Jeter's place among Yankees greats secure
NEW YORK -- With the curtain having fallen on Derek Jeter's career on Thursday night-- at least at Yankee Stadium -- there's not much dispute about where he stands on the list of all-time Yankees great position players: Pretty darned high.
"I mean, he's up there. I think that's all you can say," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi after Jeter went out in his last game in pinstripes like the best of the Yankees with a walk-off, ninth-inning single that defeated the American League East-winning Orioles, 6-5. "With the amount of hits that he had and the runs scored and the championships, he's up there. The postseason numbers are great. He's been a great player."
While Jeter won't finish at the top in batting average, home runs, runs batted in or World Series titles, he does finish the best in the Bronx with 3,463 hits, 2,745 games played, 544 doubles, 358 steals, 20 contiguous seasons in New York, and is second behind Babe Ruth with 1,922 runs scored. He's the all-time Major League leader with 200 postseason hits and 111 runs.
It's baffling to realize that no other Yankee amassed 3,000 hits. Not Ruth, not Lou Gehrig, not Joe DiMaggio, not Mickey Mantle. No other Yankee has come close to posting Jeter's numbers since Mantle retired in 1968.
Clearly, Jeter is the best shortstop in club history. He said after the game that he was leaving his cherished position behind after 2,674 games played in the No. 6 spot. He said he will DH some in Boston this weekend in the final three games out of respect to the Boston fans.
"I wanted to take something special from Yankee Stadium and the view from shortstop is what I want to take from it," he said afterward. "I've only played shortstop my entire career and the last time I want to play it was tonight."
It should be noted that Phil Rizzuto is the only man to play his entire career at short for the Yankees who has a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He batted .273, had 1,588 hits, and was elected by a Veterans' Committee in 1994, 28 years after his final game. Jeter will become the first Yankees shortstop to be elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America when he's eligible for the Class of 2020.
And by his own assessment, he might not be the best Yankee of all-time, but he certainly is the most intense.
"I know that there are a lot of people who have a lot more talent than I do, throughout the course of my career, not just now," said Jeter, who with his 2-for-5 on Thursday night is batting .309 lifetime. "But I can honestly say no one played harder. I don't. Maybe just as hard, but I don't think anyone made more of an effort. I had respect for the game and played as hard as I could. And I did it here in New York, which I think is much more difficult to do. I'm happy for that."
As far as those other all-time Yankees great position players are concerned, Ruth's career began and concluded in Boston. Gehrig's was tragically ended by an incurable disease. DiMaggio lost many of his peak seasons serving in World War II, although he retired as a champ after the Yankees defeated the New York Giants in the 1951 World Series. And Mantle's career was wrecked by numerous knee injuries and ended with a whimper. His last game also happened to be at Fenway on Sept. 28, 1968. Mantle started, took one at bat, popped out to short and left the game.
Save for the left ankle fracture that cost him all except 17 games of the 2013 season, Jeter has played through ice, snow, adversity and into November. Though Yogi Berra was on Yankees teams that won 10 World Series titles, Jeter has five rings in an era of multi-tiered playoffs that is a labyrinth to get through. Berra's Yankees had to win four postseason games to win it all. In the Jeter era that began in 1995, any championship team had to win 11. Wild Card teams now have to win 12.
"I know sometimes people compare rings," Girardi said. "Derek went through three rounds of playoff every year. That's why he's right up there."
The fact that Jeter played the entire 2014 season with a plate and screws in that surgically repaired ankle makes the results of this final tour even more amazing. There are five actual monuments in Monument Park in the current Yankee Stadium -- the three originals in a row for Ruth, Gehrig and manager Miller Huggins that were actually in play in dead center field at the original stadium, and two others flanked behind them for Mantle and DiMaggio.
When Jeter's No. 2 eventually is the last Yankees single digit to be retired, an argument can be made that he also should be honored with a monument, not just a simple plaque. That's how good a player he was. A leader, and like Gehrig, the truest Yankees captain in every sense of the word.
After it was all over on Thursday night, he walked back out to shortstop on the empty infield, squatted toward left field and gave it one last look. Moments later, he circled the entire infield waving toward the sellout crowd of 48,613 adoring fans locked in their seats, still not believing what they had seen, how a career in pinstripes had just ended.
Jeter wanted to linger. He created a legend in the pantheon of the Yankees greats. And now it is almost over.
"At times this has been difficult," Jeter said. "It almost feels as though you're watching your own funeral. What I mean by that is people are telling you great things and they're showing highlights and reflecting. I understand that my baseball career is over with and people are giving you well wishes like you're about to die. I don't know if that makes sense. I've appreciated it all, but internally it feels like a part of you is dying. I guess that is true in a baseball sense."