Tuesday, 19 April, 2005

The below article is copyright of espn.com

It is a severe understatement to say that there is no way any modern baseball player can have the impact on American society or on the course of history that Jackie Robinson did.

A few second basemen today display some similarities to Robinson, but the only active regular second baseman who is even remotely comparable would be Ray Durham. And while Durham is an All-Star and a fine player in his own right, he's not at Robinson's level.

Derek Jeter

Jackie Robinson

When we look around for a modern-day Jackie Robinson, one player stands out: Derek Jeter. In many ways, the parallels between the careers of these two great middle infielders are striking. Here's a look:

Both were highly touted amateur athletes, though segregation and World War II delayed Robinson's debut till age 28.

Both Robinson and Jeter came to the majors with high-profile teams in New York City.

Both played key defensive positions, though Robinson played first base in his first season, moving to second base only when Gil Hodges took over at first for Brooklyn in 1948.

Both players made immediate impacts as rookies – on their teams, on their cities and on their leagues.

Both won Rookie of the Year awards – Robinson winning the first rookie trophy ever awarded by the baseball writers.

Both men were acknowledged leaders on their clubs, even though they played with many veterans who were much older.

Both Robinson and Jeter became perennial All-Stars, though neither was selected to the All-Star team in his first two years.

Both hit for high average, though Jeter has never led the league in batting average (he led in hits once) and Robinson led the league in BA only once. Robinson's career batting average was .311; Jeter's is .315.

Both infielders had good power for their positions; both possessed line-drive power instead of over-the-fence power. Robinson's career slugging was .474, while Jeter's is .463.

Both ballplayers were smart, disciplined hitters with excellent on-base percentages (Robinson .409; Jeter .385).
Derek Jeter
Much like Robinson, Jeter has speed, power and a burning desire to win.

Both had good speed, stole bases at a high rate, and were heads-up baserunners. Jeter's career stolen base percentage is 79. Robinson stole bases at a 76-percent clip for the second half of his career. (Robinson's career success rate is almost certainly higher since he stole 100 bases in the first four years of his career, when the NL didn't keep caught-stealing stats.)

Aside from their individual attributes, both Robinson and Jeter led their clubs into dynastic eras. The Dodgers had finished second in the NL in 1946, losing a playoff series to the Cardinals. The Yankees finished second in the AL East in 1995, losing to the Mariners in the inaugural year of the AL Division Series.

The Dodgers won the NL pennant in Robinson's first season after a six-year drought. The Yankees won the World Series in Jeter's first full season after a 18-year drought.

Both Robinson's and Jeter's teams dominated their leagues throughout their careers: New York has won nine AL East titles in the last 10 years, while Brooklyn won six NL pennants in 10 years and came very close the other four seasons. (The Dodgers lost the 1951 pennant on Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" and finished an average of less than four games out in the years they didn't win the NL flag during Robinson's career.)

Both were big men for their positions and their times. Robinson is listed in the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia at 5-foot-11 and 204 pounds. The average NL second baseman in 1946, the year before Robinson's debut, was also 5-11 but weighed in at only 172.5 pounds. Jeter is listed in the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia at 6-3 and 195 pounds when the average AL shortstop in 1995 was only 6-0 and 179.6 pounds.

Both players were durable: Robinson played in 90 percent of Dodgers games in his 10-year career; Jeter has played in 93 percent of Yankees games in his nine full seasons so far.

Both men were fearless on the diamond. Robinson, of course, had to contend with vicious racial slurs and the constant threats of fisticuffs. In a much more genteel era, Jeter doesn't face the same level of danger, though his headfirst, full-speed dive into the seats at Yankee Stadium last July showed the extent of his physical courage.

Both men played under intense pressure and unblinking, 24-7 scrutiny in the biggest media market in the world.

Both Robinson and Jeter were/are the ultimate competitors on the field.

Jackie Robinson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. Derek Jeter is a virtual cinch to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer after he retires.

If any player today should wear Jackie Robinson's No. 42, it is Derek Jeter.