Cal Ripken, Jr., is one of the most celebrated players in baseball history.  Practically the Patron Saint of the state of Maryland, Ripken was beloved by home fans and road fans alike.  

Towards the end of his career, fans would flock to the ballpark in droves in order to catch a glimpse of what was palpably a living legend.

Why?  Because he played the game the right way, he showed up for work every single day, and in the 1990s, as his skills began to erode, he kept playing long, hard games every day, and kept working to get better.

Everyone loved Cal Ripken, Jr.

Albert Belle is one of the most loathed horse’s asses in baseball history.  Essentially the nastiest piece of work to hit the major leagues in the last 50 years, Belle was loathed by road fans and home fans alike.  

In 1995, when he had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time for one of the greatest teams of all time, he was passed over for the AL MVP in favor of the clearly inadequate Mo Vaughn.  When Belle became Hall of Fame eligible, he didn’t get a sniff.

Why?  Because he was truly a horse’s ass.  He hated his coaches, his teammates, the fans, and of course the media.  One of the most talented players in the game during the 1990s, he’d just as soon hit a guy as talk to him.

Everyone hated Albert Belle.

If Albert Belle and Cal Ripken, Jr., reside at opposite ends of the player-popularity spectrum, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has a time-share at one end and a luxury apartment at the other end.

Derek Jeter is one of the most polarizing players in Major League Baseball, and has been for the last 15 years.  Why?

Because he isn’t Albert Belle, and he isn’t Cal Ripken, Jr.  He is both, but he is also neither.

What makes Derek Jeter so polarizing is as simple as this: he is no where as good as Yankees fans/Jeter-lovers want to think he is, and yet he is no where near as bad as Yankee-haters/Jeter-haters are convinced that he is.

And that’s the whole problem: the nationwide war of attrition over Derek Jeter actually has little to do with Jeter’s actions—either on or off the field—and everything to do with his supporters and his detractors.

Jeter supporters have created a Cult of Jeter Personality whereby the right and just Jeter is, at once, one of the greatest hitters of all time but also one of the greatest shortstops of all time, to say nothing of being the greatest clutch hitter of all time.

The Great Jeter will one day surpass Pete Rose as the All-Time Hits Leader, or so we’re told, at which point he will become the greatest player in the history of baseball.

Jeter detractors have created this evil emperor, a Kim Jong-Jeter of sorts, who plays terrible defense, hurts his team with consistent me-first hitting that is lacking in any sort of palpable value, and gets all the credit for several World Series Championships bought and paid for with the highest payroll in baseball.

The so-called “Jeter”, whom his fans would say puts the team and the game above himself, failed in the ultimate moment—according to his detractors—when he had the chance to do the right thing by handing over the shortstop job to Alex Rodriguez, the better defender, when he arrived in New York.

No matter the offensive accomplishments that Jeter stockpiles, they will never be enough to undo the damage he has done to his pitchers and his team over the years with his defense, his ego, and his need for self-fulfillment.

Or so we’re told.

At the end of the day, the truth of the matter is: both sides are right, and both sides are wrong.

You’re wrong, Jeter-haters: Derek Jeter has been an incredibly valuable hitter over the years, regularly hitting .300 with around 200 hits and scoring tons of runs.

But you’re wrong, too, Jeter-supporters: In 1999, at the age of 25, Jeter hit 24 home runs with 102 RBI, led the AL with 219 hits, scored 134 runs, and batted .349.  Hitting for power suited him, but he never developed into that player.

And that player would have been far more valuable than the player Jeter became.

And you’re also wrong, Jeter-lovers, about his clutch-hitting: Mr. November isn’t always so clutch as you’d like to believe he is, like in the 2001 World Series against Arizona, when he hit .148 with a .438 OPS.

And, he didn’t win all those World Series by himself, you know—Jeter has always been surrounded by elite talent.

But at the same time, Jeter-detractors, his post-season career is just amazing—he’s had ten separate post-season series in which he’s hit over .400, and his career World Series batting average is .321.

Nevertheless, Jeter-supporters have really missed the boat regarding Jeter’s defense. They’ve been fooled into believing that flashy plays equals great defense, while subtly ignoring Jeter’s horrendous range.

Not one but two studies have now been done in the last few years that involved watching actual videotape of every play that takes place during the season, and both studies show Jeter to be a horrendous defender, consistently amongst the worst in the league.

On the other hand, Jeter-detractors jumped on this nugget of information and ran with it for years.  They ran with it so fast that they failed to notice that, perhaps in response to those studies, Jeter has actually massively improved his defense the last couple of years, taking steps to improve his horrendous range and actually becoming a very good defender at an age that many would have thought too old to actually improve defensively.

This fact is, in a very underrated way, perhaps one of the great selfless moments in Jeter’s career.

And really, that is just one part of the reason that, like him or hate him (like the Yankees or hate the Yankees), there is no doubt that Jeter definitely falls into the Cal Ripken, Jr., class of talented players with lots of charisma and charm, rather than the surly, nightmare, bastard group with Albert Belle.

Jeter is, like Ripken, something good about baseball, and a face worth putting out there.

But at the same time, like him or hate him, Jeter is not a.) the greatest shortstop of all time; b.) the greatest hitter of all time; or c.) the greatest Yankee of all time, and frankly the girth of his myth is kind of insulting to everyone around him and around baseball, including Cal, Alex Rodriguez, a handful of Yankees, a handful of shortstops, and not a few fans of Pete Rose.

At the end of the day, if we could have some understanding between Jeter-supporters (read: New Yorkers) and Jeter-detractors (read: everyone else), and reach a compromise about his rightful place in Yankee/shortstop/baseball history, then maybe we could all relax and enjoy the rest of his career together.

Because to me, Derek Jeter is one of the Top 100 greatest players of all time, and it is a joy to get to watch such a talented player play the game of baseball.

The fact that half of the people reading the previous paragraph disagree with it because they think it is too low, and the other half disagree because they think it is too high, means we probably aren’t there yet.


Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of .

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