want controversy? I'll give you controversy. Jackie Robinson was better than Derek Jeter.
Every American knows why Robinson played in the major leagues for only 10 years. Meanwhile, Jeter is starting his 17th season with the New York Yankees.
Robinson was "given permission" to start to his major league career at the age of 28 in 1947 as the first black player admitted to Major League Baseball. Jeter joined the Yankees when he was 21 in 1995, his first full season coming in 1996. Each was the Rookie of the Year, and though Jeter did not have an opportunity to win it for both leagues, that is what Robinson had to do to gain the honor back in '47.
Robinson brought an excitement to base running that had not been seen since the halcyon days of Ty Cobb. He revolutionized the game as much as Babe Ruth had done almost 30 years before.
"I saw what Jackie Robinson did with his stealing home plate, and his daring base running," Hank Aaron once said, according to The New York Times. "He brought excitement to the game. When I was in Milwaukee, we used to play that old, dull game. But, with the influx of more talented black athletes, that Jackie Robinson style caught on."
Robinson would dance off first base, going just far enough so that he could get back if the pitcher attempted to pick him off.
He was in constant motion. It didn't matter if Robinson was at first, second or third. He dared the pitcher to throw over to the bag.
Pitchers felt harassed. They lost their composure, which helped the Brooklyn hitters. Pivotmen on attempted double plays hesitated a split second, giving Dodger baserunners that much more time to reach safety.
This is not what Derek Jeter brings to the table.
Robinson had just over 1,500 career hits, but Jeter will soon become the first Yankee to have 3,000 career hits, in just under twice the years played.
Jeter's defense is extremely difficult to evaluate.
Some consider him an above-average defender who positions himself well, while some have rated him among the worst defensive shortstops of all time.
Robinson played all over the diamond, making it even more difficult to compare their defensive merits, so let's look at some offensive numbers.
Jeter has batted .314, with a .385 on-base average and a .452 slugging average.
Robinson's triple-slash line reads .311/.409/.474.
Each averaged 23 stolen bases a season. Caught stealing records were not kept until 1951, but both players have been effective base stealers.
Since Robinson couldn't start his major league career until he was 28 years old, one can compare Robinson and Jeter from the time the latter reached his 28th birthday.
Again, Robinson only played 10 years.
Jeter has batted .310/.380/.441, in nine seasons since he was 28 in 2002.
Jackie Robinson edges Jeter statistically, both for their careers and after the age of 28.
As great as Jeter has been with respect to "intangibles," no one in the history of the game had more "intangibles" than Jackie Robinson in my opinion.
It is not difficult to imagine the results if Robinson had started his major league career at the age of 22. The fact that he accomplished so much in a relatively short time period is remarkable.
Derek Jeter is one of the all-time greats. He has avoided controversy, which has helped cement his career as one of the classiest individuals to have played the game. With all that he endured and nonetheless produced, Jackie Robinson had a different kind of class and deserves to be considered on another echelon altogether.
Johnson, Roy S. "Jackie Robinson to Now: A Growing Dominance." New York Times. Oct. 28, 1982. p. 17.