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Thursday, December 26, 2013

THE YANKEES MOUNT OLYMPUS: DEREK JETER

Our Mount Olympus now reaches the top seven Yankees in our team’s history.


In 2001 Whitey Ford (number 8 on our list) wrote a book called “Few and Chosen Yankees: Defining Yankee Greatness Across Eras”.   In it, the Hall of Famer described his top five all-time Yankees at each position. 

At shortstop he chose Derek Jeter – our choice for number 7 in the list of greatest Yankees.

It tells you all you need to know about Jeter that Ford would select him as the organization’s best ever at his position.  After all, Ford played with Phil Rizzuto and yet chose Jeter, who had only been the team’s starting shortstop for five seasons when the book was published.

In my lifetime (going on 50 years) I’ve never seen a smarter athlete.

In the years since Curt Flood opened the doors of free agency, it has become rare for a player to spend his entire career with one organization.  Even the richest of clubs have trouble holding on to players that have climbed their way through the ranks to All-Star status.  As Yankee fans we know this all too well, don’t we Robinson Cano?

That’s what makes Derek Jeter so special, so iconic.

He was called up from the Yankees minor league system for 15 games in 1995.  In 1996 he was handed the Yankees starting shortstop job and hasn’t relinquished it since.

That first year he hit .314 and won Rookie of the Year while the team won its first championship since 1978.  During the playoffs Jeter hit .360.

It was only a sign of things to come.

As we enter the 2014 season, “Jeets” is the proud owner of five World Series rings, 13 All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards.  He holds a .312 lifetime batting average as well as a .308 post season average.  He has 3,316 career hits and is the first player to hit a home run in November.

Jeter is the 13th captain in the history of the franchise and remains one of the faces of his sport.

Numbers and records only tell part of the story that is Derek Jeter.

His calm, professional demeanor has raised the bar for what it means to be a New York Yankee.  It is one of the reasons why he will one day have his number retired and bust in Cooperstown.

The special memories Jeter has given Yankees’ fans are numerous.  From the famous “flip” play against Oakland in the playoffs to diving into the stands to catch a foul ball against the Red Sox to hitting a game deciding November home run in the Fall Classic, our captain always appears to be at the right place at the right time.  It’s a credit to his athletic ability, hard work and baseball intellect.

As Jeter comes to the sunset of his bright career, we as baseball fans will realize just how privileged we have been to witness the brilliance of the Yankees’ greatest shortstop.

Last season, as a result of a horrific ankle injury suffered in the 2012 AL Championship, we caught a glimpse of life without Jeter in the Bronx. 

It wasn’t pretty.

The team missed the playoffs for just the second time in the past 18 seasons and while the absence of Jeter wasn’t the sole reason for the failure, the club lacked the on-field leadership only number two could provide.

The Yankees have undergone a face lift this off season with the additions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, but perhaps the most important difference from last year will be that “Captain Clutch” is going to return to his spot in the lineup and on the field.

Only Jeter knows how many more summers he has in pinstripes, but one thing is certain; we have been fortunate to watch one of baseball’s immortals define an era.


    
--Steve Skinner, BYB Guest Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1

  



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