Is Derek Jeter overrated? Not a chance in the world

Is Derek Jeter the greatest Yankee of all-time? No. Is Derek Jeter overrated? Heck no. (USATSI)
Is Derek Jeter the greatest Yankee of all-time? No. Is Derek Jeter overrated? Heck no. (USATSI)

Was Derek Jeter's farewell tour overdone? Probably.

Yes, it's fair to say there certainly was no need to commemorate his career with multiple patches, and the tour did seem to drag on a bit, sort of like your average Yankees-Red Sox game.

But was Jeter himself overrated? Not a chance.

Jeter, in reality, was accused so often of being overrated that it got to the point where he actually became underrated by many by the end.

Whether it was because the adulation was seen as out of control, new stats (valid or not) raising issues about his overall contributions, playing for a team some loved to hate or simply because of outright jealousy (he did tend to date a lot of pretty women), Jeter became the one modern star whose value was most hotly debated, and by extension the one most often to suffer knocks -- deserved or not.

It got to the point where folks joked on Twitter about how he'll be awarded some year-end hardware from this season, when at age 40, he wasn't very good. That's just silly. Jeter never received extra, undeserved support from writers. The three times he had a chance to win MVP (1998, 2006 and 2009) and finished third twice and second once, which was about where he deserved to finish.

There never was a hint of favoritism among writers, nor should there have been.

However, some folks from a greater distance will go out of their way to tell us how Jeter wasn't as great as some think, and a classic example came in recent days when esteemed baseball thinker Keith Olbermann, now of ESPN again, went on a classic harangue, telling us Jeter was not the greatest Yankee of all-time.

Well, no kidding.

What apparently gave Olbermann the go-ahead to deny that No. 2 was No. 1 in Yankee lore was an old interview with Jeter's well-known BFF Jorge Posada. The former Yankees catcher was asked on camera where he thought Jeter ranked in Yankee history, and mentioned Jeter's name after some hemming and hawing, and a whole lot of qualifying. What Posada actually said was, "In my words, for me ... he's No. 1."

That, of course, is an answer that should surprise zero people. Beyond that, Posada qualified it, not once but twice, saying "in my words" and "for me," making it clear this was a very personal selection. Which should shock no one. Jeter was the one person close enough to Posada to call him "Sod," to his face.

Posada and Jeter carpooled together for years! You think the Yankees teammate who carpooled with Yogi Berra is ranking him 16th best?

Since no serious historian, writer, non-Yankee fan or even over-50 Yankee fan has ever made the claim Jeter is the greatest Yankee ever, I'd say that probably wasn't worth refuting. OK, so he's not Babe Ruth.

Ahem, we knew that already. And by the way, that is no crime. Neither was Joe DiMaggio.

Olbermann's well-researched harangue relied, of course, on the cherry picking of stats. Among 19 players who have gathered 12,000 plate appearances, Olbermann told us, Jeter ranks fairly low, 12th to 14th, in the other categories that Olbermann hand picked.

Well, at closer glance, some of the others with 12,000 plate appearances are Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb and others of that ilk. And only one of those other 18 also was a shortstop, Cal Ripken. And by the way, it's quite debatable whether Ripken was better than Jeter.

Olbermann pulled out the WAR category to suggest Jeter perhaps wasn't even as great a Yankee as Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, Mike Mussina or Red Ruffing, either. Now that's just plain silly. What that tells you is that the WAR stat is imperfect, not that Jeter is.

"Thurman Munson was a great player. We loved him. If he played another five years he might have been a Hall of Famer. But please don't put him in the same category as Jeter," one longtime scout said. "Thurman couldn't throw. He couldn't do a lot of things. Jeter is running a 4-flat [down the line] at [age] 40. Rickey Henderson wasn't running a 4-flat at 40."

Jeter stacks up a lot better if you use other measures. Jeter's offensive WAR is 95.3. That is superb and ranks him ahead of even Ripken among shortstops.

Jeter's 95.3 mark, in fact, is higher than that of Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Al Kaline, Frank Thomas, Chipper Jones, Mike Schmidt and Jimmie Foxx.

Those are some pretty good hitters. And Jeter compiled his 95.3 total while playing shortstop, the most demanding and important defensive position after catcher.

The problem with Jeter's total WAR number is that his defensive WAR is somehow negative, dragging his overall number down. While WAR has a place, hopefully the numbers guys are still working on it. Even sabremetric experts will admit the defensive metrics are at the very least imprecise. In this case, I'd say they are an out-and-out injustice.

While Jeter's five Gold Glove awards may be the one example of him being over-rewarded (remember, Gold Gloves are voted upon by managers and coaches, not writers), Jeter's lifetime negative WAR ranks somewhere between wrong and extremely hard to believe. Jeter was very good going to his right, coming in and going back and only had an issue going to his left. He had good speed, a very good arm and immaculate instincts. He was also very sure-handed. At a key spot there's almost no one more likely to make the routine play. No real baseball person would claim Jeter was a poor defensive shortstop, as his defensive WAR suggests.

"Jeter is a 5.5 defender with a 6.5 arm," the scout said. A 5.0 is major-league average on the 2-8 scale. So while 5.5/6.5 isn't great, it's better than so-so, and certainly not worthy of a negative WAR.

If only offensive WAR (much more reliable) is used, Jeter is the best shortstop in the live-ball era, better than Ripken and all the rest. Jeter's offensive WAR of 95.3, in fact, gives him a clear lead over Ripken's 77.2.

Olbermann refers to those on the other side of him as "Jeter apologists" but that is unnecessarily pejorative, and frankly inaccurate. He suggests those "apologists" try to use intangibles and claims of leadership to make their case, and on that score, I'd say while Jeter is as tough as they get and cared more about winning over individual stats than any star player I've ever covered, claims of both the value of leadership and his ability to lead are overblown. Jeter never struck me as some extraordinary clubhouse leader. You can say he led by example, but what that really means is that he did things right.

This isn't about "idolatry," as Olbermann would have you believe. As someone who spent years inside that Yankees clubhouse and was around the team, I can tell you Jeter wasn't perfect. This isn't about praying at the altar but rather about productivity. On that score, he is historically great, no matter how Olbermann or others see it.

Jeter gets no extra points for cooperation. But for the record, Jeter is unfailingly professional but no sort of God to writers. Most times, he bored us on purpose.

Like the rest of us, he isn't without flaws. He is unforgiving. If he thinks someone's wronged him, whether it be a long-time friend or casual acquaintance, they are dead to him. He seems, shall we say, a bit conservative with money -- though extremely generous with his Turn 2 charity by all accounts. Still, it's hard to forget the time I saw him and Mariah Carey dining at Hops in Tampa. And when A-Rod was his best friend (a long time ago) and they exchanged Christmas gifts, one year A-Rod gave Jeter a Presidential Rolex watch and Jeter gave A-Rod a cologne set. (OK, maybe that's more about how generous A-Rod is.)

Jeter does have an ego. I believe he couldn't have conceived of moving off shortstop -- though as it turned out, there was no need, as he remained the Yankees' best shortstop option right past his 40th birthday. And apparently he couldn't even conceive of asking to move down in the batting order from the No. 2 spot, even after his slugging percentage dropped to the point where it was the lowest in baseball. That's OK, there isn't a superstar to be found without an ego.

So what? What does that all prove? Only that he's human.

I'm with Olbermann there, throw out all the intangible stuff, strip it down to the contributions and the numbers. But even on the stats, Jeter is still great by any fair measure. For the record, Olbermann concluded Jeter's "nowhere near an immortal."

Of course that's wrong. Judging by the love fest, ol' Keith already has been outvoted.

But even if you put the popularity aside, Jeter isn't just near an immortal, he obviously is one. We all aren't foolish enough to carry on a month-long farewell tour for a non-immortal, of course. But even a look at the numbers will tell you how well Jeter stacks up in the live-ball era (at least the ones I myself cherry picked).

  • Most hits by a shortstop: No. 1.
  • Most runs by a shortstop: No. 1.
  • Most total bases by a shortstop: No. 2. (Ripken beats him.)
  • Best offensive WAR for a shortstop. No. 1.
  • Most World Series wins by a shortstop. No. 2. (Phil Rizzuto beats him.)

The scout had this to say: "The best two Yankees, old and new, are Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter. He had the whole package, winner, solid defense, leader."

That certainly is one way to put it, though as I said I discount the leader claim. At any rate, consider this: Of the 18 offensive categories listed in Wikipedia, Jeter and Ruth, among Yankees, lead eight categories apiece, and Lou Gehrig leads the other two. That speaks for itself.

I'll say this: Jeter easily ranks in the top 10 in Yankees lore. I'd rank it this way:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Lou Gehrig
  3. Mickey Mantle
  4. Joe DiMaggio
  5. Jeter
  6. Mariano Rivera
  7. Yogi Berra
  8. Whitey Ford
  9. Bill Dickey
  10. Don Mattingly

Sorry, Red Ruffing.

Jeter could be a bit higher or lower on this list. But every single player on this list is not a near immortal, but an actual immortal.

Anyone saying otherwise is simply looking for an argument or attention.

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