The magical carpet ride known as Derek Jeter‘s career has spawned much debate in the past 18 years. The same questions seem to provide fodder for countless hours of sports radio debate. What if he played in a small market? What is he had been drafted by a bad team? What if the steroid era had not occurred coinciding with his career? Lets address those three topics.
Let’s place Jeter in Pittsburgh for argument purposes. A market which had just lost its two biggest stars, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. Would Jeter have brought a winning mentality back to Pittsburgh and drawn other free agent stars despite a limited payroll to play there? Common sense says no. The economics of baseball at the time would have prevented Pittsburgh from surrounding Jeter with the talent necessary to make him the transcendent star he became, and lets face it, those lights in Pittsburgh don’t quite glimmer like they do in the Bronx. Jeter would have been a Michael Young-type player in this environment, still amassing 200 hit seasons, but blending in baseball’s landscape as one of those”nice” players every team could use. Not the megastar he became.
Large Market – Bad Team
This is the most compelling argument of the three. Lets place Jeter in Detroit. Would he have sped up the rebuilding process in the pre-Ivan Rodriguez era? I answer that with a resounding yes. If surrounded by stars that can be brought in and kept financially, Jeter would have displayed the same intangible qualities that make him stand out despite pedestrian power numbers. Slide him into the two-hole with power bats behind him and he will perform every duty a winning ballplayer can produce. Jeter was never a player who could carry you to the promised land, but he sure as heck provided the push across the proverbial goal line that every team covets.
Contrary to popular opinion, if Jeter had not played in the steroid era, I do not believe he would have stood outside in as grand fashion. Jeter was the anti-Ruth of his era. A throwback to the grinders of the 60s and 70s where going first to third or hitting behind a runner was an art practiced by the majority of major league players. His ability to resurrect these lost qualities made the average fan appreciate him in a way that would have been lost in previous decades where that was the expected and norm across the league.
We will never truly have an answer to this question to this fervent debate. I have my doubts as to his true historical greatness but as someone who watched Jeter on a day in and day out basis throughout his 18 year career I will never doubt his passion for the game of baseball. The Yankees provided him with a unique platform to be legendary and despite statistics that may say otherwise that is how he will be remembered.by