Is Derek Jeter the best shortstop in baseball history?
THE CAPTAIN IS ONE OF A KIND
For years, Yankees fans had been locked in a heated debate with Mets fans about which team had the best shortstop in the Big Apple.
That debate is now over, and it's clear Bombers fans allowed it to be a distraction from what is a far weightier barroom discussion:
Is Derek Jeter the greatest shortstop not just in New York, but of all time?
The answer -- one that may surprise you, at least initially -- is yes.
Five World Series rings, a World Series MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, an All-Star Game MVP award, 13 All-Star Game appearances, four Silver Slugger awards and five Gold Gloves (backed by iconic defensive plays like The Flip and The Dive) make for an impressive trophy case for a player of any position.
But for a shortstop with nearly 3,300 hits and nearly 1,900 runs, it's truly unprecedented.
No shortstop in history has Jeter's resume. Ozzie Smith may have been flashier in the field, Cal Ripken may have hit more home runs, Honus Wagner may have driven in more runs.
But no one has ever put it all together like The Captain.
The Wizard of Oz averaged two home runs, 50 RBIs and a .262 average per 162 games, and he lost more World Series (two) than he won (one). Ripken may have played every day, but he sure didn't get on base every game the way Jeter seems to, and there were 18 Octobers when the Iron Man didn't suit up at all. Wagner spent much of his career -- a whopping 32 percent of his games, in fact -- at other positions, during an era played so long ago it might as well have happened on Mars.
But it's no disrespect to any of them to say we'd take Jeter over all three.
Jeter is the preeminent postseason player of his era, a top-10, possibly top-five Yankee, and the most respected and beloved ballplayer in the game today. He's the only player in history besides Willie Mays with 3,000 hits, 250 home runs, 300 stolen bases and 1,200 RBIs.
Every game brings a new milestone, and when it's all said and done, he could be the game's all-time hits leader, or at least crack the top three.
Those are superlative qualifications for a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
For a shortstop? We've never seen anything like it.
GOTTA HAND IT TO HONUS
When it's all said and done, Derek Jeter may very well go down as the greatest shortstop of all time.
As of now, though, that distinction should belong to Honus Wagner -- and it's not just because his baseball card regularly sells for around $1 million.
During his 21-year career, Wagner led the league in batting average eight times, RBIs five times and stolen bases five times.
While it is nearly impossible to compare players of different eras, let's take a look at both Wagner's and Jeter's 162-game averages, courtesy of Baseball Reference:
Wagner: 101 runs, 198 hits, 58 extra-base hits, 100 RBIs, 42 steals, .328 batting average, .858 OPS
Jeter: 118 runs, 207 hits, 53 extra-base hits, 79 RBIs, 22 steals, .313 batting average, .831 OPS
As you can see, it's very comparable, though Wagner does have a tremendous edge in speed.
Obviously, when it comes to postseason numbers, Wagner isn't in Jeter's stratosphere. Granted, Jeter played on Yankees teams loaded with All-Star caliber players.
Wagner was considered far and away the best shortstop of his era -- and it says he's the greatest shortstop of all time on his Hall of Fame plaque. His 126.1 career wins above replacement ranks 10th all time. Jeter is 83rd (69.3).
Wagner is also regularly in the conversation as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Jeter isn't.
If Jeter ends up with more than 4,000 hits and a couple more rings, though, that may change.
Still, at least for the time being, Honus Wagner is the greatest shortstop of all time.