Baseball’s version of the Perfect Storm touched down somewhere between second and third at Yankee Stadium on June 2, 1995. Three days after he made his major league debut in Seattle, Derek Jeter started his first game in New York, beginning a career that can be defined as the most iconic of his era.
Obviously, if it weren’t for the Hall of Fame credentials Jeter has amassed in the 20 seasons since, this wouldn’t be so. Credit is due, but fate also had a hand in it. The Yankee great played the most important position on the most talked-about team in the (as much as this Chicagoan hates to admit it) perfect city his entire career.
Had one of the five teams picking ahead of the Yankees in the 1992 amateur draft taken the Captain, he probably still would have landed in the Hall of Fame – just a few rings lighter and without the adornment of all the accolades.
But let’s leave the “what if” game to baseball’s burnouts; this guy was the game’s version of a blowtorch.
Five World Series rings, seven American League pennants, 14 All-Star Game selections, five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers and one appearance on Fortune magazine’s “50 Greatest World Leaders” list. Off the field, there’s been a chain of New York health clubs, a list of endorsements that could fill the Nordstrom catalogue and a roster of ex-girlfriends that would make Hugh Hefner question his masculinity. It all made Jeter not only part of baseball history but a piece of Americana.
He was so perfect in his two decades under the brightest of spotlights that if he hired a publicist it may have been little more than a charitable donation.
And now, he’s saying goodbye to the game. As the Jeter farewell tour rounds second base, one can’t help but wonder: Who will replace him as the face of Major League Baseball? The answer is probably “Nobody,” though a few of baseball’s young guns could one day join him in the game’s royal court.
Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Trout plays the second-most glamorous position in the second-biggest media market in the country, but he’s doing it for the wrong L.A. franchise. The crosstown Dodgers are the national brand while the Angels play little brother.
But Trout is considered baseball’s best player, though he is only 22. A five-tool player that can excite in the batter’s box, on the bases and in the field, Trout’s talent alone earns him national attention.
Bryce Harper, LF, Washington Nationals
This guy likes the spotlight so much he actually could end up wearing Yankee pinstripes one day. Harper has the charisma, the potential and the swagger – all the off-the-field tools to be one of baseball’s most marketable players.
Now all he needs to work on is his game on the field. He has never hit better than .274 and only has three home runs this season.
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
McCutchen could end up having a Ken Griffey Jr.-esque kind of career with his ability to play a dominant center field and anchor any major league lineup. He’s the reigning National League MVP, and has a personality that makes him a favorite of both fans and sponsors alike (he’s also not afraid to admit he loves “Devious Maids.”)
But short of getting a video game named after him like the aforementioned Griffey, McCutchen will need to play in a bigger city to earn Jeter status.
Buster Posey, C/1B, San Francisco Giants
Seems counterintuitive for an icon to be someone whose face you don’t see most of the game, but Posey seems destined to be a full-time first baseman to lessen the risk of injury.
Posey is a two-time World Series champ, won the NL MVP in 2012 and was named Rookie of the Year in ’10. He’s also more-or-less a .300 hitter (though he is only at .286 this season) and plays on a Giants team that always seems to be in playoff contention.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
Tulowitzki is the best-hitting shortstop in the game today, in fact the only one hitting in the .300s. He leads the league with a .340 average, and at the moment, holds the pole position in a crowded field of contenders for the NL MVP Award.
But he doesn’t have the off-the-field persona like Jeter. You won’t turn on the TV and see Tulowitzki, unless, of course, you’re watching the Rockies. Oh, and also unlike the Captain, Tulo can’t seem to stay healthy: Just yesterday, he was placed on the Disabled List once again.
Clayton Kershaw, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
The chances of any pitcher reaching the heights of Jeter are very minimal. They don’t play enough.
But Kershaw has the goods. In the previous five seasons heading into this year, Kershaw has never had an ERA in the threes and has a 1.92 ERA this season. He’s won two of the last three Cy Young Awards in the NL, and may be baseball’s best pitcher. Oh, and like Jeter, Kershaw figures to play in plenty of big games with a team that looks like it will compete for many years to come, and an ownership group committed to keeping it that way.