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Salute Jeter's play, not his legend

Teammates, opponents, coaches, players from the Yankees and

Teammates, opponents, coaches, players from the Yankees and Rays at Yankee Stadium and even the Ducks at Bethpage Ballpark share some memories of Yankees' captain Derek Jeter, who got his 3,000th hit in dramatic fashion as the clock struck 2 o'clock Saturday afternoon when his home run dropped into the seats in leftfield in the third inning. Jeter went 5-for-5, getting the winning hit on a single to centerfield in the bottom of the eighth of a 5-4 victory over the Rays. Videojournalists: Matthew Golub, Robert Cassidy, Mario Gonzalez and Jessica Rotkiewicz (July 9, 2011)

IF you're looking for a Derek Jeter comparable in Hollywood, how about George Clooney? Or Tom Hanks?

"I think the first thing people think about [Clooney] is, 'God, what a movie star!' " Rafer Guzman, Newsday's film critic, told Newsday. "It's the Cary Grant thing with him. He's handsome and masculine.

"Tom Hanks is one of a handful of people in Hollywood who have been totally scandal-free. He's unimpeachable. There has been absolutely nothing. There never has been a sex tape, no infidelity, no string of girlfriends. People love Tom Hanks. He's a cultural institution."

The fact that both men are tremendous actors? It seems to get overlooked sometimes.

Which brings us to Jeter. The Yankees' captain enjoyed a well-earned Hollywood moment of his own, as he became the 28th member of the 3,000-hit club. That's 28 players out of 17,000-plus.

Yet for some reason, many of us still would rather discuss the mythology of his character than the greatness of his play.

Enough already about the winning, the leadership, the clutchness. We would say the same thing about any elite player who is part of a team as consistently good and deep as Jeter's Yankees have been.

The clutch play? His postseason numbers (.377 on-base percentage, .472 slugging percentage) are very much in line with his regular-season production (.383, .450). Anyone as good as Jeter, granted as many October opportunities as Jeter, would have delivered his share of big moments. Just ask Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez, among others.

The key there is being "as good as." If you just landed on Earth and someone handed you Jeter's page, you'd say, "This guy is a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer!"

From 1996 through 2009, he produced offensively at a league above the American League average, and he did so while playing the premium position of shortstop.

He tied for second in the American League in Wins Above Replacement in 1999 -- 8.0, along with Cleveland's Manny Ramirez -- and ranked fifth in 2006, at 6.3, and 2009, at 6.4.

He has played in at least 140 games in 14 of his 15 full seasons, the only miss coming in 2003, when he dislocated his left shoulder on Opening Night and returned six weeks later, as he vowed he would.

Those were all accomplished because he's Derek Jeter, great player. Not because he's Derek Jeter, legend.

Look, give props to Jeter for his street smarts. For his ability to date starlet after starlet and never suffer a serious burn. For building an all-time portfolio as a commercial spokesman.

Yet we saw last winter that the Yankees, who have helped Jeter just as much as he boosted them, weren't particularly mesmerized by his aura. They treated him as a baseball player -- one who was 36 and coming off the worst season of his career -- and Jeter didn't like that at all.

The ugly winter did everyone a favor. For Jeter, it helped people appreciate that he is human. That he could get hurt and angry and behave in a less-than-exemplary manner.

For the fans, it opened a door for them to hold Jeter more accountable. Suddenly, there isn't profound forgiveness for Jeter's underwhelming 2011 season to date. Instead, fans wonder why Joe Girardi isn't dropping Jeter to seventh or lower, at least against righthanded starting pitchers.

Ultimately, as we've seen, fans want their team to be populated by good baseball players. Jeter has been such a good player that he'd be a hero to whatever team selected him in the 1992 draft.

Now that he has achieved this tremendous milestone, let's pay tribute to the forum in which Jeter has thrived the most. Not drama, not buzz, not gossip-page headlines.

Baseball. That's where Jeter is unrivaled. This is New York, not Hollywood. Let's look past the mythology and embrace the reality -- which is pretty amazing.

New York Sports