A bunch of reporters gathered around Derek Jeter in Kansas City during the All-Star game media day get-together in 2012. He was dressed nattily, in an expensive suit. And I was barely close enough to hear what he was saying as he addressed his age and the younger players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper who were just breaking into baseball.
Jeter, who announced Monday that the 2014 season will be his last in professional baseball, has been a class act from the time he broke in with the New York Yankees all the way back in 1995. It’s almost unheard of for a player to spend his entire career in one organization, but the Yankees are one organization that can bankroll an entire career from a superstar player.
So just one season removed from the Mariano Rivera farewell tour that honored a life-long Yankee, we’ll be watching Jeter, arguably the greatest shortstop in the history of baseball, bid adieu this season.
It was a thrill for me to be that close to Jeter. I’ve admired him from afar for many years. I’m not a Yankees fan in the least, but it’s impossible not to appreciate Jeter. He’s always played the game the right way. He’s been a Yankees captain and one of the finest hitters and defenders in baseball history.
His 3,316 hits rank 10th all-time in major league history. Astonishingly, he has never been the MVP of the American League. He finished second in the voting in 2006, losing out to Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, and was third in the balloting a couple of times.
Jeter no an MVP? Blasphemous.
He has topped 200 hits seven times in his 19-year career. And he has scored 100 or more runs in 13 seasons.
Jeter had undoubtedly his best season in 1999, when he batted a career-high .349. Jeter also had career highs in homers (24), RBI (102), runs (134), triples (9), on-base percentage (.438), slugging percentage (.552) and OPS (.989.) Yet he finished only sixth in the MVP voting that season behind Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro.
Jeter is definitely one of the greatest Yankees ever, but where does he rank? You always see greatest Yankees lists and the first two are easy: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Then there can be some debate. Here’s my Top 10 Yankees hitters in history.
1. Babe Ruth
2. Lou Gehrig
3. Mickey Mantle
4. Joe DiMaggio
5. Derek Jeter
6. Yogi Berra
7. Bernie Williams
8. Don Mattingly
9. Bill Dickey
10. Earle Combs
What are your thoughts, Yankees fans? Did I nail it? Am I off base? Let me know.
Meanwhile, here’s to one of the greatest careers by any Yankee in history. And I’m thankful that I was in his presence once, even though it was barely close enough to hear what he was saying.