By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – For some reason it’s become fashionable to rip Derek Jeter on his way out.
And I have no idea why.
In a time when professional athletes seem to be known more for beating their wives, driving under the influence of something, taking performance-enhancing drugs, or just being complete zeros as human beings, why is it so hard to just appreciate an athlete like Derek Jeter?
Now granted the outpouring of affection for Jeter has far outweighed the negative stuff, as evident by all the going-away presents and standing ovations he has received in opposing ballparks.
But still, there have been articles this week criticizing the hullabaloo surrounding his retirement and ESPN loudmouth Keith Olbermann took a flamethrower to his legacy on Tuesday.
Let’s get this straight. Jeter is not the best player in the game, nor has he ever been at any time over his magnificent 20-year career that will sadly come to an end on Sunday in Boston.
But he’s pretty freaking good and he very well may have had the best career any shortstop in the history of baseball has ever had. And no matter what you think of him, he has been the face of the baseball since he won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996.
Plus, he is one heck of a role model.
Parents don’t have to be ashamed to buy their kids a Derek Jeter jersey. My kids have Jeter jerseys. Now They also have Geno Smith jerseys, but, hey, I never said I was the best parent.
Regardless, I’ve never had to explain to my kids why Jeter was arrested, or what happened in an elevator. Fathers want their kids to be Derek Jeter and players like that seem to be dwindling by the day.
And that is why Jeter is so beloved.
If he had played for the Texas Rangers his whole career would he get this much attention? No, of course not. He’s the captain of the New York Yankees. Are we all of a sudden surprised that the Yankees get some attention?
Jeter’s accomplishments, though, kind of speak for themselves. Five players in the history of the game have had more hits than Jeter.
People love to say that the Yankees could have won those five titles with any shortstop, but I kind of remember Jeter contributing a bit in October, and oh yeah, November too.
The most remarkable thing about Jeter, though, may be the fact that when he takes the field at Yankee Stadium for the final time on Thursday it will be the first time in his 20 year career that a home game for him will have no meaning.
Now, as Jeter will be the first to tell you, that’s probably more of a testament to the teams he has played for, but still that is kind of incredible.
When you hear his name, you think of his countless clutch plays, whether it’s the Jeffrey Maier home run, the flip in Oakland, the dive into the stands against Boston, or, of course, his Mr. November home run in the 2001 World Series.
Me, I like to think of all the women he’s been linked to. That’s just me, though.
People who criticize Jeter like to point out that he is not even a top-10 Yankee of all-time. Like that is some sort of slight when you are dealing with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
At the very least Jeter is probably at the table, and that’s not so bad.
Jeter may not be Babe Ruth, but he is perhaps the most beloved New York athlete since the Jets’ Joe Namath, and probably the most cherished Yankee since Mantle.
Jeter may have never won a batting title, or an MVP award, but he has personified class every step of the way.
So sit back and enjoy these last few days of Jeter because sadly we’ve been reminded all too well the past few weeks that professional athletes like him don’t come around that often.