Word came down today that the 2014 season will be Derek Jeter‘s last. We’ll see what happens, but I imagine that the Yankees’ shortstop, entering his age-40 season, likely gets the same treatment as Mariano Rivera did in 2013 in his last lap around the MLB.
Even if Jeter never played another game, he’d be a slam-dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. He enters the 2014 season with 3,316 hits, 1,876 runs scored 256 home runs and 1,256 RBI. He was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, a 13-time All-Star and of course, a five-time World Series champion.
Jeter won five gold gloves, but the only real knock against his game was his defense. Jeter’s glove work was always a little bit below average, but it didn’t really become an issue until 2005, his age-31 season, when his dWAR slipped to -1.9. That’s a function of age more than anything else, really. There aren’t too many shortstops that deep into their 30s, so what Jeter’s doing is pretty remarkable just by staying out there. Of course, that also has something to do with the Yankees allowing him to play there and never moving him to another position. But for all of the attention paid negatively to Jeter’s defense, he was such an outstanding offensive performer in the prime of his career that it negated what he did or didn’t do in the field.
At the plate, he never drew a ton of walks, but he didn’t strike out too much, either. He didn’t hit for a ton of power, but he does have 525 doubles and 65 triples, an average of 31 and four over the course of his 17 full-time seasons. He never stole a ton of bases – averaging 20 over those 17 full seasons – but was only caught 10 or more times just once.
Jeter was a remarkably durable player until late as well. From 1996 to 2010, he played in at least 150 games every season but once. Jeter dislocated his left shoulder sliding into third base in Toronto in the season opener in 2003. That was a typical Jeter hustle play, as he was trying to move from first to third on a Jason Giambi comebacker with the Blue Jays defense swung around to the right side. Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby ran to third to apply the tag and Jeter crashed shoulder-first into his catcher’s gear.
In 2011, Jeter missed 31 games, but returned for a spectacular 2012 season in which he played in 159 games, hit .316 and led the AL in hits, plate appearances and at-bats.
How much will the Yankees get out of Jeter this year? It’ll be an interesting question, especially with all of the fanfare likely scheduled for him on Yankees’ road trips this year. The Yankees will have some DH at-bats open and Brendan Ryan is a wizard defensively, so that might keep Jeter healthy over the course of the season.
Jeter won’t be setting too many more milestones in his career. He’d need nearly 1,000 hits to catch Pete Rose for the all-time hits lead, so that’s not happening. But say Jeter stays healthy and plays well and adds another 150 hits to his resume, well, that would put him at 3,466, good enough to leap over four players – Paul Molitor, Carl Yastrzemski, Honus Wagner and Cap Anson into sixth on the all-time list.
There’s not much to say to the contrary about Jeter’s stellar career. Many current players took to Twitter today to thank Jeter for his presence on the field. Some of them told stories about reaching second base as a young player and having Jeter come over and say something congratulatory about their making it to the major leagues.
The underlying theme is that most guys wouldn’t do that, especially not a player of Jeter’s stature. He was revered by his teammates and opponents alike, which is a truly rare feat in sports.
Jeter was a guy who never said much to the media. He always called his former manager Mr. Torre. It always seemed like he was a busy guy off the field, but Jeter usually found a way to keep that out of the papers, too. Jeter has been a charitable guy too, as his Turn2 Foundation has motivated many kids to live healthy lifestyles.
Most of all, Jeter was the latest in a long line of Yankees legends. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. Jeter’s right up there, from his numbers to the World Series rings to his off the field aura. And who can forget the plays? The flip at Oakland. The dive into the stands against the Red Sox. His dramatic extra innings home run in the 2001 World Series…the list goes on.
No matter how the 2014 season shakes out, with Jeter on the DL or with Jeter atop the Yankees lineup, leading a new-look team to a postseason berth, he’s made his mark. Will there ever be another like him? Almost certainly yes, but Jeter leaves big shoes to fill.