On the surface, Derek Jeter's third-inning RBI double in Seattle on Sunday was just a footnote in a 10-3 loss to the Mariners. In actuality, though, it was the most significant thing that happened in baseball all day, maybe even all week. It was the 2,674th hit of his career at shortstop, which game him one more than Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio and set a new standard for the most hits by a shortstop in the history of Major League Baseball.
The surprising thing is that, much like a Spanish inquisition, no one was expecting it to happen. That's unusual for a player of Jeter's accomplishment playing for a team as willing to toot their own horn as the Yankees. No countdowns or specials on YES preceded the moment, something that probably won't be the case when Jeter closes in on his 3,000th career hit in 2011.
How did something like this go so unnoticed? Was it because of all the manufactured drama that surrounds the every move of Sunday's starting pitcher Joba Chamberlain? Or did it slip through the cracks because there's been so much justifiable attention paid to Jeter's fielding this season that his hitting exploits have been overlooked? Both of them are reasonable explanations, but neither gets to the heart of the matter.
The reality is that Jeter is the rare player who has been both overrated and taken for granted in his career. He's not overrated in the sense that he hasn't been a special player, because he has. It's that his status as captain of the Yankees and role on four World Series champions has some of his supporters believing he's one of the greatest players that's ever stepped between the lines. Saying otherwise leads to arguments, some of which serve to downgrade his accomplishments and all of which create so much noise that his real value gets obscured.
He has been an incredibly consistent and reliable source of offense for the Yankees over the last 14 years, two things that sound like he's being damned with faint praise. But they aren't, because not many other players have accomplished that kind of sustained performance over such an extended span of time. There are many players whose individual stars have shone more brightly in those 14 years, but there aren't too many who have shone at essentially the same brightness over that entire span. That's worthy of applause and shouldn't be overlooked by those who love or hate Jeter for his essential Yankeeness.
There will be plenty of time for lengthy paeans to Jeter in the coming years, so we'll stop this one here with an admiring gaze at the remarkable standard that he's set for his position.