Winning Is Everything: How Derek Jeter Won New York
Fly ball, left field. It's heading for no-man's land down the line, surely a blooping base-hit by Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon, giving them an extra-inning lead in what is already an instant classic in the Bronx. One player had different ideas. Out of the hole at shortstop comes Derek Jeter, storming for the ball at full-speed. He reaches up over his head, snags the third out, and promptly crashes into the second row. As he's pulled out of the stands with blood drawn on the chin, one thing is apparent: nobody on that field wants it more than him. But is that drive to succeed every single night, even in a July meeting with the Red Sox, enough to make him the all-time icon that he is?
Glancing at his career, Jeter looks like a lock for Cooperstown. His inevitable 3,000th hit makes him a guarantee, but the rest of his statistical career makes his iconic, all-time-great status in baseball history a bit of a mystery. It is not a tough argument to say that every year of his career, he was not the best player on the Yankees at the time, whether it was Bernie Williams in his prime, Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez. Now on a slight decline, Jeter isn't even close, with superstars like Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.
A lot was made when Jeter passed Lou Gehrig for the all-time Yankees hits leader, even saying he was the best Yankee to ever play, a ridiculous statement to say the least. If the 'who's better' argument is a stump-er, put Jeter next to the five best Yankees besides him. Is he better than Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, or Yogi Berra? The answer for all is no. Jeter has never won a batting title or an MVP award, both something iconic hitters have won to cement legendary careers. All statistics aside, there is still a reason Jeter will get the biggest hand at Old-Timers' Day 25 years from now.
His biggest memories were mostly great plays, plays that usually wouldn't be made, and probably shouldn't of been made. There's the jump throw, a play Jeter seemed to coin as he moved to his right, fielded a grounder, jumped and fired a strike to first base. His trips into the stands to haul in both mid-season and post-season outs are well documented. Jeter's over-the-shoulder sprinting catch into the outfield may be his best display of athleticism.
However, after one play in Oakland during the 2001 American League Divisional Series, his career could've ended in eternal glory on that field. Down 2-0 to the Athletics, the Yankees were on the brink of an early elimination in a season where the city needed them the most. The team, and in particular Jeter, would not disappoint. As right-hander Mike Mussina let up a lined double to the right field corner, the wheels began to turn. Jeremy Giambi motored around the bases toward home as Shane Spencer missed all the cut-off men on the first-base line, letting the ball trickle at Posada, never destined to reach him. Out of nowhere, the shortstop appeared, flipping the dying baseball into Posada's glove for a close swipe-tag on Giambi for the out. The play saved the season, further cementing his name in glory.
Jeter goes by another name in New York: the Captain.
A captain, by definition, is someone who "commands a unit of troops," according to Webster's-Merriam dictionary. Jeter's commandment and leadership of the Yankees is the ultimate reason for his immortality in New York, and maybe baseball history.
His five rings (along with Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera) are the most won with the Yankees since the days of Mantle, Ford, and Berra. His ability to perform in the postseason is legendary, as he is the all-time postseason hits leader.
His performance on the field is easily related by the fans of New York. He strives to be the best every night and works extremely hard to do it, a motto New Yorkers carry with them every day.
His personality is big enough for the city, even though Jeter is a quiet, unassuming person. His ability to be undaunted by the biggest of situations reflects the city's ability to overcome the greatest of obstacles like September 11. Let's face it, even in 2011, if a base-hit was needed to win a game, Derek Jeter's name would come up first.
He never hit the most home runs, or won the most awards, but Jeter's presence in New York over the last 17 seasons has made him an icon.