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How Not to Canonize Jeter

Last week here, you read excerpts from a couple of the countless accolades (and a wee bit of snark) about Derek Jeter, who announced that 2014 will be his last season in the bigs as a player.

So must we now be subjected to Salon’s Allen Barra, who constructs his straw man in an article subtly entitled “Shut up, stats nerds and haters: You’re wrong about Derek Jeter,” as if the analytic community believes that Jeter is undeserving of entry into Cooperstown? (Hint: It doesn’t.)

If one had to synthesize most of the recent Jeter coverage under one headline, it would be: Is Derek Jeter a True Hall of Famer or Is He Overrated?

Another writer, Dan Pietrafesa of the Poughkeepsie Journal, pleads with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to allow Jeter and Mariano Rivera, both certain first-ballot Hall of Famers, to enter Cooperstown in the same year, 2019, even though Mo retired one year earlier than Jetes:

This is a plea to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to bend the rules. It’s been done before, so do it again.

Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera deserve to be inducted together into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

It’s the right thing to do. Jeter and Rivera came up through the New York Yankees organization together, won five World Series titles together with class on and off the field, and belong together on the stage in Cooperstown delivering their induction speeches on the same July day in 2019.

Yes, this will require bending the rules because a player must be out of the game for five years before being on the Hall of Fame ballot. Jeter and Rivera are deservedly both first-ballot Hall of Famers, but are slated to enter the hall one year apart if chosen on their respective first ballot.

Never mind too that the Hall and local businesses, which have suffered from a lack of star power at recent induction ceremonies, could really use a second August inundated with tens of thousands of free-spending Yankee fans?

And of course, if the two Yankee greats felt so strongly about the issue, instead of pestering the BBWAA, Rivera could come out of retirement this April to pitch to one big-league batter, thereby pushing back his Cooperstown eligibility to (drum roll, please) 2020!

In a breathlessly written love letter more than 1,700 words long, the usually sane Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated willingly ignores the shortstop’s defensive liabilities and heaps lavish praise on the intangibles:

It is true enough; such was Jeter’s natural savoir faire in and out of spikes that he is the rare person whom men, women and children all wanted to follow. But the greatness of his ability actually became underrated because of the attention given his intangibles — the way a casual fan praised them and the way a sabermetrician dismissed them. . . .

None of them match Jeter when it comes to the totality of the career at shortstop: the numbers, the longevity and the championships. Only Wagner has more hits, only Rodriguez has more runs, and, assuming Jeter plays at least 40 games there this year, only Omar Vizquel will have played more games at the position. Now when you add on the intangibles, Jeter becomes even more of the once-a-century shortstop. At the root of those intangibles are his parents, Dot and Charles. When you are around Jeter enough you cannot help but be impressed with how he was raised. In manner and strength, his reliability is extraordinary.

As Brian Kenny of MLB Network has pointed out on numerous occasions, why waste time focusing on intangibles, impossible to quantify by definition, when there’s so much good to say about his value as one of the all-time great-hitting shortstops?

But nothing says chutzpah like these three sentences from Richard Justice of MLB.com:

Jeter’s place in Yankees history will be debated and discussed forever. Was he greater than DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle? Does Jeter deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the Babe or Yogi?

That we’re even having this conversation tells you what Derek Jeter has meant to baseball, how much he has given and how he’ll be remembered. . . .

Dude, you’re the one who brought it up. Enjoy your gift basket and leave the rest of us alone, okay?

More here, here, here, and here.

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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