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Deep Thoughts: Derek Jeter's predecessors

Mar 16, 2010, 10:27 AM EST

Mike Vaccaro has a column today about how the presence of Derek Jeter and his presumptive multi-year deal likely contributed to the Yankees missing out on Cuban free agent Adeiny Hechevarria, who seems to have signed with the Blue Jays. Vaccaro is realistic about it — it’s not like you let 19 year-old prospects dictate what you do with your still-elite Hall of Fame shortstop — it’s just one of them things, ya know?

The column did make me think, however, about the position for the Bombers. Specifically, I tried to think of who, exactly, was manning shortstop before Jeter took over full time in 1996. I recalled Tony Fernandez had the position in 1995, but before that it was a total blank.  I held out as long as a I could before consulting Baseball-Reference.com, but ultimately I couldn’t get past Fernandez.

Anyway, just for “oh wow” sake, here is the list of the guys who manned shortstop for the Yankees between the Bucky Dent and Derek Jeter eras, in reverse chronological order: Fernandez, Mike Gallego, Spike Owen, Andy Stankiewicz, Alvaro Espinoza — who actually held the job for three years! — Rafael Santana, Wayne Tolleson, Bob Meacham, Roy Smalley and then back to Dent.

There are new prospects every year. Anchors at shortstop are pretty damn rare.

  1. ditmars1929 - Mar 16, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Nice post, Craig. I’m a lifelong Yankee fan, and I would have had a hard time coming up with those SS names without a little cheating. Most of them are largely forgotten by the fans. In my case, having to watch the Yankees suck from 1982 to 1994, I purposely tried to burn them out of my memory.
    I can tell you, looking back, that Fernandez was somewhat popular, Stanky was a real favorite although he was pretty much a flash in the pan, and everybody loved Espinoza until he had a bat in his hands. I believe Espinoza is (or recently was) a coach in the Yankee farm system.
    Jeter’s run as a SS anchor is most impressive.

  2. Phil - Mar 16, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Anchors at shortstop are pretty damn rare.
    Dave Concepcion took over at short for the Reds in 1970. He stayed there as the regular SS through 1985. In ’86, the Reds rotated a couple of youngsters – Kurt Stillwell and Barry Larkin – through the position. In the off-season the FO made the right choice (for once) and sent Stillwell to KC. Larkin was the Reds’ regular SS from 1987 though 2004. granted the end of both the Concepcion era and the Larkin era wasn’t all that lovely. (It’s likely the end of the Jeter era at short will have a similar caste.) Still, 2 guys at short – one HoF caliber and the other in the Hall of Very Good – for 34 out of 35 seasons is fairly remarkable.

  3. Beanster - Mar 16, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    Ah, the great 80’s Yankee teams with the likes of Roy Smalley and… Steve Kemp in left! After living through a full season of Rafael Santana and his .583 OPS, one cannot overstate what the Captain has meant.

  4. George Steinbrenner - Mar 16, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    All my people kept telling me Ken Phelps! Ken Phelps!

  5. YANKEES1996 - Mar 16, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    All you really have to do to know what Jeter has meant to the Yankees is mention the other names that thinking about him bring to mind, names like Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr, Davey Concepcion and many others. These guys were not and are not the rule they are the exception and guys like them only come around ever so often. Derek Jeter will retire the “Greatest Yankee of All Time”, thanks to Cap’n for all his clutch hits, clutch plays and classy leadership!

  6. Bob R. - Mar 16, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    Well, with Babe Ruth in the running, and Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra and Mantle in the story, designating Jeter the greatest Yankee of all time is a bit silly.
    He is a legitimate HOFer and probably among the top 10 shortstops all-time, although that is a debatable statement, but it is beyond hyperbole to call him the greatest Yankee all time.
    In fact, before their careers are over, I think A-Rod will probably be in front of Jeter if he isn’t already.

  7. YANKEES1996 - Mar 16, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Bob R. no disrespect intended here, but your cheese has slipped off its cracker my friend. Babe Ruth and A-Rod can both be dropped from the list as neither were home grown players. Jeter passed Gehrig last year in case you missed it and DiMaggio was never the type of player or leader that Jeter is. The only person you selected in your argument that is even close is Berra and in an interview a couple of years ago even Yogi admitted that Jeter was going to be the greatest Yankee of all time when his career is done. So I believe that I will side with Yogi and second his nomination of Jeter for the title of “Greatest Yankee of All Time”!

  8. Bob R. - Mar 16, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    If you want to include only lifetime Yankees, you can exclude Ruth, but I think it fair to say that when most people think of Ruth they think Yankees.
    As for passing Gehrig, I assume you mean in hits, hardly a significant category when evaluating players. While you may give Jeter extra credit for playing SS, albeit often not very well, he is not in the same league with Gehrig offensively.
    As for DiMaggio, I think there is a lot of mythology around his career, and given the brevity of it I suppose you might give Jeter the nod, but to say he was not the type of player or leader that Jeter is makes little sense. While I do think that claims about leadership are often exaggerated, DiMaggio is the poster boy for such claims, so as traits that are not easily susceptible to statistical analysis, we have to accept the leadership qualities of DiMaggio as at least equal to Derek’s. And like Gehrig, his offense is miles better than Jeter’s and his defense in CF was probably a plus for him as well.
    Given that Mantle was probably a better player even than DiMaggio, he also trumps any claims that Jeter might have as the greatest Yankee.
    I yield to nobody in my admiration for Jeter; he has been a terrific player. But hyperbole and fanboy enthusiasm cannot make a case that he is the greatest Yankee ever unless one is blind to history. Even if you want to claim that except for Mantle all other contenders for that title played in segregated baseball and are therefore less worthy, the gap between their career performance and Jeter’s is too great to support his candidacy.

  9. Big Harold - Mar 16, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    Bantering over whether Jeter is better than Mantle, DiMaggio or Gehrig or whether Ruth gets into the mix because his early career was in Boston is sort of like winning the lottery and arguing over whether you want to paid off in 50s or 100s. Interesting AND lively but in the end a nice predicament to find yourself in.
    Seeing the list of guys that preceded Jeter brings back memories, .. and most not good. I now have a bit more empathy for the Red Sox. Their SS slot has been pretty much a black hole since Nomar’s heyday. Nah, .. who am I kidding? I’m glad they’ve had one terrible SS after another. I think Suturo will prove himself the latest in a long line of real poor choices. One can only hope!
    Nevertheless, Jeter is a once in a generation type player. Excellent ability, leadership and character. And, unless something REALLY unseemly happens in the next year a life long Yankee. Enjoy it Yankee fans because some of us my not live long enough to see his likes again.

  10. Heidi - Apr 4, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    You forgot golden glover Mike Gallego? Mike Gallego was instrumental in the rebuilding of the Yankees and a team motivator.

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