Monday, February 25, 2013

In Defense of Jeter

Lively debate is what makes the baseball world go 'round. It's one of the reasons why the sport is great in the first place and I welcome it. I am hesitant, however, to engage in discussions about Yankee players with those outside of Yankee circles. I understand that 27 world championships and consistently bloated payrolls have a major impact on souring the attitudes of those whose loyalties lie outside the Bronx. As the old saying goes: "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for IBM."

I get it. Really.
But I will not stand idly by for another round of annual Derek Jeter bashing.
Overrated? Selfish? What are these people talking about?

It's a fundamental law of economics that items in great demand tend to be worth more. But Jeter isn't even slated to be the highest paid Yankee regular in 2013. With A-Rod at least temporarily out of the picture, Jeter's salary ranks fourth among players likely to suit up on opening day. Why fourth? He should actually be paid more. Jeter is an icon--the heart and soul of the Yankee franchise regardless of his abilities and lifetime statistics. When he broke his ankle in the postseason last year, the team crumbled without him. Who sells more merchandise and tickets? How often do you spot a Yankee fan outside the Bronx cathedral wearing a jersey bearing a number other than "2"? (Retired Yankee greats don't count) And how many fans will list Mark Teixeira or Ichiro Suzuki as an impetus for purchasing a costly box seat? (Both will be making more money than Jeter this year according to ESPN.)

Selfish? Give me a break.
Before griping about Jeter's salary, we should get 2 things straight:
1) He didn't even break the $1 million per-year mark until his fourth season in the majors. By then, he had captured Rookie of the Year honors along with a pair of World Series titles.
2) He has never been the highest paid player on the team despite his intrinsic value to the club.
(If you're still questioning Jeter's value to the Yankees, I refer you to EXHIBIT A: Five World Series Rings. That's tops among active players--tied with other members of "the core four.")

Many Jeter detractors talk about his defense and I'll give you that--he has lost a step or two over the years. But anybody who complains about Jeter's abilities in general has likely never studied the numbers.
Overrated? Ridiculous!
Currently ranked at #11 on the all time hit list with 3,304 safeties, Jeter is the active Yankee leader in that category. He holds the record for most postseason hits with 200. He has appeared in 13 All-Star games and captured 5 Silver Slugger Awards. He has been among the top MVP candidates three times. Other accolades include All-Star and World Series MVP nods (both in 2000).

What about his defense? People seem to find it suspect despite the fact that Jeter currently ranks 6th all time in double plays turned as a shortstop. He led the league in fielding percentage twice, assists once and putouts on another occasion. He has 5 Gold Gloves to his credit. Beyond the numbers, take a look at the highlight reels. In his prime, Jeter perfected the art of the backhanded stab deep in the hole followed by a gazelle-like leap and deadly accurate throw to first. How many runners has he erased with that little maneuver? One of his postseason assists single-handedly turned the tide of a series against the A's. To this day, it's still simply referred to as "the play" by Yankee fans.

I rest my case, well, almost...
In an era of players behaving badly, Jeter has served as Captain of the Yankees with dignity and grace. He accepts interview requests, talks to fans, signs autographs, gives time and money to various charities. Despite his universal appeal to the opposite sex, he's managed to avoid major scandal in that area of his life (so far anyway).
So why not pay him as much as A-Rod or any of the other self-serving jerks occupying major league diamonds these days?

Okay, now I'm done.

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