Skip to content

Derek Jeter: best shortstop in baseball history?

Jun 13, 2011, 8:46 AM EDT

derek jeter and kevin long yankees Reuters

You know what I don’t much care for?  When folks overly-denigrate Derek Jeter. He will be and should be a first ballot hall of famer and stands among the best ever, so it bugs me a bit when people overstate his flaws by way of pointing out that, yes, he does indeed have some flaws.

But I also understand that when most people overly-denigrate Jeter, it’s a reaction to those folks who overly praise him and dismiss his flaws in their entirety. Praise him not unlike Stan McNeal of the Sporting News, in a bit of Jeter fan fiction that has to be read to be believed. The key takeaway: you don’t get to call Derek Jeter critics unfair when you make claims like “Wagner never was regarded as a great defensive player.”

I don’t know that there has ever been a player who was simultaneously overrated and underrated like Derek Jeter is. I guess we’ll have to wait for history to progress a bit more before someone simply and properly rates him.

165 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. ssazz - Jun 13, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    I always love these topics, because it never fails that the “yeah, but Jeter played on the Yankees” argument (if you could even call it that) always gets trotted out. As though all he did was put on their uniform and then watch from the bench while a bunch of other players won games/rings for him.

    I guess he won his rookie of the year award simply because there was an NY on his cap, and it in no way reflects the quality of his first season in the majors. And Jeter has the most hits in the history of inter-league play, I’m sure because NL pitchers, who he wouldn’t normally see, just decided to throw some tomatoes over the plate every time he was up since it said “New York” on his uniform. It couldn’t possibly be because he is one of the best hitters of his generation. No, that couldn’t possibly be it. And yeah, same deal with 3,000, hey he’s just a singles hitter who stuck around long enough to get there, no biggie. (Chipper Jones, who’s played slightly longer than Jeter just decided he didn’t want to hit even close to 3,000. I mean who just wants to hit a bunch of singles? Yeah, that’s totally got to be it…)

    There is absolute truth to the argument that the people in NYC, who’ve watched Derek’s entire career, rate him higher than most other fans across the country. No doubt. And there’s a reason. He didn’t just sit back and watch other players win it for him. YES, it’s a team game, and yes you have to have the starters and bullpen to get anywhere deep in the playoffs, but that in NO WAY discounts the fact that in the post season of 1996 for instance, when the Yankee train really started rolling, he was in the middle of EVERY rally that mattered. People can talk all they want about who was hitting behind him (though O’Neil and Bernie weren’t even 30 HR guys, and there were far more impressive 3,4 hitters in both leagues during that era- though I wouldn’t have traded for any pair of them over those two! :) ) Derek has 20 post season HR’s and almost every one of them impacted the outcome of the game he hit them in (and in the case of first inning HR’s against both the Red Sox and Mets in pivotal post season games changed the momentum back to his team for the series, and for his starting pitcher that night. It goes both ways. Yeah, he played with a lot of great players, and those players also got the benefit from being on a team with him.

    And I wouldn’t say he’s the best SS ever, I’d put him in the top 5 though. The most interesting thing about him in that regard, is that people have been playing the position for a long, long time, but Derek has a signature defensive move as a SS. One I don’t even need to describe because every fan knows what it is (or you could just Omar Vizquel, the first victim in front of a national audience in the playoffs). I mean how many players at any position have shown up in the modern era and put that kind of stamp on a position that’s been played for well more than a century and a half?

    The haters are gonna hate, but watching Derek Jeter play the game night in and night out for all of these years has been one of the great joys of my life as a sports fan. Long live the Captain.

    • nps6724 - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:10 PM

      You could’ve saved yourself some time by just posting this:

      • ssazz - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:59 PM

        link didn’t work —

        but from the tags I see it’s “Homer + Simpson” related. So I’m guessing something about how I’m a “homer”, was that basically it? Are you just a fan of the game then, and don’t follow or root for a specific team? Couldn’t do that myself, so I do confess to be a fan of my hometown team. Yup.

        On a completely unrelated note, I just looked for a clip of my above mentioned Jeter throwing out Vizquel play from the postseason since I haven’t seen it in a long time, but couldn’t find it. I did find this though on my first search, they didn’t even have enough room for that clip.

      • nps6724 - Jun 13, 2011 at 4:20 PM

        re: homer, you got it correct.

        I’m a big Braves fan, but I try to be at least somewhat objective about them.

        There are portions of your post that ring true, but a good chunk of it is regurgitated hyperbole. Apparently every good thing Jeter has ever done resulted in huge success for his team. A HR in the 1st inning? It led to the win. A 2-out single and didn’t score in the 7th? It led to the win. A routine ground ball? It led to the win. A big gulp of Gatorade? It led to the win.

        There is no player in the history of sports more credited for “intangibles” than Derek Jeter. Whether it’s leadership or heart or determination or work ethic, he has them all. And he’s also an intangible hog because he won’t let anyone else have any.

    • dannie0107 - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:31 PM

      If Jeter gets tagged because, yeah, he played on the Yankees, then what about Lou Gehrig. As I recall, in 1929 , Lou played on the Yankees with Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri and Earle Combs.

      • ssazz - Jun 13, 2011 at 5:03 PM

        whoops, meant to reply to nps6724-

        Well, since I never said “every good thing Jeter has ever done resulted in huge success for his team”, or that “a routine ground ball? It led to the win. A big gulp of Gatorade” etc, I’d say you’re doing pretty good in the “regurgitated hyperbole” yourself. And I guess you’re just someone who doesn’t believe in momentum shifts in games, or within series. I do, that’s fine, we disagree. But apparently the folks at MLB network, who included the one HR I mentioned, the one to leading off WS game at Shea in 2000, in their top 5 moments of his career kind of see it my way as well. I suppose that ultimately they must be “homers” too?

        I’m glad you mentioned you’re a Braves fan though, that does explain a lot. :)

      • nps6724 - Jun 13, 2011 at 5:45 PM

        *Ahem*…”Derek has 20 post season HR’s and almost every one of them impacted the outcome of the game he hit them in”. That sounds quite similar to my obviously exaggerated example.

        The few times I’ve watched MLB Network, it was just like ESPN: Yankees and Red Sox, everyone else, more Yankees and Red Sox, some Red Sox, some Yankees, everyone else, more Yankees, more Red Sox.

        I believe in momentum shifts somewhat, but not every big play is one. Jeter’s 1st postseason HR tied the game in the bottom of the 8th in a game that the Yanks won in the 11th. It was a big HR, but it wasn’t a momentum-shifter. Several of Jeter’s HRs were with a 0-0 score or when the game was already out of reach. 11 of his 20 postseason HRs came in games where he had a WPA below 0.1. If he truly did as many momentum-shifting HRs as you state, that wouldn’t be happening.

      • ssazz - Jun 13, 2011 at 6:29 PM

        (still trying to reply to nps6724, but not getting “reply” button)

        Yeah, we just really disagree and view the game differently, that’s all. No biggie. The HR I mentioned as shifting the momentum of the 2000 WS, did, many of the players who played in that series agree, their thoughts and opinions kind of mean more to me on the subject than yours. I did not say “every” HR shifted momentum, that is your ascribed and applied hyperbole, not mine. But considering he’s not even a HR hitter, having just a few less than the postseason record holder Manny Rameriz, is impressive in it’s own right. Plus to me, hitting a HR in 0-0 playoff game has impact, regardless if the score changes from there. If it sounded like I as saying “every” HR was a game winner, then I could’ve worded it better. Point is, he’s hit a handful of very big post season HR’s. Again, this all started refuting the point that other teammates in the uniform were doing all the damage. He did plenty.

      • nps6724 - Jun 13, 2011 at 6:44 PM

        Well I don’t think any sane person is saying Jeter hasn’t earned his 5 rings. Anyone who thinks Jeter coasted to them due to his teammates alone is a fool. But there IS merit in pointing out he was lucky enough to be on a dominant team. Again, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez are superior players to Jeter yet they have one ring apiece. Team accomplishments and individual achievements don’t really have anything to do with each other.

        On that 2000 WS HR, I’d love to know what made anyone think that HR was momentum-shifting. The Yanks were up 2 games to 1 (they lost Game 3) and it was the 1st inning of Game 4. Seems like an odd moment to point at as being a shift in momentum.

      • ssazz - Jun 13, 2011 at 7:09 PM

        Maybe it was just a more New York-centric experience amongst the fans and writers in the city, and amplified as a result. Looking from the outside in after the fact maybe it doesn’t seem so important, but as you just said the Mets were home and won the previous game. They also had a lead going into the 9th inning of game 1, which they blew, and then came back at the end of game 2 to make that another one run game. Then they won game 3. So they were feeling very much in the series up to that point. They were looking to tie it that night and really put the pressure on the Yankees not to choke against the Mets. So that was the dynamic going into game 4, first pitch- Jeter knocks it out of Shea. His teammates, and especially David Cone said that gave them a big lift. Cone had a lead to work with, and it would eventually end a 3-2 game. As all the talk was swirling about how the Yankees better watch out because the Mets were going to give them all they could handle, Jeter left a calling card reminding the Mets that the Yankees were two time defending WS champs and you’d better bring more than what you have so far to take it away from them. He hit another HR to put things away in game 5, and won the WS MVP that year to top it off.

    • vaquero01 - Jun 13, 2011 at 4:57 PM

      One of the top five….but not the top….NOBODY and I mean NOBODY….has been better than the Wizard of OZ..

    • 5thbase - Jun 13, 2011 at 8:47 PM

      The comment about the “signature move” is funny. Manny had a signature move too … it involved falling down, losing track of the ball and jogging after it laughing while the hitter sprinted around the bases. Jeter’s signature move involved making routine plays look really special, but it was good cover for his less than amazing arm. Adding the high degree of difficulty (rather than planting and making a stronger throw as truly elite defensive shortstops do) clearly gained him higher marks than the good but not amazing shortstops like Stephen Drew who just make the plays look regular and boring. There is a reason the great shortstops don’t jump up in the air and throw and it’s not because they can’t.

      At the same time, he’s been one of the great players to play the position because he’s done so much offensively and in such a timely manner. Had he played in the dead ball era it would probably be different, but each player can only respond and be measured in the actual environment in which they play. I don’t think he was “the best” because of his limited defensive abilities (he did have one really great defensive year, but one year doesn’t make a great defensive career) which were ironically made worse by his propensity to show of “his signature move.”

      • ssazz - Jun 14, 2011 at 8:27 PM

        So we agree he had a signature move, ok (not sure what Manny falling down has to do with it though) Saying he had such a move wasn’t an argument that he was the best defensive shortstop in the game, just that he had such a move. Which he does.

        I’m just not sure why this would be considered an example of having a weak arm though?

    • purnellmeagrejr - Jun 15, 2011 at 9:57 AM

      Best shortstop in history? He’s not only that – he’s the best athlete in History – and if you’ve ever seen his Edge ads – it’s obvious he’s also the greatest actor in History. And when he retires after breaking Cobb’s hit record and Ruth’s Yankee home run record I expect he’ll be elected President of the US and then of the world and when he dies he’ll be taken to heaven in a golden chariot.

      • cerathjen1234 - Jun 15, 2011 at 9:29 PM

        Yep great sarcasm. However how can you not like this guy? Offensively he is a great hitter. People question his defense, but when was the last time a shortstop threw out a guy from home after the outfielder threw an errant ball (talking about the time he threw out Jason Giambi)? Derek Jeter is a heads up ballplayer with lots of hustle. The man plays hard and he plays well. Can’t understand why anyone would undermine such a player.

    • mltabarez - Aug 20, 2012 at 8:40 PM

      Yes, I’m a native New Yorker. Yes, I’m a diehard Yankee fan. I do believe Derek Jeter is the best shortstop in history. I’m so tired of people denigrating him and saying his career is over. No one ever mentions PEDs and Derek Jeter in the same sentence. No one ever mentions the combination of all of talents — the Jeterian swing and throw while in mid-air, his hits record, his timeliness — I’d rather have him come to bat in a crunch situation than any other hitter, home run king or otherwise — his character, his durability, his leadership as the Captain, his team effort, his performance in a city where the press is on you all the time, etc. There may have been a shortstop who hit more home runs, or stole more bases, or whatever, but when you put it all together and look at the total package, in my book #2 is #1!

  2. spudchukar - Jun 13, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Overlooking Ernie Banks is egregious. Also Luis Aparicio deserves some attention too, but having said that, there really is only one choice-Jeff Blauser.

    • ta192 - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:07 PM

      You talking about Jeff “See-through” Blauser…

      • nps6724 - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        Prince: “Game, Blausers.”

  3. explodet - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    I particularly like the “off-the-charts intangibles” line from the articles. As if there could be any other type of intangible.

  4. ta192 - Jun 13, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    Well, if nothing else, names like Bill Dahlen, George Davis, and Lou Boudreau have be run past the noses of the masses by this discussion. Maybe a few people will research them and develop an appreciation…
    On the subject of Jeter’s worth; noone dominated the game and the position like Wagner, and if A-Rod hadn’t (graciously) stepped aside in favor of a aging fan favorite, there’d be little or no doubt about his bona fides, but, Jeter’s great and he might well be the greatest ever at his position…third best in my book, but I’ve been wrong before…

  5. mortymcfearson - Jun 13, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    Derek Jeter isn’t even the best shortstop on the Yankees today.

    • iluvarod007 - Jun 13, 2011 at 5:41 PM

      if AROD played short stop he would be wayyy better, everyone knows that.. AROD IS the best

  6. lswingly - Jun 13, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    Here’s the problem with Jeter from my POV. Baseball above all other sports is rooted in statistics. Because of this even if you’re a world class jerk like Ty Cobb or one of the all time great people like Eddie Murray. It doesn’t tend to matter when it comes down to how great the player is percieved at the end of the day. That is one of the better things about baseball.

    Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single player that gets more milage out of his non-statistical accomplishments than Jeter. I see tons of people complaining about Jeter critics using the “he was on the Yankees” argument. But do you know why people keep bringing that up? Because Jeter fans keep harping on the “he’s a winner”, “he’s clutch”, “he’s “. If you don’t want the fact that he was on the Yankees to be a factor in the debate, then you can’t bring up the fact that he was a winner. Him being on the Yankees had more to do with him getting 6 rings than the Yankees having Derek Jeter had to do with the Yankees getting 6 rings. That’s just a fact. There are far more moving parts in baseball than any other sport and no matter how good one player is, the quality of the overall team is what leads to championships. Or maybe you’re telling me that King Felix actually wasn’t a deserving Cy Young winner last year.

    So yes Jeter contributed a ton to the Yankee’s championships but that doesn’t mean he didn’t benefit greatly by being on the Yankees. Like it or don’t. That’s the way Baseball’s economic structure is set up. And while just having a large payroll doesn’t guarantee a championship, as the Mets prove year after year. It does give a huge advantage when you can pay Jason Giambi an obscene amount of money to show up post roids as Jeremy Giambi and just move on to the next superstar. That contract would have crippled 75% of the other franchises in baseball, but NY doesn’t skip a beat because they can absorb the loss. And that is the biggest factor in their number of championships in the modern era.

    Moreover, yes Jeter will hit the magic # of 3000 after 17 years. Good for him. He’s a HOF lock. But 1st ballot? I beg to differ. Now he’ll no doubt get in on the first ballot due to the current media climate where off the field plays way too big a part. But he wouldn’t get in on mine. For this one reason.

    He was never at any point the best SS in the league over an entire season. Not once. He hasn’t been better than Hanley Ramirez, and before Hanley rose to prominance he wasn’t better than Miguel Tejada. And before that he certainly wasn’t better than ARod. How are you a first ballot HOFer when you never have been the best amount your contemporaries. It’s the Reggies Miller syndrome. Longevity, pluse some dramatic post-season moments that everyone remembers and people end up exagerrating the total package as a result.

    Derek Jeter is great, but longevity doesn’t count for that much. I don’t see anyone calling Wade Boggs a first ballot HOFer because he barely legged out that magic 3000 hit number and he had 5 batting titles.

    • rexryanisablowhard - Jun 14, 2011 at 4:18 PM

      Jeter has averaged 206 hits per 162 games played for his career, not like he hasn’t produced throughout. Wade Boggs took time because so many players who overlapped his career were that much better…Ripken, Brett, Schmidt, Gwynn, Sandberg, Puckett, Molitor, Yount, Smith, etc. Plus he took some heat from the voters after saing he would wear a Rays cap on his plaque.

  7. rexryanisablowhard - Jun 13, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Who cares if he’s the best SS of all-time or not, comparing him to players that played 80 or 60 or even 40 years ago is a useless comparison…different game, different time. He’s been the face of baseball for the last last 15 years and plays the game as you should, representing everything that is great about the game of baseball. When is the last time you heard a bad word spoken about him as a player or person? He wins championships and has been a clutch player for one of the best teams in the top market, and conducts himself with class and diginity on and off the field. So the uber stat-heads say he isn’t a great fielder, okay, good for you, get a life. I’ve watched a very large percentage of games during his career and know he has won far more games for the Yankees than he’s lost, and anyone one of you would have gladly taken him on your respective teams. Don’t be a hater because you hate the Yankees, there is far more to the game than stat analysis. First ballot HOF without a doubt.

    • sasquash20 - Jun 14, 2011 at 12:52 AM

      How is it a different game? Different time sure but the game is for the most part the same. Yeah its more watered down, but baseball is probably the one sport that has remained almost the same. I do agree Jeter is HOFer first ballot. Not the best ever but pretty close.

      • rexryanisablowhard - Jun 14, 2011 at 3:15 PM

        How is the game different? Let’s see…intregration, ballparks, PEDs, turf, 32 teams, night games, length of season, travel, wild cards, relief specialists, training, medical inovations, juiced balls, 5-man rotations, designated hitters, etc, etc

  8. raysfan1 - Jun 14, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    As usual, I get here late–that’s the problem with having firewalls at work.
    One of the early posters on this thread questioned how Yankees fans would feel about Jeter if he had been a Red Sox his whole career. My thought is he probably would have been the recipient of the highest complement possible under the circumstance: “I effin’ hate that guy!”
    Another speculated he be far less well thought of if the Astros had drafted him. Pure speculation. He would certainly be less famous due to not being on the most visible franchise in all MLB, and he wouldn’t have 5 WS rings. However, guess what? He definitely WOULD have made the Astros better–maybe even enough to have won that WS they got swept out of, and maybe at least in another. My speculation is as valid as yours.
    Some are acting like he’s a career defensive liability. That’s nonsense. Nobody’s arguing he’s the best defensive shortstop ever, but he’s also not been any sort of liability most of his career either.
    His offensive prowess is inarguable. He is the most famous player on the most famous team in all of American sports. He is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer. The posters above stating otherwise either have an extremely narrow view of who should be in/don’t understand the Fame part of Hall of Fame/or just blinded by anti-Yankeeism. I know I’d have loved to have him on the Rays over his career–other than the contracts that the Rays couldn’t possibly afford of course.
    “Best” shortstop ever though? No. I agree that A-Rod is probably better. Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughn definitely. Probably Ripken, Banks, and Larkin too. Aparicio, Ozzie Smith, Vizquel were/are better fielders but less valuable at the plate. Take according to taste.
    Lots of love for A-Rod in this thread. Remember that next time his HoF potential is discussed. Intellectual consistancy requires supporting his candidacy if touting him as one of the best SS’s of all time (and some saying THE best).

    • ssazz - Jun 14, 2011 at 12:37 PM

      As far as Jeter being drafted by a team other than the Yankees, I’ve always felt when the argument was presented that he would’ve then been a Paul Molitor, a George Brett, or a Robin Yount type. Baseball fans all would’ve known who he was as one of the best hitters and players in the game, just like they all knew who those guys were even though none played in New York. No, wouldn’t have been as famous, but it’s not his fault he was a number 1 draft pick of the NY Yankees.

      As for playing elsewhere outside of NYC and having maybe even a better chance to show his value and import to a team, as opposed to the opposite conventional wisdom that he would appear less of a player, I always felt that if Jeter was an Atlanta Brave his whole career, they definitely win more than the one ring they did.

    • rexryanisablowhard - Jun 14, 2011 at 3:21 PM

      The debate has nothing to do with the uniform and everything to do with what has been accomplished on the field. If Jeter had played for the Sox or the Cubs or the Dodgers or whatever team, and all the accomplishments were the same, we’d be having the same discussion and there would still be people blinded by their hate of the team.

  9. lswingly - Jun 14, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    [i]The posters above stating otherwise either have an extremely narrow view of who should be in/don’t understand the Fame part of Hall of Fame/or just blinded by anti-Yankeeism[/i]

    It has nothing to do with who should be in and who shouldn’t. He has done enough to merit inclusion but there are only 37 players in baseball history who have made the HOF on the first ballot. I have a fundamental problem with putting a guy who has never been the best in baseball at his position and often times wasn’t even the best position player on his own team in that stratosphere.

    Like I said he’ll probably get in because the media/voters are in love with him but there are very valid reasons to question his first ballot status and it has nothing to do with hating the Yankees or understanding the Hall of Fame. Joe Dimaggio didn’t even get in on the first ballot. Derek Jeter is no Joe Dimaggio.

    • raysfan1 - Jun 14, 2011 at 6:30 PM

      I hear where you’re coming from, Iswingly.

      Let me try to address:
      1) I wasn’t putting you in the the “blinded by anti-Yankeeism” camp. There were earlier posters who were basically bashing his whole career based on the last two years, which is patently ridiculous. They are who I meant.
      2) There are some who seem to think Cooperstown, NY is home to the “Hall of Absolute Best Stats.” Your posts clearly indicate you are at least aware that subjectivity is part of the criteriae voters use, although perhaps not liking it.
      3) You were indeed one of the ones I was picturing when I said “extremely narrow view of who should be in” the HoF. I do not really mean that as an insult, so long as you are an intellectually consistant “small Hall” guy. I think you and I actually judge Jeter’s skills/talents similarly, but I’m not a “small Hall” guy and thus see him making it over the bar with more ease than you.
      4) My view of HoF voting–I’ve always felt that (if I were enfranchised with the HoF vote) a player is a Hall of Famer or not. There is no special wing of the Hall for 1st ballot entrants, so if I felt somebody ultimately belonged in when their eligiblity rolled around, I’d vote for him immediately. I would not be constrained from voting for Jeter his 1st time on the ballot just because a plurality of voters were complete morons the first time Dimaggio was eligible and thus failed to vote him in. Likewise, some player like Jim Rice getting in would not make me feel like I had to vote for all other players with simlar stat profiles. To me, the only reason for 15 years of eligibility is to allow more historical perspective of borderline cases–thus, I’d reserve the right to change my mind about a player’s candidacy.
      5) It’s not just the media/voters that are in love with Jeter–witness some of the over-the-top praise he’s gotten from many of the posters on this thread.

  10. rexryanisablowhard - Jun 14, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    You fellas throw Honus Wagner out there like you’ve seen him play. No doubt the man was great player in his time…he retired 95 years ago! The stats from that era are so whacked out, probably more so than the steroid era. For example…except for Ted Williams (’41), the top 36 players who have posted the highest single season batting averages, all over .394, played in the 50 year period from 1876-1925 when Honus Wagner played. In fact, except for Gwynn (’94), Brett (’80) and Carew (’77), the top 125 names all pre-date Williams historic feat. Were they all that much better hitters a 100 years ago, not likely. Trying to rank a Ripken, Jeter and Smith against players of long ago is fun, but meaningless.

    • raysfan1 - Jun 14, 2011 at 6:07 PM

      Yes, I am the 2,000-year-old man. I look like Mr Magoo and have seen everything, including Honus Wagner. He was clearly the best.

  11. scobarblog - Jun 3, 2012 at 2:14 AM

    My take on this debate:

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. H. Ramirez (2464)
  2. G. Stanton (2430)
  3. G. Springer (2414)
  4. S. Strasburg (2344)
  5. C. Correa (2340)
  1. J. Baez (2333)
  2. B. Crawford (2253)
  3. H. Pence (2243)
  4. M. Teixeira (2167)
  5. B. Harper (2009)