Greatness of Jeter yet to be fully appreciated
Yankees shortstop's work ethic and excellence to endure
All of a sudden, the talk about the greatness of Derek Jeter has intensified, and this is misguided.
He's actually greater than that.
It's a bunch of little-big things with Jeter. Unlike New York Yankees teammate Alex Rodriguez, for instance, Jeter isn't spectacular at fielding, throwing, hitting, slugging or just existing away from the ballpark, but he is good at everything.
Maybe you've heard that Jeter is particularly efficient at prospering at the plate and on the field during tense situations, especially when Halloween is approaching.
Jeter also never disrespects the game or anybody else. In fact, nobody is more professional in any Major League clubhouse than this guy, and it doesn't matter whether it is after a victory or a defeat for the Yankees, or following a wonderful game or a wretched one on a personal basis. He is always at his locker for the large contingent of New York media to flow his way. Then, before making sure that everybody is in position for the latest Jeter session, he always gives direct eye contact to every questioner while delivering his answers with even tones.
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The man is peerless. He really is.
I mean, despite the prying eyes of outsiders experienced by all power athletes, Jeter has remained unscathed. This is some trick, especially since he is a 37-year-old bachelor who has dated the likes of Mariah Carey, Lara Dutta (Miss Universe 2000) and actress Jessica Alba.
Just last week, Jeter ended a three-year relationship with another actress, Minka Kelly, but after the New York tabloids did their thing for a day or two, Jeter's reputation never changed.
It also helped that Jeter continued his late-summer surge at the plate to keep the Yankees in position to conquer the hated Red Sox.
I'll put it this way: One of these centuries, when Jeter retires, historians will sift through his career, shake their heads and wonder why folks during his generation didn't realize that he was operating on a level beyond nearly everyone else around him.
Not only that, those same historians will marvel how Jeter did his splendid thing on a consistent basis, with many folks noticing, but not with as many as you would expect -- you know, given everything involved with this baseball player for the ages.
Think about this: Jeter spent last weekend passing Mickey Mantle -- yes, the Mick -- for most games played with the Yankees. That means Jeter has worn the pinstripes more often than Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Don Mattingly. That means a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium is in Jeter's future -- either before or after he joins the rest of those pinstriped folks in Cooperstown.
That means Jeter is equal parts Captain Clutch, Mr. November and the Ultimate Yankee.
So this is interesting. More specifically, this is so Jeter: He prefers to shrug off the significance of achieving this record of longevity with the Yankees, and he is sincere about it.
"I don't think people get called up and look at, 'Let me see who has the games played record for the organization.' So this one was something I never looked at," said Jeter to reporters last Sunday in Baltimore, where he played in his record-setting 2,402nd Yankees game during the first game of a doubleheader.
"No one ever talked about [the lead-up to the record] ... I take pride in coming and doing my job. I think that's probably the best way to put it. My job is obviously to come and play games, try to stay on the field and try to stay healthy.
"I've done it for a long time, I guess."
Yes, Jeter has, even though he suffered a bit after fouling a pitch off of his right knee on Sunday. The knee swelled, but X-rays showed that nothing was broken. As a result, he was listed as day-to-day, which, for Jeter, meant that he was more second-by-second. Let's just say he still is in the Yankees' lineup, just like always. During 12 of his previous 15 full seasons in the Major Leagues, he has spent the year playing at least 150 of the Yankees' 162 scheduled games.
There was even last year, when Jeter played in 157 games despite what was considered as a brutal season by his standards. Despite owning a career batting average over .300, he hit .270 in 2010. He had the worst on-base percentage (.340) of his career. He never was a power hitter, but his 10 home runs were his lowest total in that category in seven years.
Then, when Jeter had an ugly start to this season -- featuring more weak grounders than anybody for much of the spring and early summer, combined with a calf injury in June -- you could hear the doomsayers whispering in the shadow of the Bronx.
Those doomsayers were suggesting: Instead of using that recording of Bob Sheppard to introduce Jeter before his at-bats at Yankee Stadium, why not have a bugler play "Taps" to signal the end to his career?
Now the "Hallelujah Chorus" would be more appropriate for one of the hottest hitters in baseball. During August, Jeter's .398 batting average ranked second highest in the Major Leagues. Just like that, he is flirting with hitting over .300 again.
Consider, too, that Jeter's batting average was .219 on April 20, and despite a frantic climb upward, he still was hitting just .260 when he left the Yankees' lineup with his calf issues.
Jeter returned from the disabled list on July 4, and that was Independence Day for the country and for Jeter. Five days later, he became the 28th player in baseball history to reach 3,000 career hits. But that was only part of the story. The rest is that he did so at Yankee Stadium, and the historic hit was a home run.
It was just another clutch moment for Jeter, owner of 12 All-Star Game appearances and five World Series rings. It also was just another time for folks to take the guy for granted.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TMooreSports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.