Why Jeter will have 3,000 ways to silence his haters

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Derek Jeter is one of the best New York Yankees of all time. For most of his career, he’s been praised for his leadership; his poise; his fearlessness and his ability to come through in the clutch.

For most of his career, when Jeter wasn’t making diving catches and coming up with timely hits, he was Mr. New York, seen as a perfect blend between athlete and celebrity. He’s affectionately known in baseball by his nickname, “The Captain.”

And yet somehow we’ve reached the point where I’m about to write something that seemed unfathomable just a year ago.

Derek Jeter can’t catch a break.

Stop and think about that for a second. This is the same guy who’s spent his entire career playing in the biggest market in sports. He was a major reason for the Yankees dynasty from 1996-2000. He was the unquestioned leader of the most recognizable franchises. Hell, the guy’s even engaged to the beautiful and famous Minka Kelly.

He’s three hits away from 3,000, a milestone only 27 other players have ever reached.

He’ll be the fourth youngest player to reach the feat.

So why does everyone seem to have something bad to say about the guy?

You’ve read the stories and heard the screaming on talk radio. Jeter has no range anymore. He can’t hit, and the Yankees should move him down in the lineup. He’s a shell of the superstar he once was, and his play is hurting the team. He’s selfish, and he’s proving that the Yankees were right to publicly humiliate him last off-season during his contract negotiations.

Yet, those same detractors fail to mention the Yankees seem to be just fine in the standings.

Jeter’s batting .258, which is the lowest batting average of his career…but actually ranks him 15th among shortstops in the league (and right in the middle of the pack). Although people say he can’t get to the balls he used to, his replacement Eduardo Nunez has been abysmal at shortstop, recording nine errors in 29 games.

Has there ever been a player of Jeter’s caliber that has been treated this way? We remember Cal Ripken, Jr. fondly for setting the record for most consecutive games played. He’s the “Iron Man,” who’s toughness was unmatched by anyone else in baseball history.What we conveniently leave out is that from 1992 until 2001, Ripken’s numbers began a slow decline as well (especially his power numbers). During the latter part of the streak, it was said that Ripken was playing with some nagging injuries, but no one ever believed he should sit to “help his team.”

And that’s because you can’t merely quantify a player’s worth strictly by on-base percentage, or defensive range, or extra base hits. Ripken led and inspired his teammates while on the field, a quality shared by Jeter.

The same can be said for some of the other greats to don Yankee pinstripes. Mickey Mantle is perhaps the most beloved Yankee of all-time, yet he couldn’t crack a .250 batting average his last two seasons.

Babe Ruth is often referred to as the greatest baseball player of all-time. On the field, he was a god. Off of it, he was a womanizer and a drunk. Most fans find it funny that he achieved so much while being so woefully out of shape, rather than find it kind of sad that he could’ve been even better if he took care of himself.

And then there’s the other former Yankee in the news, Roger Clemens. Clemens is being charged with lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs. His Yankee teammates Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte have already admitted to using drugs to help recover and help their on-field play.

Jeter has never tested positive for anything, never broken a rule to get ahead. Not only has he never been caught, but he’s one of the few players to play in the “steroid era” that we have literally no suspicion of ever using steroids.

It shouldn’t be like this for Jeter. We shouldn’t be asking what the Yankees will do at the end of this season if Jeter’s hitting doesn’t pick up. We shouldn’t be salivating at the power at the plate Nunez displayed in Jeter’s absence. We shouldn’t wonder if Jeter’s limited range will ultimately doom the Yankees in a big game.

We should enjoy seeing history. We should enjoy seeing one of the best shortstops ever finish his career for the only team he’s ever played for. We should marvel at his consistency and grace over all of these years.

In short…we should give Jeter a break.