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In Many Ways Derek Jeter in Class by Himself among Yankees Greats

Derek Jeter will be remembered as much for the way he conducted himself on and off the field as much as his playing career and what he meant to the New York Yankees.

In Many Ways Derek Jeter in Class by Himself among Yankees Greats
Derek Jeter is deserving of the title of greatest Yankee of all time. Photo courtesy Keith Allison via Creative Commons license.

When New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced on Wednesday that he would be retiring following the 2014 season, the news came as a shock to so many fans who have grown up watching a player who has been the face of the franchise for a generation.

Ever since he made his debut as a gangly 20-year-old on May 29, 1995, Jeter has done nothing but sparkle on the diamond. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in his first full season the following year and helped spark the Yankees in winning their first World Series title in 18 seasons.

Let’s consider that fact for just one second.

The Yankees made it to the World Series in the strike-shortened 1981 season and then proceeded to fall into the worst postseason drought in their long history. For 15 seasons, fans watched as the Yankees more often than not were mired at the bottom of the standings in the American League. The team that had captured 22 World Series titles and appeared in 30 Fall Classics overall up to that point had been resigned to watching their Bronx Bombers play uninspired baseball for far too long.

Jeter was drafted in 1992 as a young shortstop whom many believed would be the next Yankee legend and would help point the franchise back in the right direction. After five World Series titles and missing the postseason just twice since his debut, it’s hard for anyone to argue that Jeter didn’t follow through on the hype that preceded his arrival.

But it was the way that Jeter conducted himself that will be remembered by many.

Among the all-time Yankee greats, Jeter holds himself in exclusive company. When using WAR (wins above replacement player) as a deciding factor about who ranks as the greatest Yankees of all-time, Jeter is close to the top of the class.

Rank

Baseball-Reference.com

WAR

FanGraphs

WAR

1

Babe Ruth

142.8

Babe Ruth

149.9

2

Lou Gehrig

112.6

Lou Gehrig

116.3

3

Mickey Mantle

109.7

Mickey Mantle

112.3

4

Joe DiMaggio

78.3

Joe DiMaggio

83.1

5

Derek Jeter

71.5

Derek Jeter

73.8

6

Yogi Berra

59.4

Yogi Berra

63.8

WAR essentially ranks what a player means to his team in terms of winning. In ranking only behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio, Jeter is just barely off the Mount Rushmore of Yankee greats.

But WAR can’t serve as the only deciding factor. Character should count for something as well, and in that regard, Jeter stands alone at the top of the class.

Ruth was known for his hard-partying ways and will forever be known as the man who transformed the Yankees forever.

Gehrig set the standard for durability while putting up ridiculous numbers batting directly behind Ruth for a number of years. He was generally soft-spoken, preferring to do his talking with the bat.

Mantle was loaded with incredible talent and would likely have smashed a number of records had his knees not given him grief for much of his career. And DiMaggio was class personified throughout his career as well, all the while sparking the Yankees and helping to continue their dominance following the playing days of Ruth and Gehrig.

But Jeter helped to revive a franchise that had slipped into mediocrity for far too long. With his arrival, the Yankees won four World Series titles in five seasons, and the team failed to make the postseason just twice in his first 19 seasons.

Through it all, Jeter has never once misspoke in front of the media. Considering the market he plays in and the nature of journalists who constantly look for a sordid quote or lapse in judgement, Jeter has never once fallen prey to either of those instances. He has always comported himself in such a way that he has supported his team and his teammates despite any shenanigans that may have called for harsh words. He has never once lashed out at a reporter for asking a dumb question, and he never once called out any specific teammate for any reason whatsoever. With players like Alex Rodriguez in the same locker room, that in itself is a significant accomplishment.

Jeter knows nothing about offending anyone, it’s simply not part of his nature to do so. What he has offered to the public during his playing career is an example of behavior that no other player can even close to matching. Quite simply, he is one of the classiest players who has ever donned a uniform in any professional sport.

Jeter may not have put up the video game-like numbers produced by Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio, but he stands alone in representing the Yankees’ franchise with class, dignity, respect and style.

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