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Sports Authority

Kramer: Stop Idolizing Jeter

| Thursday, February 20, 2020

When my sister met Derek Jeter, she knew no more about him than quantum mechanics.

A highly coveted sweepstakes offered the monumental opportunity to chat with #2 before an upcoming series in Minnesota. One stroke of luck gave my sister the chance to prove the coolest kid in school. The budding Yankees phenom greeted her with his signature smile, crouched down to lead the briefest of dugout tours and left her with two invaluable pieces of memorabilia: bags of sunflower seeds and bubble gum from his personal cache.

Overjoyed beyond words, she moved to her seat minutes before game time. Amidst a surge of shock from her friends, she ravenously goggled at the tasty treats. Fans flooded the concessions lines for last-minute snacks; the tantalizing bags looked like her only option. With my parents in no place to stop her, she ripped open both bags and devoured Jeter’s stash before the first pitch.

I really try not to chastise my sister for how she caved that day. Maybe a couple overzealous friends rebuked her, trying to explain Jeter’s greatness and the potential value of her souvenirs. But when push comes to shove, she saw no difference between Mr. November and the next guy. Any fervid fan with an eBay account would pay a pretty penny for the mementos, but my sister was no vendor, and Jeter knew it. He knew exactly how to give her a glimmer of satisfaction in a game altogether new to her, no less.

Such distinguished acts of leadership defined Jeter’s career. Whether in the clubhouse or the public sphere, “The Captain” embodied the attributes of charisma and integrity for millions of aspiring players and fans to emulate.

Countless achievements are undisputed as meriting Hall of Fame recognition: 3,465 hits, 200 hits in October, .321 average in the World Series, .310 career average. Staggering figures at an offensively lackluster position. But in light of the overwhelming praise following his first ballot Hall of Fame induction, do Jeter’s accolades earn him any admiration as the greatest shortstop ever?

Absolutely not. Bear in mind that none of the above statistics make any reference to Jeter’s abysmal defensive track record. The commonplace metric for defense, Defensive Runs Saved (DFS), compares any given player to the league average. The simple calculation produces a positive number if he saves more runs than he allows on defense. Along with errors, poor range and “catchable balls” not counted as errors come into play. By no small margin, Jeter finished dead last in league DFS from 2003 to 2014. His play at shortstop cost the Yankees a ridiculous 152 more runs than he prevented.

Look no further than Ultimate Zone Rating, a measure of defensive production per 150 games, and note that Jeter ranks last among eligible shortstops and second-to-last among eligible players since 2003. Yes, Jeter won five Gold Gloves, but just as no soccer analyst measures defensive weapons by the number of fouls they commit, the complexity and range required at shortstop begs for better metrics. The fact that the position is so defense-intensive leaves little reason to dismiss Jeter’s horrid career in the field, to admire his achievements on a solely one-dimensional basis.

So go ahead, tip your cap to #2 as Cooperstown pays its respects this season. He deserves it. But please don’t venerate him as history’s greatest shortstop. At the very least, I don’t want to hear it if you do.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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