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Appreciating Derek Jeter the athlete, not the icon

Derek Jeter in an undated file photo.

Derek Jeter in an undated file photo. Credit: Getty Images

Derek Jeter has joined a club whose membership of 28 major leaguers is even more prolific than the Yankees’ trophy case of 27 championships.

But Jeter’s entry into the 3,000 Hit Club is less about the Yankees — the team for whom he has long been hailed as an icon of professionalism and winning — than it is about appreciating one of this era’s greatest athletes.

Even with his gradual decline underway at age 37, Jeter is not just an honorary statue that the Steinbrenner family stations between second and third base as a reward for his leadership of five championship teams. Jeter is a present-day All-Star, both for his skill on defense and his acumen on the left side of home plate. If nothing else, the captain’s historic five-hit performance on Saturday reminded his critics that Jeter is a remarkable baseball player still capable of on-field brilliance.

In fact, there is only one other trimillenium hitter who was still a regular shortstop when he joined the club: Honus Wagner, who retired in 1917 at age 43, compiled 3,420 hits.

In 2009, Jeter surpassed Lou Gehrig as the Yankees’ most prolific hitter, with his 2,722nd base knock — so the fact that he is the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits is a true statement, but also an inadequate one.

Jeter is an all-time great Yankee, but he is also, simply put, an all-time great.

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