Commentary

The year belonged to Derek Jeter

The Captain reached a milestone in 2011 and continued his streak of sustained grace

Updated: December 30, 2011, 8:43 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Before you pick ESPN New York's Person of the Year, you must first understand what New York is supposed to be all about. It's a place that occasionally suffers mediocrity, but isn't prone to tolerate it. A place where winning is glorified, but only when done the right way -- by right-minded people.

You don't keep points because you won a Super Bowl more than 40 years ago, or captured a World Series title 25 years ago, or a Stanley Cup, for the matter, more than 17 years ago. And you certainly don't get any points for enjoying perpetual runner-up status -- or worse -- when you delivered your last championship during the Nixon administration.

In this city -- with these people and this fervor -- we attach ourselves to many things, many moments. But we only deify those who are worthy, whose one shining moment tends to live in perpetuity. Unless, of course, they've managed to bless us with more than one moment.

So with those criteria in mind, mindful of the contributions everyone has made -- from Mariano Rivera to Curtis Granderson, from the inspirational story of Rutgers' Eric LeGrand to admirable St. Anthony basketball coach Bob Hurley Sr. -- there's still one individual who stands above the crowd. Not just because of what he's done, but because of who he is:

His name is Derek Jeter.

Easily, we can all point to that beautiful afternoon of July 9, when Jeter smacked a home run over the left-center-field wall off of Tampa's David Price, becoming the first New York Yankee to capture 3,000 hits. That means more hits than Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson or Don Mattingly.

We could also point to what Jeter did more than a month later, on Aug. 28, when he played his 2,402nd game as a Yankee, breaking Mantle's franchise record.

Of course, there's always the five World Series championships, the five Gold Gloves, the four Silver Slugger awards, the 12-time All-Star status, his eight times as a top-10 American League MVP candidate, a Rookie of the Year award -- and the honor of being the Yankees' captain since 2003. But most of those are just numbers. They don't tell the real story of the man affectionately nicknamed "Captain Clutch" and "Mr. November."

What puts Jeter in a category all by himself is the illustrious career he's managed to manufacture in the bubble that is New York. It's often said that it takes someone special to make it here; perhaps what needs to be said is that Jeter should be providing lessons to all those who aspire to thrive in this town, with its abundance of distractions.

It's not about how one handles adversity. One's ability to avoid adversity is an admirable trait that shouldn't be ignored.

On this day, we pay homage to Mr. LeGrand, whose fight against paralysis is nothing short of awe-inspiring. We appreciate Rivera becoming the all-time saves leader. We acknowledge Granderson's contribution to the Yankees, and we kneel at the greatness of a coach like Hurley, who continues to warrant our support and adoration for four national championships (26 state titles).

But we cannot just shove aside the greatness that is Derek Jeter.

We think Jeter is great because of what he's done on the field. But to achieve such greatness year after year, with temptation at his doorstep at every turn, is something we all must pause to appreciate. Simply because of the times we live in.

At age 37, he's still going strong, validating a three-year, $51 million contract in the twilight of his career. Still striving to be a champion, not just to maintain relevancy. Still going strong.

If that isn't inspirational, I don't know what is.

Congratulations, Captain.

See ya next season.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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