February 14, 2014

Derek Jeter: O Captain, My Captain

By - Keith Smith

The man that some people consider to be the greatest Yankee ever, Derek Jeter, announced Wednesday that the 2014 baseball season will be his last.

Photo by: John Munson
Before I delve into where he ranks among both the all-time great Yankees and shortstops, let me say that I'm not a Yankee fan. Quite the opposite, actually. I've never cared for the team from the Bronx. So nothing I say here can be attributed to any type of bias tied to being a homer.

I will simply say, of all the players that I've had the pleasure of watching over my 52 years of life, Jeter ranks near the top in terms of people I would want to start a team with and build around.

His passion for the game shines through in everything he does. He's the kind of player that every child aspires to be when they are tossing a ball around the back yard with their dad. He's also the kind of player every father envisions his kid becoming in that same instance.

During a time in baseball history marred by the ugliness of steroids, Derek Jeter has remained the class of the league, staying above the fray and accusations. He has been solid in every phase of a sport where, nowadays, if you excel at more than two of those phases, people start talking Hall of Fame.

But in Jeter's case, there will be no reason to push people for votes. He will be a first-ballot guy, and my guess is six years from now he will receive one of the highest vote totals that the game has ever seen.

Jeter has played his entire career in New York, something we continue to see less and less of every generation. Playing on the most storied franchise in major league history, Jeter owns many of the team's all-time records.

The Captain is first in games played (2,602), hits (3,316), at-bats (10,614), plate appearances (11,968), singles (2,470), and stolen bases (348). He's also second in doubles (9 away from first, almost a certainty), third in runs (could end up first), fifth in walks (will finish fourth), sixth in runs batted in, seventh in batting average (could finish as high as fifth), and ninth in home runs.

As a matter of fact, in looking at all the Yankee career batting records, only three names appear at the top of practically every category; Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Derek Jeter. That's extremely rare company on what is universally recognized as the most successful franchise in any major sport.

Then there are the memorable plays in Jeter's storied career. There's the phantom relay that wasn't even his to make in the 2001 ALDS to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate, saving a 1-0 victory as the Yanks faced elimination. They went on to win the series in 5 games. Then there was the dive into the stands in a game against the Red Sox where he came out battered and bloodied, but helped New York go on to a 13-inning win. And of course, he is still the only player ever to win both the All-Star and World Series MVP in the same season (2000).

His playoff and World Series performances are also legendary.

So where does he rank on the all-time Yankee list? I have him third, behind Ruth and Gehrig. I know, I know. There are still guys like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra, among others. I believe Jeter is ahead (slightly) of all of those guys, though.

What about as far as all-time shortstops go? Again, I have him third, behind Honus Wagner and Ernie Banks, and slightly ahead of guys like Cal Ripken, Jr., Robin Yount and Ozzie Smith.

Cooperstown awaits in six short years, as he will surely be a first-ballot inductee. All that's left is his swan song this year, much like Mariano Rivera's last season, and the five-year mandatory waiting period.

Then, much like in Walt Whitman's poem, the Yankees and their fans will be able to say:
"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won"


  1. We will never see another Derek Jeter. He defines greatness both on and off the field. I really enjoyed tis piece, Keith.

  2. They don't make them like Jeter anymore. He'll be missed. Hope he can stay healthy all season and go out on a high note.