The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have been heated rivals forever, and of course, they’d have two generational shortstops at the same time.
In the 1990s the baseball world saw dominance at the shortstop position that will be unrivaled for the foreseeable future. Over the span of three seasons, we saw the debuts of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and the Red Sox’s own Nomar Garciaparra. If you were a fan of the position then it life was pretty good for you for a long while.
If you ask any one of those three which player was the king of the castle you’d almost always hear A-Rod. His defense and offense were both off the charts and he deserves to be the tops at the spot for this time, which is also why he’s not involved. I recently posted a poll over on BoSox Injection’s Twitter page looking at the other two players in this equation.
Since A-Rod wasn’t a factor in the heated Red Sox-Yankees rivalry until the early 2000s and would also do so as a third baseman, I didn’t include him. This debate surrounds just two men, Nomar and Jeter. The two icons had very different careers that spanned an insane amount of time.
New York’s captain had a career that spanned 20 years and was worthy of his spot in Cooperstown. Boston’s superstitious superstar would last 14 years in the big leagues spending time with four teams. I focused on these two players because they transcended the sport at the time and were two of the best to ever do it.
I also focused on a specific period of time for this experiment. I began in 1996, which was Nomar’s debut season and Jeter’s first full year in the Bronx. I also capped the poll in 2000, the end of the Yankees dynasty run and when Nomar would show his first crack in the armor. I could’ve extended it to 2004 when Garciaparra was removed from the rivalry, but I wanted to really look at them in their peaks.
For this experiment, I told Red Sox Nation that they had to be impartial with their vote, they also had to imagine the two players as if they had no affiliation to Boston or New York. Even with that buffer in place, it was a damn blowout. Nomar ran away in the poll with a resounding 75%-25% victory, absolute domination.
I’ll admit that I also voted for Garciaparra, as I’ve written about in the past, he was the reason I wanted to be a shortstop growing up. My first Red Sox jersey had a large “#5” sewn to the back and I protected it like it was the Holy Grail. So, now that we have the backstory and are up to speed with everything, let’s break down the numbers and see where these two land in the grand scheme.
I plugged the criteria into Fangraphs and was able to bring up the stats for both players not only on the field, at the plate, and as well as WAR. I’ll break down each aspect of the game separately so we can get a full picture of what was going on during this period.
Nomar: .333/.382/.573/117 HR/ 436/ RBI/ 58 SB (Ranked 2nd overall for shortstops)
Jeter: .323/.396/.470/78 HR/ 407 RBI/ 108 SB (Ranked 4th overall for shortstops)
Nomar: 945-1661 PO-ATT/82 E/329 DP/.970% (Ranked 10th overall for shortstops)
Jeter: 1177-2034 PO-ATT/87 E/416 DP/ .974% (Ranked 23rd overall for shortstops)
So, the data really screams one thing at me. Both were pretty damn good at the plate while being just average fielders. But both men played massive roles in the success of their teams and the WAR numbers show that.
Nomar was more of a power hitter while Derek was the master of the clutch single just when the Yankees needed it. This explains why Garciaparra ran away with SLG%, while Jeter was the king of OBP%. The Bronx captain was never shy about flashing his speed either, nearly doubling the Boston man’s stolen base total.
BSI’s Drew Athans shared his opinion on the matter and really nailed home the same sentiment I was feeling. Nomar was the better player statistically, but Jeter was a strong player, on a great team, that had longevity. It’s damn hard to argue against a guy putting up two decades in the majors at some of the highest levels of play.
If Nomar hadn’t fallen to the injury bug, the sky was the limit. He had bounce-back seasons in 2002 (.310/.352/.528/24 HR/101 RBI) and 2003 (.301/.345/.524/28 HR/105 RBI), but his time with the Red Sox was almost out. He would spend the first half of 2004 with Boston but would find himself playing for the Cubs by the end of the season.
As his former team would raise their first Commissioner’s Trophy in 86 years, he had to watch from home. In my opinion, he deserved far better than what he got at the end of his tenure with Boston but we can’t do anything about that now.
Jeter has a trophy case full of silverware as well as a bust in Cooperstown. His career speaks for itself and words will never be able to do it justice. His time as the CEO of the Marlins could inspire a few hundred heated essays but now’s not the time or place.
The Red Sox – Yankees rivalry is easily the best battle in all of sports. Neither team ever wants to budge an inch and when the other loses, even if the game wasn’t against each other, it feels like a win. We as baseball fans were more than lucky to witness the great careers of Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, especially at the same time. Not only were they rising through the ranks at the same time but they did so in the most pressure-filled situation in baseball.