Derek Jeter’s best quality generally could not be seen, only heard. You listened to him say many times, you are either playing– or you’re hurt. His message: If you take the field with an injury, you are 100 percent.
His maniacal obsession with winning, joined with a mostly placid external conduct, helped create a serene environment during so many October playoff thunderstorms — and even one rather memorable one in November — that helped lead to five Yankees pennants.
He was a product of the dynastic Yankees — and they were a product of him. That is why rating Jeter as an individual player can be looked at through so many various lenses. His exceptionalism was wrapped around the success of his team. While many times it finished in October glory, it started in the attitude he brought to spring training, arriving early, establishing the rhythm for his team. From a reporter’s standpoint, he was not the most interesting man to speak to — politely aloof is frequently how hes demeanor is described. He was really careful when discussing his ideas, objecting to questions with any negative connotations. It was about establishing a confident, positive attitude, which permeated his championship teams. Jeter, obviously, needed talent around him, but his leadership was a vital ingredient.
So how do you judge something you can’t see?
If he were on the Baltimore Orioles teams of Cal Ripken Jr. (No. 47 on our list), would the fact that Jeter hit 23 or more homers merely twice, while Ripken averaged 23 per 162 games during his career make it impossible to rate Jeter ahead of the Iron Man?
But what shouldn’t be held against him is all his magical moments, as if they happened by chance or luck in the circumstance of his team’s successes.
Was Derek Jeter — ranked No. 51 in our top 100 — a better ballplayer than fellow shortstops Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks? Possibly not. But for the Yankees captain, it was a number of charming moments of his own — and all about his team.
Yes, he has had more postseason chances — with the expanded playoffs coinciding with his career — than anyone in baseball history, but he took complete advantage of them.
And he did not save his flair all for the postseason. He had the bloody catch against the Red Sox, when he ran full-steam into the stands. His final hit at Yankee Stadium was a walk-off single, a one-hopper through the right side of the infield.
He could be egotistical, at times. He could have stood up for Alex Rodriguez at specific stages in their own tenure as Yankees teammates, but personal animosity was chosen by the captain of the franchise with an exposed and valuable teammate, whom the fans were pummeling.
Despite his reputation that is nearly perfect, Jeter could be outlandish. After finishing an almost $200 million contract, he demanded the same speed, though the quality of his play at the ending of his career had diminished to the point where there was no free agent market for him.
He did not care about personal accomplishments; his stated aim was to match Yankees legend Yogi Berra for most World Series rings. Berra won 10; Jeter made it halfway there.
Jeter’s attitude separated him from many of his peers, but he could also play. If you consider he never used performance-enhancing drugs, as presumed, you could make a real argument because we understand many of his rivals were juicing, he deserved to be a lot higher up this list. That makes what Jeter did on the field that much more striking.
Jeter never won a regular-season MVP, a bat or home run title. He is sixth of all time at 3,465 hits.