Over the last few days, the Yankees have lobbed a number of verbal grenades in the direction of Derek Jeter. One surprising thing about the entire saga has been the amount of support the club has gotten in this battle with the Yankee captain. I expected many more indignant fans to rip the Yankees and defend Jeter than I have seen. This has caused me to start thinking about Jeter’s legacy with the fans, and wondering whether he is truly loved by Yankees fans. This morning, I posed the following query on Twitter:
“True or false: Yankees fans respect greatly and are awed by Jeter, but do not LOVE him like they did Mantle and Mattingly.”
I got plenty of votes for both sides, but the majority definitely landed on the side of “false.” That said, I think the initial premise, that he is loved less than players like Mantle and Mattingly, holds true. One interesting comparison brought up by @jhalpin37 in the ensuing Twitter conversation was that of Jeter to Joe DiMaggio. As our own @williamnyy23 stated,
“Similar personalities…very dignified, but incredibly private. Jeter stands at arm’s length, so easier to admire than embrace.”
I think William is right on the money with that summary. DiMaggio and Jeter both came off as being the ideal athlete, acting with class and grace on and off the field. In their personal lives, both dated starlets and seemed to lead blessed lives, but did everything they could to keep that area of their lives away from prying eyes. In a way, they seemed to be almost perfect, an idealized version of what we expect from superstar athletes. Because we know only the glossy public version of Jeter, we revere him, admire him, and envy him, but I’m not sure that we can relate to him enough to love him unconditionally.
By contrast, both Mattingly and Mantle were flawed heroes. Mantle’s affable personality made him a media and fan darling, and his injuries and the sense of “what could have been” made him someone that the fan base empathized with. Mattingly had similar injury issues, and the “what could have been” factor was strong regarding him as well. Additionally, his status as the homegrown star on the first “failing” Yankees team made him the lone player that fans could latch onto during that era. These players were not perfect, but the perception was that they fought through their weaknesses and did the best they could with what they were given. Their imperfections made them relatable, something that I think is required before fans unconditionally love an athlete.
If you asked fans from their respective eras to name their favorite Yankee players, I believe Mantle and Mattingly would get more votes from fans that grew up while they were playing than Jeter would receive from the current fanbase. While there may be reasons external to the players that explains the disparity (for example, there were few alternatives to Mattingly during the 80′s), I think the distance and privacy that Jeter maintains regarding his personal life and personality leads people to revere him and be awed by him without unconditionally loving him.
What do you think? Is Jeter beloved on the same level that Mantle and Mattingly were? Or does he fit better into the DiMaggio category?