Tonight Derek Jeter will play his last game at Yankee Stadium, or at least he will if it doesn't get rained out. If we still lived on the East coast we would probably have tried to be there, or at least would have gone during this homestand. I'm not really a fan of the "farewell" tour with every team giving him presents and things, and really hope this doesn't become a regular thing. If it does, my question is who qualifies for it? What if one team gives a player a gift but another team doesn't? How would that work? But that's off topic.
There has been a lot of conversation in the past week from two different camps. The first are those who are praising Jeter and making him out to be the greatest Yankee ever. He is not. If we have a Mount Rushmore of Yankees (which would be 4 people), he's not on it. He is easily in the top ten, but he is not number one. This is not a knock on Jeter, because on many teams he would be the greatest, but when you have to compete against Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio just to start, it's tough to get to the top. So let's lay off that side for a while.
The other side is trying to denigrate him all together, and say that he's not that great at all, and I'm looking at you Keith Olbermann. There are also some saying that without "the tour" that the Yankees would have made the playoffs. That by continuing to play Jeter every day at shortstop at age 40 and also continue to bat him second that he cost them some runs, and thus some games. And then they claim that he should have either removed himself from the line-up or asked to bat lower "for the good of the team."
There are many problems with that argument. The first is who Jeter is. He is a competitor, and he has said and continues to say that he thinks he is the best person to be out there, that he brings more to the game than whoever would replace him. So knowing that, we know he's not going to do that. Second, the manager gets paid lots of money to make these decisions, so it should be up to Girardi to do what needs to be done "for the good of the team" not the player. And for those who bring up Gehrig removing himself, remember that he could not physically continue to play, and if I remember correctly never played again once he did take himself out. And speaking of Gehrig, what happened when Wally Pipp took himself out of one game?
And please don't bring up WAR to me, which is wins over replacement. What this seeks to measure is how many wins a play generates over the average player if he were replaced. But here is my problem, these numbers never pass the sniff test. One year, according to WAR, Jeter was the second worst player in the league and the worst player was Manny Ramirez. Not when he was with the Dodgers, but during his hugely productive years with the Sawx. Jeter and Ramirez the two worst players in the league? The stat may say it, but I know that every GM in the league would have taken them if they could have them.
But here is the main problem. Here are three batting lines from the Yankees this year:
BA OBP SLG OPS
.253 .301 .309 .611
.176 .217 .213 .430
.155 .224 .279 .503
Now in hearing people talk about how much Jeter is hurting the Yankees, you might think that one of the bottom two lines would be Jeter. But they are not. Jeter's is the first line, and the other two belong to Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, the two people who would probably play shortstop if Jeter wasn't there. Now these are not normal Jeter numbers, but they are a lot more impressive then his replacements. Drew and Ryan would have been better with the glove, but the runs they saved on defense more than would have been given up by the runs they would not generate on offense.
Should Jeter have been moved out of the number two spot? Yes, he probably should have been batting 7th or so. But who would have batted in his place? The problem is we had 6-7 guys in the line-up who should have been batting at the bottom on the line-up. The entire line-up did not produce this year. There are only two regular starters on the entire team who batted over .280 for the season. Two! And those are Ichiro, who batted .284, and Cervelli, who is our back-up catcher, who hit .285.
When Jeter went 0-28 and everyone was bashing him, no one else on the team was hitting either. Gardner also went 0-28 from the lead-off spot right around the same time, and no one was yelling about him hurting the team, and that he should be benched or put lower in the batting order. Instead it was Jeter's fault.
Should Jeter have retired last year? Probably, but he didn't want to end his career on an injury, just like Marianno didn't, and so he played. And I for one am glad he did because my daughters are old enough to realize what this means and will curl up on the couch with me tonight as we see the greatest Yankee of my generation, no offense to Mo, hang them up.
Is he the greatest Yankee of all time? No. But when his name is included on the lists of those who are, that is more than enough for any player.