Jeter pulls N.Y. heartstrings

Derek Jeter salutes the crowd after breaking Gehrig’s record.
Derek Jeter salutes the crowd after breaking Gehrig’s record.

The Big Apple sure does have a soft spot for that Derek Jeter kid.

If the New York Yankees shortstop  broke his team’s all-time hits record on any other day in New York, it would grab the top of every headline in town, but not on this day. This day was Sept. 11, a day when America shined its spotlight down on the city that never sleeps, remembering the tragedy that struck not long ago.

Jeter has always known how to steal the show, but the Sept. 11 anniversary was definitely more important to new Yorkers … right?

Not to the New York Daily News, who ran a broadsheet-style Jeter front page the following day, as well as a two-page Yankee spread ahead of the Sept. 11 section.

Could it be? Does this mean that New York City is beginning to care less about Sept. 11? No, of course not, but it does mean that its residents care quite a bit about their Yankee captain.

cheapseatsJeter in a sense is New York City — on its billboards, in its commercials and blanketing its newsstands — but how does this superstar stack up to the other beloved Yankee greats? Who do fans love more from generation to generation?

We are talking about current, air breathing fans as a whole, from the six-year old with the big head to the senile grandfather who swears he sold Babe Ruth a Popsicle in 1935. This is a judgment of Yankee fans as a whole as I see it.

The easiest way to handle such a difficult task is to match Jeter up with each Yankee whose number has been retired and set out to pasture behind the Yankee Stadium walls. Excluding pitchers, we begin on our journey back in time with Donnie Baseball, Don Mattingly (23). Mattingly was loved by fans and the Yankees organization during the ’80s and ’90s, but was never able to grasp the championships that Jeter has been a part of, therefore cementing his winning legacy. More loved? Jeter.

Next up is the straw that stirred the drink, Reggie Jackson (44). Jackson brought championships to the organization in 1977-1978, but was not on the team for enough time to build that long-lasting player-fan relationship. More loved? Jeter.

Staying in the 1970s, lets discuss Thurman Munson (15). The man was the leader and captain of Yankees teams full of talent, a bulldog at home plate and a stand-up family man before his untimely demise. Not touching this one, sorry. More loved? Munson.

As we move to the 1960s, we find two more fine catchers, Yogi Berra (8) and Elston Howard (32). Let’s face it, Howard was loved, but from what I have researched, not like Jeter is now. More loved? Jeter. But on the contrary, Berra has a record 12 World Series rings with the Yankees, and damn it, do fans love those “Yogi-isms.” More loved? Berra.

Also earning his pinstripes in the ’60s was Roger Maris (9). Yes, he broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record with 61 in ’61, we all know the story. And although some still consider him to hold that record, he is not revered as other Yankee greats are. More loved? Jeter.

Traveling back to the 1950s, this discussion becomes increasingly harder. We will keep Joe DiMaggio (5) in the 1940s for now and deal with Billy Martin (1), Phil Rizzuto (10) and Mickey Mantle (7). First up is the ferocious Martin. He was enthusiastic, and clutch in all of those World Series wins, although often overshadowed by bigger names. Martin’s managing career created a legacy of its own, but he is not in that same category. More loved? Jeter. Rizzuto and Mantle are different stories. Rizzuto spent so much of his life devoted to the Yanks, whether it was playing shortstop or broadcasting games, and will always be remembered for his famous line, “Holy Cow!” More loved? Rizzuto.

Now with Mantle, there is no comparison. “The Mick” was fast, strong, played through pain, bought rounds and rounds of beers, and was absolutely adored.

The boy from Oklahoma did it all, and is the most beloved Yankee of the past 60 years. More loved? Mantle.

Again with DiMaggio, there’s no conversation. His statistics and hit streak speak for themselves, and who knows what he would have done if he didn’t spend a chunk of his prime fighting in World War II. More loved? DiMaggio.

At this point, the conversation of who is more loved may seem to be weighing toward the side of the older players, but keep in mind, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Jeter has not had any time away from the game to gain the love of fans old enough to remember players from past ages. Moving on
The final three who stormed the Bronx ball field in the 1920s and 1930s include Bill Dickey (8), Babe Ruth (3) and the man who Jeter’s name will be linked to forever, Lou Gehrig (4).

Don’t get me wrong, Dickey may have been the best catcher the Yankees ever had, but his name doesn’t resonate like others on the city streets these days. More loved? Jeter.

The Babe was, and will always be the most well-known and easily recognizable Yankee. They had the guy wearing a crown for God’s sake. More loved? Ruth.

Finally, as it did last week, the tally comes down to Jeter and Gehrig. Obviously Gehrig gets the nod, but although he is the more beloved Yankee, I doubt he could dream up a more suitable player to take his place atop the Yankees’ all-time hits list than Jeter. Like Gehrig, Jeter has always hustled, played through injuries, fought off pitches, taken pitches in the hands and elbows and won his spot in the hearts of the fans in the toughest sports city in the world. Both have always been Yankees, and just as Gehrig will always have his corner of the pinstriped spotlight, Jeter is making his a little brighter, one hit at a time.