Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Derek Jeter is retiring.
In case you hadn’t noticed.
Jeets has basked in the glow of a season-long farewell tour and is now making his exit in true “Captain Clutch” style, having poked a walk-off single to right field in his final Yankee Stadium swing.
Yet for every hat tip and “De—rek, Je—ter” chant, there has been a Keith Olbermann type to illustrate just how poorly Jeter relates statistically to the all-time greats. Or, you know, anyone with a third-grade-or-better education to point out just how dumb it is to replace the letter “S” with the number “2.”
I’m not here to gripe about Jeter’s overratedness. Far from it, actually. But I do want to take a second to contextualize Jeter’s career stats.
Jeter’s career wins above replacement — a cumulative stat, mind you, which seemingly bodes well for a 20-year player — is 71.7. Larry Walker’s WAR is 72.6.
Don’t like those fancy sabermetrics? OK, how about career batting average? Jeter .309, Walker .313. Home runs? Jeter 260, Walker 383. RBI? Jeter 1,310, Walker 1,311. And Walker played three fewer years.
Now, Walker was a great player, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not “all-time” anything, unless you’re listing “all-time greatest Canadian baseball players nicknamed ‘Booger.’”
My point is, if you’re trying to define Jeets’ legendary status, don’t lean too heavily on the stat sheet.
Still, I wouldn’t disagree Jeter is a legend. And that has nothing to do with him dating Minka Kelly.
All you have to do is look at the response Jeter’s retirement is getting. Sure, some of it is corporate-fueled drivel meant to sell hats and sneakers. But a lot of it isn’t.
Sports is a form of entertainment. You don’t tell people clapping after a concert they shouldn’t be clapping. If they liked it, they liked it. If people care this much about a baseball player, far be it from me to say otherwise.
And it’s not hard to understand why the Captain’s sailing-away party is pulling so many heartstrings. The fact is, Jeter is a true baseball icon. Also, his hat-tipping nephew is adorable — but mostly the icon thing.
The MLB isn’t exactly churning out new legends. The league has exciting, young faces like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, but it has failed to capitalize, partially because baseball just isn’t the same cultural power it once was.
The last era of true baseball superstars coincided with the steroid era, meaning the sheen of many of those legends have been tarnished. Jeter was lucky enough to survive that record-scrubbing and survive it well.
When we watch Jeter play in 2014, we don’t see a washed-up relic. His defense has gotten worse, yes, but he’s no broken-down Casey embarrassing himself at the bat. I mean, look at that walk-off hit. Plus, he doesn’t look a day over 1995.
Jeter isn’t an all-time great, numbers-wise, but he’s a cultural icon, something baseball could really use.
Jeter reminds people of when they cared about baseball. That’s a good thing. Good for the fans. Good for Nike. And good for baseball.
It’s just not good for Larry Walker.